There are definite rules of thumb to pick out the perfect wine and food pairing. My approach is often a bit more idiosyncratic. If I cooked or helped cook the food, for example, I’m likely already drinking some wine — and so am inclined to continue with the same wine through the meal, or something very similar.
Sometimes I’ll plan menus around particular wines — much depends on whim of the moment, and also general awareness of what in my cellar needs drinking up. Alternatively, if I began mealtime with a cocktail or spirits, I’m likely to continue drinking the same all through the meal. If I’m dining away from home and wine is offered,I never turn it down.
Should a guest bring a wine to my table, I’ll nearly always open it and drink that first, regardless of its supposed suitability to the menu in conventional terms. I do so partly because I consider it a bit indecorous to eschew opening such a gift — I couldn’t imagine not sharing it with the person who gave it.
This is all a bit unorthodox by wine-geek standards, but I take some solace in knowing that I am not alone in my wine and food pairing proclivities. Years ago, I read an interview with Jacques Pepin, the teacher, celebrated cook, author and PBS-celebrity chef.
Interviewer: “What is your approach toward wine as part of a meal?”
Pepin: “Preferably a lot of it and not too expensive [laughing]. In my culture, when I was a kid in France, we had wine on the table and that was the wine — it was usually red — that you had with your onion soup or your fish or your roast chicken. For special occasions, you would open a cork-sealed bottle, maybe a white for oysters. … For me, it was always there. I’ve been married 40 years and I can’t remember a meal where we didn’t open a bottle of wine with dinner, sometimes two. … Maybe because I’m from Lyon, I love Beaujolais. It goes with anything; it’s not pretentious; you don’t have to discuss it. I like syrah, grenache, and occasionally a great Burgundy or Bordeaux. … Free wine is my favorite.”
That pretty much captures my own sentiments.
This all came back to me the other day when I was busy in the kitchen with one of my more involved preparations and snacking absentmindedly on griebnes (crispy chicken skin; a byproduct of rendering chicken fat to produce schmaltz for use in the dish I was making).
I had already been drinking an outstanding wine by the time I came to snack on the griebnes, so when I drained my glass, I poured another. In conventional terms, the pairing was all wrong, bordering on malpractice, as the crispy, greasy, chicken treat typically calls for something more like a lager than a wine. Yet the wine I had in hand at that moment made for a superb pairing.
I’m not sure I’d really try, or even could really manage, to recapture that pairing moment again, and if asked I would certainly not mention, much less recommend, that combination. But at the time it was simply marvelous.
The wine in question was:
Château Marquisat De Binet, Cuvée Abel, Montagne-Saint-Émilion, 2012 ($36): Still young, but impressive and wonderfully balanced, with silky, integrating tannins, and great structure. This medium-bodied, still playful beauty is straining at the ropes with a refined yet heady nose of plum, cherry, raspberry, damp earth, dried herbs, a little tobacco, dried spices, a whiff of barnyard and a touch of black licorice. The palate offers a nicely complex interplay of fruit, herbs, minerals, tannins and high acidity, with a long, pleasing, earthy finish. Enjoyable now with plenty of breathing, but if you’ve patience to give it another six months or so to settle down, you can expect some real elegance for another five or six years, perhaps longer. L’chaim!