Sunday, December 6, 2015

To Pair or Not to Pair, That is the Question #MWWC21

*This post is being entered in the Drunken Cyclist's Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. See more details here. The winner last month was Jim van Bergen of JVB Uncorked. He won with this post on the topic of “variety”.  Jim also selected the topic of “pairing” for this month’s challenge.  Enjoy!

**Please vote HERE!

“Pairing” is a very popular topic on wine blogs. This past month, every other blog seems to have a post on “Turkey Friendly Wines” or “Wines to Pair with your Thanksgiving Meal”, etc. Wine pairings are everywhere: wine pairing dinners at local restaurants, food pairing suggestions in an eblast from a local wine store, articles in food and wine magazines, etc. However, it is my belief that regular people don’t give two shits about wine pairings. This obviously does not include somms, people in the business, wine students, or aficionados. We (usually) do care. We understand how and why the Champagne brings out the briny, salty sea water in the oyster. We understand why a high acid pinot makes a nice foil to that piece of grilled salmon. When I dine out in my native Los Angeles, I love to read through the full food and wine menus to get a sense of what was going on in the minds of the chef and the somm when they created those menus. Why did they make the decisions they made? How do the wine selections complement the food and how can I maximize the relationship of the two (without breaking the bank)?

Newsflash: most people are more than happy to drink Yellowtail, Kenwood, Gallo, Blackstone, Sutter Home, Barefoot, etc. These all fall in that $5-$8/bottle sweet spot for grocery store wines. This, my friends, is most of America. They pop into the market to pick up fixins’ for dinner and grab the $7.99 bottle of red wine on the end cap of the wine aisle. Done. It was a 5-second decision that had nothing to do with how the wine would work with the fat content of the steak they were making. And I think that’s ok. I’m not gonna lose sleep over it. I’m not gonna hang my head in shame of my American wine-drinking brothers and sisters who ignore the ridiculous notion that food and wine must ALWAYS be consumed with the purpose of elevating the experience.

Everyone has a different experience with wine, and I can’t expect them all to be connoisseurs. That is one thing that I will call out some of my fellow wine bloggers and fellow wine students on: they focus too much on the high-end. Sure, good (and usually expensive) wine is awesome. There really is some insanely delicious stuff out there in the high-end market. But I find that the more people know about wine and study wine, they tend to leave behind the more “pedestrian” wines. There is something about drinking a light and refreshing Frascati out of a simple cup with a simple pasta dish while in Rome/Lazio. Or going over to a friends house for dinner and enjoying their favorite homemade comfort food dish with a cheap ass bottle of wine. Those are experiences and they are part of life. I don’t ever want to turn into that wine person who lambastes people’s choices of wine the second you leave their house, or who bad mouths their friend who served Cooks “Champagne” for their wedding toast. Wine is not as important to all people as it is to you. Get over it.

In my opinion, context is everything. For example, the other night I made a PB&J sandwich for dinner. Why? Because I was hungry, because I had nothing else in the house, and because I felt like it. I also drank a glass of bubbly with it. And it was fucking delightful. I didn’t consciously “pair” the sandwich to the bubbly (obviously). I just wanted both, and didn’t give a shit if it paired correctly or what people would think about it. On the other hand, I might cook a nice meal of chicken picatta on another night, and enjoy that with a creamy Carneros Chardonnay or a white Burgundy. Context.

The bottom line is that most of the time, I am NOT pairing my food and wine. Most of the time I eat what I want to eat and drink what I want to drink. Sometimes it’s just about what bottle we have open from last night and what protein is sitting on a plate defrosting in my fridge. It’s as simple as that.

Somehow this post ended up as a rant on some level...oops! But hey, sometimes you’ve gotta just voice your mind and live unabashedly. The more I learn about wine, the more I want to maintain my belief that Wine is Democratic. It is for everyone and meant to be enjoyed by everyone.


  1. 'Wine is Democratic' - Exactly! Pairings can be magical, but I always tell people what really matters is whether you like it or not, rules be damned.

  2. It's hard to get that point across. Most people think wine is this fancy/hard to understand thing. And it can be. But you can also just suspend the complication and just enjoy the stuff. Cheers!

  3. One of the best dissertations on pairing in years. I even had to read it aloud to someone else to appreciate the text. Thank you.

  4. Thank you @thewineraconteur! What a compliment. Cheers and happy holidays!