My favorite weekend activity lately is cooking, and not merely a quick pasta or throwing something on the grill, but throwing together something that can’t be made in the fading hours between work and sleep during the week. This is of course not something unique to me of course, everyone around the world has food that is reserved for long lazy days where a ragu can be simmered since the early hours of morning, or ribs that are smoked for so long that time is measured in beer cans and not hours, or brisket braised the same way it has been for time immemorial.
Picking a wine for such thoughtful food (thoughtful because slow cooking gives you time to think, chat with guests, or just watch pots boil) has become another obsession of mine. Sitting in front of my “cellar” (actually boxes and crates stacked underneath the stairs) looking at different bottles, trying to determine which is the perfect one from memory has become a large part of the ritual of weekend cooking.
As much as i enjoy tasting wine on its own, where one can appreciate all the small nuances with no distractions, i have always been of the mind that wine is best appreciated with food and my wine purchases try and reflect that. The best food wines for me are wines that can stand up to, but not overwhelm the food they are paired with, and they can either complement the food with their flavors, or provide a counterpoint.
That being said the idea of “food wine,” or wine that is made with eating in mind, conciously or unconciously, exposes one of the biggest schisms in the wine drinking world. On one side are wine drinkers who believe in the value of terroir and tradition, of crafting wines with rustic tradition instead of modern winemaking techniques, wines that are meant to be aged. On the other side are people who enjoy large flavorful wines, made with techniques that emphasize the tasting room instead of the kitchen, and with young drinkabilty in mind.
If the above post sounds like manichean bullshit to you, that’s because it is, but that doesn’t mean the schism doesn’t exist. That wine is discussed in such simplistic terms is distressing and oftentimes flat-out irresponsible. There are a lot of wines made with “traditional” methods that are near undrinkable, and more than a few modern wines that outshine their country cousins. the grand Champagne houses for instance make some of the worlds finest wines in spotless factory-like settings, while many wines touted as rustic are actually the product of biodynamic farming, which stresses often bizzare standards over sensible winemaking, with results ranging from mediocre to excellent.
So this brings me back to the simple pleasure of drinking a nice bottle with dinner. Good wine is meant first and foremost to be a pleasure, not a means of expressing a political philosophy. Too often we find ourselves assigning values to things that shouldn’t have value attched to them. We should reward those winemakers we like, not the ones that conform to our belief system if in doing so we end up being dissapointed in the final result. If someone likes big, double oaked chardonnay we shouldn’t look askance at them or chastise them, we should try some as well, see if we like it and perhaps we will, and it might just find a spot on our sunday table.