Jason Joyce
July 19, 2011 | Chalk Talk, Food, Wine Opinions | Jason Joyce

The Paradox of Unique Guidelines

     One of the side jobs that comes with becoming a winemaker is the position of chief of all family wine questions and situations. As someone who just plain loves wine, I’m not always the best suited for this job. When a family member does a bit of research and tells me, “Oh, let’s hold off on the Chardonnay right now because I heard that you can’t drink it with the salad dressing I used.” I can tell that they really don’t care, that they are just worried that I will look at them scornfully as they serve me the evil mixture of wine and vinegar. As if people expect me to fly off the handle yelling, "How dare you ruin the sanctity of my wine that I perfectly crafted.  This meal is RUINED!"  Instead, I usually reply with something like, “You know, that might be technically true, but who cares. Never hold off on drinking wine, bad pairings can be just as fun as a good one. You can see what difference the food makes in the way the wine tastes." This is a great way to truly understand food pairing.

      Wine's relationship to our palates fascinates me endlessly, so I’m not one to dogmatically follow the rules of food and wine. Like most trained scientists, I feel there is just as much to learn in failure as there is in success. Sadly, my offhand dismissal of hard and fast rules just makes everything more confusing for my family.

      These situations always get me thinking about why wine can be so confounding to those first exploring it. I think people are scared that they will demonstrate some form of wine ignorance by flubbing a basic rule. Well, rules like these are meant to be broken indeed. The world of food and wine is so complex, simple rules should only be the roughest of guidelines. As an example wines are often described as being "food friendly".  I guess this is said implying that some other un-named wine is unfriendly or just plain rude.  Since wine is so completely intertwined into the culinary experience, this has to be one of the harshest critiques possible of a wine. The problem that immediately comes to my mind is this: What does the critic in this case mean by "food"?

     When I lived in San Francisco, a typical 8pm question was, “What should we eat tonight?” I know this is a common problem in homes throughout the world, but the seemingly endless choices made available in my neighborhood invoked that same feeling of hopeless confusion as when choosing a toothpaste.

Seriously, what's the answer here?   

     Anyway, here is just a sample of the choice of restraunt styles that were within a 4-minute bike ride of my front door:

American, New American, Southern, BBQ, CalifornianCajun, SeafoodFrench, Italian, Vietnemese, French-Vietnemese, GermanEast German, Hipster GermanPizza, Southern Indian, Northen Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Nepalese, CambodianThai, Ethiopian, Senegalese, Moroccan, Spanish/Tapas, Peruvian, Nicaraguan, Mexican, New Mexican, Tacos, Burritos, Vegan/Raw, Cuban, Japanese, Mediterranean....(Man, now I need to spend a week eating in the Mission)

       The idea that there is some formula out there that x and y features of wine make it good with "food" seems totaly absurd.  I don't care what the pH, TA, tannin, alcohol, balance, ten-cent wine descriptor, you can find a food that works for you with pretty much any wine.  I've met people who swear by sushi and whiskey!  Not my ideal pairing, but if you love it, anyone who tells you otherwise can take a walk.  When one combines the entire spectrum of sustenance with all the styles and characteristics of wine, then throws in the full range of human taste and experience, I think you’d have to be a Numberwang champion to figure out all the possibilities.

      So take this as a challenge to disregard much of what you’ve read or heard and just go exploring. Eat at places that are passionate about what they serve and express a unique point of view. That passion will lead them, and in turn you, to all sorts of interesting and unexpected places that simply following “the rules” would steer you away from. The role of the experts should not be to confuse you and limit your choices, but instead be a role of expanding and leading you to try something you might otherwise avoid. Any sommelier will tell you the greatest triumph in pairing is the success of the unexpected. Don’t be afraid of failure or of some snobby upturned nose at a bad pairing. Try anything and everything with the full confidence that failure and success are both wonderful outcomes when it comes to wine and food. This more than any book, video, magazine, or blog will lead you down the path of understanding your unique palate.


Shawn Burgert's Gravatar
Shawn Burgert
@ Aug 2, 2011 at 11:23 AM
I love your approach Jason! Non pretension and lets not get hung up on "rules." After all, vines did not come with a rule book. God made them, lets appreciate them and do what you like approach allows a freeing experience for many to simply do what you like and not worry about some line drawn in the sand. Cheers Jason!

Jason 's Gravatar
@ Aug 8, 2011 at 9:53 AM
Shawn, Thanks for letting me know that someone besides my grandma is reading this. I'm really impressed by the concept of wandering-wino. If you ever are making another Paso wandering, please feel free to contact me and I can show you around our place and let you know about my favorite tasting rooms in town.

Amber's Gravatar
@ Aug 11, 2011 at 2:07 PM
I too loved this!! Do you mind if I share a link to your post with my Facebook fans? We will be carrying your wines in our shop and I know that a lot of people find the thought of pairing food and wine to be a scary adventure. This immediately eased my mind.

Jason's Gravatar
@ Aug 12, 2011 at 9:33 AM
Amber, Glad you found my little post. Feel free to facetweet or spacesquare this to anyone you like! What store are you at? I will be going on in store tasting tours once harvest is over, so maybe I can come by.


Amber's Gravatar
@ Aug 12, 2011 at 10:18 AM
Jason, We are in Anchorage, AK! UnWINEd, we open in September. Alaska is kind a little more of a trek than just a "swing by", but that would be awesome if you could make it up. The trip is definitely worth it! Amber

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