“Wine and Food Pairings, No Way!”—The Lady Doth Protest Too Much

cynthia at Rosenbluem open house_Oct 2007What would you say if I told you that the concept of pairing wine with food is a farce? It doesn’t exist. It’s just a hoax, a ploy, a marketing scheme designed by the wine industry to suck the wallets dry of unsuspecting consumers.

Before you send me hate mail, let me make one thing clear: I would never say this—I believe in the practice. Besides, what is food without wine and vice-versa? Wine has had a place at the dinner table for eons and continues to accompany meals.

Furthermore, I find that most of my customers enjoy talking about wine and food—except for one. I nearly dropped the varietal I was holding while pouring to a woman whose skepticism was completely unsubstantiated. “It’s just a gimmick,” she scoffed, as her face contorted followed by a shoulder shrug that implied “whatever” after tasting the wine I had just served.

If the practice is a gimmick, why do we have taste receptors in our mouth that react in various ways to nutrients or chemical compounds, creating a certain “mouthfeel?” The notion of pairing wine with food may be centuries old, but it’s also one that continues to be proven by science.

Science, however, was not a topic that this lady was willing to consider. Believe me, I tried to give her with facts, but she just looked at me as if I’d already had too much nectar of the gods. Hmm, I wondered. Does she believe in dinosaurs, or the 1969 moon landing, or the Mars Rover expedition or global warming for that matter? Maybe she’s a conspiracy theorist.

What she is not is a wine appreciator. That’s okay, but please don’t insult your tasting room host in the process. Let me give you some backstory so that you can understand why my hackles are in such an uproar.

It was a quiet early afternoon when this couple walked into the tasting room. After speaking with them for a short time, I learned that the gentleman, a local, was a lover and collector of wine; the woman, his girlfriend, was visiting from the East Coast and made it clear that she did not share in his passion. That’s okay. Sometimes you make sacrifices for your partner.

They shared a tasting—rather he insisted she join him in the flight. I got the impression that he wanted to teach her the basics of tasting wine, but she wanted nothing to do with it. Clearly, he was interested in our wines, so he and I engaged in pleasant conversation. I didn’t want to ignore her, however, so I changed the topic occasionally, asking her for how long she was visiting and so on. Despite my efforts to lure her into superficial chatter, she continued to flip through the pages of the visitor’s guide that was on the tasting bar, and she did so with utter indifference.

However, she did make it a point to tell me where on the East Coast she lived. In fact she went one step further. She managed to tell me that the locals from this certain metropolis, whose name will go unmentioned, viewed Californians are “weird.” Not sure whether I had just been insulted (even her boyfriend raised his nose from his glass in disbelief of what she had just blurted out), I kindly asked her to elaborate. By “weird” she meant “too liberal”—like I haven’t heard that before.

Not wanting to go down that road (I’ve learned from years of pouring wine to keep the conversation light and breezy, and preferably focused on the wine), I maneuvered the conversation back to food and wine. I asked her what it was about pairing the two that she didn’t believe. I already knew her answer: She didn’t have one, but insisted that “it was a hoax.”

Hoping that she would have an open mind, I tried once again to describe in a non-threatening way the science of paring wine with food. I even threw in a bit about the art behind it, thinking that this might intrigue her, but she changed the subject, asking me instead where the “action was.”

“Action?” I asked. “Do you mean places to see?” “Yes,” she replied, referring to pictures of quaint B&B’s, eclectic shops, live-music and upscale restaurants she had seen while doing an online search of the area. I rattled off a list of places to visit, noting that many tourist sites are spread out except for in a couple of towns where the “action” is easily accessible within walking distance. Her reaction was just as drab as it was toward the wine flight. However, this time she managed to pull her nose from the pages of the visitor’s guide, turn her head toward her boyfriend and fire a look that screamed, “Can we go now?”

Clearly, she was not familiar with wine-tasting etiquette. Then why would she be? That topic too is probably a hoax. But hey, what do I know? I’m just a liberal Californian who enjoys having my wine with food. Cheers!

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