I remember being asked in the mid-1980s to serve on a judging panel for California chardonnays for a wine magazine. It certainly was a grueling two days of tasting; there were an overwhelming number of bottlings, from inexpensive to very pricey.
The most memorable aspect of the experience, however, was not the leading wines. In fact, I can’t even remember which wines finished on top and which were at the bottom.
What I distinctly recall is the wines that placed in the top five did not pair well with any of the food we ate for dinner that second night. It was a disappointment but also a real revelation.
Some wines taste better on their own. Others really shine when served with food. Just the other night, for example, at a BYOB wine dinner at our Vino restaurant, one of the participants brought a bottle of the 2007 Ojai Chardonnay "Bien Nacido Vineyard." Since the wines were served blind, I’m certain quite a few tasters wouldn’t have guessed this wine was from California.
It was not front-loaded, obvious, oaky or alcoholic and therefore worked surprisingly well with the Island Snapper Piccata course. This wasn’t the best pairing of the night, but I’m sure it caught the attention of diners nonetheless.
This brings to mind the many experiences my wife, Cheryle, and I have had in Europe at small hole-in-the-wall bistros and cafes, where everyone has wine with lunch and dinner. Having wine with a meal is a way of life there.
Food-friendly "country" wines are a style we should consider more in America, especially with our meals. What does this mean?
The wine should be delicious. If we expect our food to be delicious, why shouldn’t our wines be the same?
Second, if we expect food to be lighter and fresher, our wines should follow suit.
Third, wines should be food-friendly. In many cases a little refreshing, lemony edge to the wine can act like a squeeze of lemon with food, especially seafood. This added zing accents a dish, cuts through fishiness and cleanses the palate between bites — just as a touch of lemon would do.
Finally, cafe/bistro-style wines should be gulp-able, not oaky, alcoholic or bitter. There should be no hard edges, so a sip can slide down the gullet smoothly.
These kinds of wine frequently do not garner high scores and ratings by wine publications. But they certainly can round out an experience at the dinner table.
Until next time, please enjoy.
Chuck Furuya is a master sommelier and a partner in D.K. Restaurants. E-mail him at email@example.com.