Saturday, April 25, 2009

Enjoying wine as a dish or an ingredient?

I was thinking... that the world of wine drinkers is divided into two camps. In one camp, we have a lot of "serious" wine drinkers who grew out of and away from the wines so beloved by the other camp. This other camp typically encompasses people who are just getting into wine as well as those who evolve ever so slowly mostly sticking to the more basic and juicy flavors they are naturally comfortable with.

Thinking deeper, one key fundamental reason for the disagreement between the two camps is how they view wine. I believe one group always treat wine as a dish in and of itself, expecting completeness and self-containment. They expect a wine to be tasty on it own like a risotto with prawns or a soup is tasty all by itself.

I believe, the other group, however, learned to appreciate the incompleteness of a wine on its own. Members of that camp, perhaps without even explicitly realizing it, treat wine as an ingredient, an additive to a dish, just like salt, pepper, spice, vinegar, sauce or even individual vegetables or meats are. It is the complementary nature of wine as a drink, otherwise commonly referred to as "pairing" that fascinates me the most. Tasting any of the ingredients by themselves can be not just non-special, but downright revolting (think of eating salt or sugar on their own!) Putting too much of them into a dish will surely ruin it. But not adding any will just as surely make a dish blander and lacking. Picking the right ingredients in the right amounts is critical to making the whole ensemble sing.

The more I drink and the more I learn about wine, the more I value wine in the appropriate context. Drinking wine by itself means you expect it to be a dish. Drinking wine with food means you expect it to be an ingredient. The wine doesn't have to be tasty on it's own - but if you pair it with a dish, will it improve it? As you taste a wine, think - does it stand on its own or is it an ingredient? If it's an ingredient, what is its quality (as an ingredient) and what would its impact on a dish be? If it's full of pepper and acid, it may shine in a dish that benefits from those. But don't expect the same wine to shine in both scenarios.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Japanese wine drama Kami no Shizuku: Episode 7

...continued from Episode 6. If you are new to this series, start here.

This is an awesome Japanese Manga-drama about wine. Laugh, cry, enjoy as you watch Kami no Shizuku ("Drops of God").

Episode 7

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Episode 8 is available here.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Salty Riesling?

This wine was salty... hm, hm... saline is the more appropriate "positive" term, I'm told. Positive, because at a wine dinner of at least a dozen high-end wine lover's wines, this came out of nowhere to steal the show.

My regular readers already know how much I appreciate Riesling, but so far it has always been one with some sweetness (Kabinett or Spatlese level) necessary in order to extinguish the heat of Sichuan cuisine that I usually pair German Rieslings with.

But this dinner on Wednesday night of April 15 featured halibut with beans for course #1, and beef bourguignon for course #2, preceded by cheese and olives. Naturally, it was going to be whites for aperitifs and halibut, and reds for the beef. Starting off with Champagne, and following up with Condrieu, Cote-du-Rhone blanc, white Hermitage from Guigal, and Chateuneuf-du-Pape blanc from Vieux Telegraphe, somewhere along the way the host pulled out a Kallfelz Rielsing, with the following longer description: Kallfelz 2001 Merler Kongslay Terrassen Riesling Auslese trocken Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. That's a mouthful! A Riesling lover would right away notice the unusual portion of the name - too little words in the middle: "Auslese" and "trocken". Meaning "late harvest", "dry". Normally, as German Rieslings progress from Kabinett to Trockenbeerenauslese, they get progressively sweeter. While technically these represent levels of ripeness rather than sweetness, those are usually synonymous... but not always. The sweetness works so well in Rieslings because of their naturally high acidity that balances out the sugar - still, Auslese is practically a dessert wine. "Trocken" means dry (i.e. not sweet)! A contraction!?

You remove the sweetness, you may get a very sour wine. More than that, because Rieslings are also very minerally, due to the soils they grow in, you remove the sweetness, and if the fruit is not strong, you can get a soapy stony wine.

The first sniff of the wine was alluring - everything I come to expect in Auslese's late harvest grapes - with beautiful sweetness on the nose, that with 8 years of age lost its straightforward sugary edge, and promised a meld with acid, fragrance of sweet pungent flowers, and depth of flavor of candied dry fruits. The first sip of the wine was a contradiction indeed... Honeyed citrus, lush texture, depth and concentration, and SALTINESS(!!!) in place of sweetness.

The realization came slowly, as did the appreciation. As people around the table took turns, nods followed. "Trocken" - dry! How would honey with orange squeezed on it taste if it were not sweet?!!! Now add the minerality typical in a German Riesling (especially from the cooler Mosel region) and you have something unique and provocative. What is salt if not a mineral? So it makes perfect sense that when minerality asserts itself without the blanket of sweetness, one might get salt. The proof came when some of us proceeded to pair this Riesling with salt-cured olives and it worked! As the word spread around the table, this bottle emptied faster than all other more expensive and more highly regarded bottlings, and when the host told us that this had cost him about $10 (a few years back), we were blown away, just to learn further that "trocken" wines are quite a bit more popular in Germany than in the US, where consumers have a sweet tooth, and normally find unusual wines discomforting or outright confusing. Interestingly, turns out "confusing" is not always a bad word, but rather a doorway to provoke one's mind, to force one out of one's comfort zone, and in this case to lead to higher learning and appreciation of the marvels that wine offers if one is willing to try.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Japanese wine drama Kami no Shizuku: Episode 6

...continued from Episode 5. If you are new to this series, start here.

This is an awesome Japanese Manga-drama about wine. Laugh, cry, enjoy as you watch Kami no Shizuku ("Drops of God").

Episode 6

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Episode 7 is available here.

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