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.


Dan S said…
Awesome post! How true, I would never want a Turley, for example, on a 110 degree summer day! And the big napa cabs that I grow more tired of do have their place at my table at times, and have often surprised in the right context. Oh, I figured out the comment bug--if I launch your blog from within Facebook I get the visual ID error. If I open the blog solo in a separate IE window no prob.. Try it and see!

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