Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Stop Your Wine-ing

Enjoying wonderful cuisine and fine wine are synonymous in my opinion – one without the other is lacking. Somehow in our busy class schedule we were able to fit in two introductory sessions on wine and food pairings.

Our Chef/Sommelier had extensive knowledge on the subject and it was very interesting to tap into her oenological mind. She is a former FCI grad who spent a lot of time in Napa Valley working with and for wineries.

The classes were informative and we tried three white wines and three reds for each session. What surprised me the most was how old world wines are really affected by the food paired with them. We had similar wines made from the same grape grown in the same region of France. The differences were climate, soil/geology and the wine-makers style. We paired flavors with the same varietal and each tasted so different and so completely better with the right food flavors. French wine is meant to be consumed with the regional cuisine of that area. It’s a fascinating subject that one could spend a lifetime exploring and learning.

My humble experience with wine was at an early age watching my father make his own wine. I would go to the farmer’s market with him and he would purchase crates and crates of grapes. I loved seeing grapes stacked high in the garage with their colorful brand labels – the best part was sampling the cool fruit right from the vine. Dad had this ancient looking wine press that was hand-cranked and it was set high above a vat that collected all the juice. The scent of sweet fruit, nutty seeds and somewhat tannic grape skins being pulverized by that antiquated press is something I haven’t had the pleasure of enjoying in a very long time.

Unfortunately, I was really young and my attention span wandered and I never caught the entire process of his wine-making. I just liked the harvest and pressing stages. Dad aged his wine in oak barrels and it was wonderful to actually see them up close with their tightly fitted metal bands and inhale that oaky wood smell. I have no idea how long he aged the wine in oak, again my attention span waned.

One year around the holidays, I remember trying a thimble-sized taste of his wine – I remember how strong it tasted, it was rough around the edges, very new wine-tasting. I could compare it today to a very rustic table wine, perhaps a Chianti. I became light-headed from that small sip, my palate was not developed so my reaction to the wine was not of enjoyment – that night I rang in the New Year with tipsy anticipation.

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