Is wine really as complicated as some people say it is?
And if it is, whose fault is it–the critics?
I’ve heard it all my adult life: wine is too snooty, too complex for the average person to understand and feel comfortable with it, and the reason is because those of us who write about it prattle on and on, muddying the waters with ridiculous talk of swirling and sniffing, black currants and wet dogs, aftertastes and appellations–when all people really want is simply to drink and get a buzz.
I personally feel some sympathy with this argument, even though I’m a critic, because I’m a very uncritical critic, by which I mean I’m the least snobby wine person I know. Give me some plonk in a paper cup at your next party and I’ll be a happy camper, as long as there’s some decent food to be had. Still, I have to look in the mirror and wonder if I, in my own way, have contributed to the chaos. Some people have so accused me. Even so, I try to adhere to Thoreau’s advice continually in my wine writing: Simplify, simplify!
If wine is complicated, theories of wine and food pairing are even more so. My heart often goes out to the poor host or hostess who worries herself silly with fears of improper matching. How many have apologized to guests for not putting something better out, or more appropriate to the food? This is when the criticism of the critics grows fiercest. “Drink anything you want, with whatever you want!” they say, “and don’t let those damned critics tell you otherwise!” With this, too, I have some sympathy, and have said and written so.
There was a time, in my wine reviewing, when I might consider a certain wine and go to great lengths to dream up the perfect dish to go with it, the way a chef might. I would debate in my mind whether it be pork or lamb. Then, which spices? What sauce? And don’t forget the accompaniment. After all, I was being paid to give readers my expert advice, right?
But in recent years I’ve changed all that, according to the Simplify, simplify rule. Today I’ll go no further than to write of beef or chicken, burgers or salmon, and leave the fine tuning to the cooks. It’s the least I can do to demystify wine, and make amends for whatever role I’ve played in complicating it.
Now we have the folks at Wente, a fine winery in Livermore Valley whose Grey Riesling I used to practically live on, working with The Food Network “to take the pretense out of wines with food pairing suggestions that range from macaroni and cheese to potato chips and salami.”
I say, good for Wente! While I’m not big on mac and cheese (too filled with carbs and fat) or potato chips (junk food), I am a big salami fan (within reason), but, more to the point, I understand where Wente is coming from. “Let’s take real food that real people eat everyday,” they’re saying, in effect, “and give them real wines, at an affordable price ($13), to enjoy.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t make tuna ras el hanout, with Umbrian lentils, arthichokes and preserved lemons, at home. I might order it at Spruce, but on a typical night at home I’ll bake a piece of salmon, steam some zucchini and call it dinner. Maybe not even that fancy: I’ve been known to have whole wheat toast with peanut butter for a meal, sprinkled with black sesame seeds. What do I drink with that? Anything at all, and happily. Life’s too short to fuss over red or white, sweet or dry, sparkling of still, when all you’re hankering for is a simple joy.