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When wine writers host public events



I’ll be co-conducting a wine-and-food pairing event at Saturday’s big Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival. It’s the eighteenth time the event, which is one of the biggest in Sonoma County, has been held—and I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never gone. Everyone has told me how amazing it is, so I am totally looking forward to it.

My particular role, which I’ll share with Pedro Rusk, one of the winery’s educators, is to talk about some white wines that make good summer drinking. Of course, I’ll also point out that no wine needs to be limited to just one season, despite the media’s penchant for suggesting that Big Reds (Zins, Petite Sirahs, Cabs) are good for warming the blood in winter, while delicate light whites are “the perfect poolside sippers,” to use one of the many hackneyed clichés that wine writers so often trot out.

Wine writers and wine critics, such as I used to be, possess many skills, but presiding over public tastings and food-and-wine pairings isn’t necessarily one of them. On the other hand there is a population of people out there in the wine industry who are quite proficient at the entertainment aspects of public educational tasting events, but who would make lousy critics and writers. The two skills are separate, yet they also are related. Both call for a knowledge of wine. Both call also for some understanding of the food pairing properties of wine. My own approach to this latter has never been overly precious, as readers of this blog might know. There is the danger of pretentiousness in suggesting that such-and-such a wine must be paired with such-and-such a food; or that certain pairings are lethal to both the wine and the food. There are very few “perfect” pairings, just as there are very few “lethal” ones. I was trying to think of an awful pairing, and came up with oysters and Cabernet Sauvignon. Yes, that would be over-the-top, nausea-inducing horror. But fortunately most wines will go with most foods, and you won’t have to worry about the Pairing Police knocking down your door and busting you. My attitude towards pairing is exactly the same as that expressed by the French sommelier, Gerard Basset, who was quoted in today’s South China Morning Post: “If there’s one area that can be over-thought… it’s pairing wine with food. [Basset’s] advice is to keep it simple.”

The other aspect of doing these educational tastings is, of course, to have the type of personality that is comfortable being in the spotlight, can yak it up with a smile and induce people to want to hear more, and one moreover that doesn’t have stage fright. I’m pretty good at being in the spotlight, so that doesn’t throw me. But I think even the best of public speakers has a little trepidation prior to going out there, live, before an audience. You just have to know your stuff, take a deep breath, pull out your natural charm and have confidence.

If you read this, either directly through my blog, or through Facebook or Twitter, and you’ll be at the Tomato Festival, please drop by Pedro’s and my seminar and say hi.

  1. Steve,

    Break out your Vomit Comet “Zero G” bag.

    “I was trying to think of an awful pairing, and came up with oysters and Cabernet Sauvignon. Yes, that would be over-the-top, nausea-inducing horror.”

    Quoting from this Los Angeles Times profile of Robert Parker circa 1999:

    “Parker says that he finds a full day of tasting so ‘mentally exhausting’ that he usually goes back to his hotel afterward, orders a hamburger or a salad for dinner and goes to bed early. Not tonight. ‘Let’s go to Pinot Blanc [a nearby French bistro] for a plate of OYSTERS,’ he says.

    “The maitre d’ at Pinot Blanc takes Parker straight to his table, and Parker immediately orders a dozen OYSTERS. As soon as he begins scanning the menu, he abandons his plan for a quick, light dinner with no wine.

    ” ‘It’s not even 6 o’clock,’ he says. ‘Let’s have some MUSSELS, too. And I think I’ll have the veal cheeks after that.’

    “He asks for the wine list. ‘They’ve got HARLAN ESTATE,’ he says, beaming. He’s given recent vintages of Harlan scores of 98, 99 and 100. He says it’s ‘maybe the single most profound wine in California.’

    “After his first sip [of HARLAN], Parker’s cherubic face takes on a blissful glow. He has said that he ‘gets chills’ when he tastes certain wines, and this is one of them.”


    ~~ Bob

  2. Bill Haydon says:

    So you’re sayin’ Parker has no taste? I can get on board with that sentiment.

  3. Two anecdotes and a news report on red wine with fish . . .

    I asked the sales and marketing director of a “cult” California Cab producer on the trend of Asian wine enthusiasts drinking Cabs with their native seafood cuisine.

    He said that Asians are acclimated to drinking tannic beverages (think green and black tea).

    So drinking a tannic red wine with seafood isn’t out of the norm for them.

    When I was invited to have dinner with Rudy Kurniawan a decade ago at his favorite Chinese seafood restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley (east of Los Angeles), I brought Alsace whites.

    Rudy brought 1989 Right Bank red Bordeaux.

    I suspended my disbelief and went with the flow.

    He artfully chose mature wines made from plush tannins Merlot.

    It worked — “sort of.”

    (I still like my Alsace wines with the live-from-the-tank crab soufflé.)

    But there is some “hard science” on red wine and fish not “playing well”:

    From The American Association for the Advancement of Science
    Science Now Website
    (October 22, 2009):

    “Why Fish and Red Wine Don’t Mix”


    By Phil Berardelli

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