|I'll make them drink Cabernet with their spicy Indian food|
I wish a big paper like the Sydney Morning Herald had taken the trouble to spell my name correctly, but copy editors are always the first to go in layoffs. I don't want to insult the great city of Sydney by "correcting" its unusual first vowel, nor do I want to retaliate by adding a "u" to morning, one of my favorite times of day. So I'll just call the paper The Harold and move on to the real issue:
Does food and wine pairing matter to anyone other than food writers?
The answer, unfortunately, is usually not. And arrogant food writers are part of the reason why.
Don't do what The Harold did and mistake the messenger for the message. I care about food and wine pairing; I don't ever ignore it. In a restaurant, before ordering any wine I chat with the sommelier, and if she seems to listen to and understand my tastes and budget, I defer to her choice more than 90% of the time. She has tasted the wines and the food; I haven't.
But I'm a food writer, so food and wine pairing matters to me. What I wrote that offended The Harold, and am here to restate, is that it does not matter to most people. Ask any sommelier and she will tell you of many instances in which she recommended, say, dry Riesling with a crab dish and the customer said, "We don't like white wine," and ordered a Cab.
These consumers are the norm, not the exception. Cabernet Sauvignon might be the world's least food-friendly wine, and most Napa Valley versions of it are intentionally made these days to be the least food-friendly of Cabernets. Yet Cab is the most popular red wine in America, Napa Cabs are the most-sought wines in the land, and the few food-friendly Cabs left in Napa fetch less than a third the price of the others.
The same is true to a much lesser extent of Chardonnay; it goes well with some dishes (I love it with rotisserie chicken), but it's nowhere near as food-friendly as Riesling or even Sauvignon Blanc, yet the sales for the latter two combined don't begin to approach King Chard, America's favorite wine.
Food writers deserve some of the blame. As I wrote in my original article, I laugh every time I see some food piece that says you should drink this one particular wine -- the '08 vintage, not the '07 -- with this dish because of its saffron and olive oil base. Blah blah blah. Or, from the reverse angle, that this Syrah is great with lamb rubbed with marjoram, grilled medium-rare, and covered with a fig vinaigrette reduction.
It's too specific, and thus not helpful. That kind of pairing advice is great from a sommelier when the actual dish in question is coming to your table.
But look at any recipe website. Few people make the original recipe: they delight in substitutions. That changes the character of the dish and makes any specific wine recommendation moot.
And besides, we don't have an open marketplace for wine. I can't easily buy the '09 Pfalz Trocken Riesling that was so good with the food writer's pork recipe. Even if I make the recipe exactly, I have to make do with the wines in my refrigerator at the time, or if I'm ambitious, at my corner store. Food writers are being arrogant if they think a reader is not only going to follow their recipe exactly; he's also going to shop around the entire country via wine-searcher to find the exact wine recommended.
There are plenty of food writers like Ray Isle who understand the way to help readers with their wine questions. You give a range of wines, which is the truth anyway: very few dishes only go well with a single type of wine. And you acknowledge that your specific recommendations are chosen because they're a good one for that type; i.e., "a full-fruited, complex Sauvignon Blanc without many herbal notes, like the Grgich Hills." (Grgich Hills Fume Blanc, yum.)
But be real about your audience: Most of your readers are going to ignore that and drink what they want. We educate them a little at a time, but breaking people of Cab and crab is going to be as hard as weaning them from white Zinfandel or teaching them that nigori sake is for beginners.
If somebody wants to argue that disinterest in food-wine pairing is an American thing, and the majority of consumers in your country do care, go for it.
That said, The Harold writer ended up undermining his own point at the end, with his stinging conclusion of saying someone ought to send a particular bottle of wine to me.
Great! I'll take it, I love Australian wine.
But, um, are you also going to send me the lamb dish that it came with? Or are you just going to let me drink it with whatever I feel like eating, as the overwhelming majority of your readers are already doing?