It is exciting to be a fan of wine during spring. Not only do we get to witness an onslaught of new rosé wines (as noted in a previous post), but we also get the chance to explore different possibilities for enjoying different wines at different times of the day and with different foods. Those of us living in Southern California should consider ourselves supremely lucky to soak up sunny weather that is more or less predictable. Spring wines don’t seem to just pair well with lighter food items, but also with our pleasant weather and the company we gather around to appreciate it.
I recently took a trip to Washington State. I set up my “home base” on Bainbridge Island with a couple of friends, and we did what we could to enjoy the slower-paced island life on Bainbridge, while also taking the 30-minute ferry to Seattle to enjoy a more turbulent yet gastronomically impressive environment. We marveled at the contrasts, but also appreciated those establishments that could strike balance between catering to liveliness and also charming patrons with appreciation for more slow and methodical dining experiences. You know you are experiencing a good meal when you notice yourself slipping back into your chair and taking a deep breath. For me, this action usually indicates a subtle out-of-body experience where I am able to appreciate my own appreciation for food, drink, and the invigorating dialogues that emerge from food experiences. I was struck with a number of insights about food culture during my time visiting the northwest.
First, bottle price is not the sole correlate for a positive experience. Rest assured that I spent more than a few cents on bottles of wine (retail and in restaurant) during my time away, but the most expensive bottle was not necessarily the most enjoyable. My friends and I splurged on bottles of aged Bordeaux and Chateauneuf-du-Pape, all of which were memorable. But when I think back on our experiences, I’m not willing to admit that these expensive bottles were totally a cut above the moderately priced bottles of Muscadet we ordered with shellfish lunches. An “objective” wine critic may object to such a claim, but I’m all finished with objectivity as a way of approaching wine. Food and wine are aspects of our subjective consciousness, and we should embrace them for the ways they enhance our lives when we allow ourselves to seek out the indulgences. Was our bottle of 2006 Haut-Bage Liberal technically a better wine than the 2015 Cognettes Muscadet? Perhaps it is. But we ordered the Muscadet after a long walk, and we were hot. And we got to appreciate this bottle with sublimely delicious shellfish, which arrived at our table just as the acidity in the Muscadet caused our mouths to salivate past the point of comfort. If I were to venture off on this trip again next week, I’m not so sure I would buy the Bordeaux again. It was expensive, and I’m not all that wealthy. But the Muscadet was very reasonably priced and it was brilliant with the food we ordered. I’ll take that experience every day of the week (though I’ll be looking for a different pant waist size shortly thereafter).
I have also come to believe that we consumers should pay attention to food and wine pairings, but should not verge into any sort of dogmatism. This adage seems especially appropriate during spring, when we should be embracing all the fresh, clean, and budget-friendly wines we can get our hands on. For example the bottles of Muscadet, Provence rosé, and Chablis I’ve been purchasing have not maxed out my credit card, but have dazzled me with their versatility with a wide range of different edible fares. Of course, being in defense of a more tempered approach to pairing wine with food does not mean that we should not be paying attention to the exciting ways the two may interact. One of the most profoundly delicious and compelling pairings on my trip was a 2006 German Spätlese Riesling with chicken liver pâté. The opulence of the pâté was such a wonderful fit for the rich flavors of the wine, but balanced by the Riesling’s sustained acidity (one of the many reasons to adore Riesling). And this was one example of the ways a wine can be just “right” for a particular food item, I don’t recognize it as being the only pairing that I might have written about now that I am back home.
These are just two insights that struck me over the course of my trip and now, during periods of reflection. Of course, the overarching lesson is to collect wines that will make you happy, and that will enhance this wonderful season. Thankfully, finding bottles that meet this specification will not break the bank, and will enhance just about any meal… especially around lunchtime.