Archive for November, 2012

Simplifying Wine and Food Pairing this Thanksgiving

As the holidays approach here in the US, we reach peak wine season.  It’s the time when everyone starts thinking about which wines to serve for family gatherings and what to order for parties and celebrations.  It’s also the time of year when wine journalists devote their column inches to what to serve for Thanksgiving.

This year, the common theme running through these articles appears to be to – relax, take it easy, and don’t stress out. There are too many flavors at work in a Thanksgiving meal, too many family complications, you don’t want your wine choices to become overly burdensome. As long as your guests are happy then everything is a success. I agree with many of these sentiments, too much time and effort can be spent over-analyzing the perfect Thanksgiving wine and food pairings. The vast array of food served at Thanksgiving runs the whole spectrum of dominant characteristics, virtually ensuring that there is no one perfect wine to pair if you aim to sample all the available dishes. A picky eater that sticks to one dish is a pairing slam dunk, but realistically we all like the feast.

People who don’t tipple much during the rest of the year can be struck with fear at the prospect of providing suitable refreshments for the Holidays. As Tom Wark over at Fermentation recently remarked, don’t scare the wine drinkers. I don’t think we should be totally blasé about wine selections, but we don’t need to go full art/science/little bit of magic complexity either. As Trish Rogers points out at the beginning of her ZiNG! workshops, we are all born with all the necessary equipment to taste and evaluate food and wine. There is little complexity beyond noticing the effects of wine and food in your mouth.

Now there is good science relating to wine and food pairing – both are composed of chemicals and they come together in an environment that can evaluate their interaction. A good reaction will trigger pleasure in your brain, saying “I want more of that”. A bad reaction will cause us to screw our face up and say “ugh! no more of that”. Knowing, appreciating, and being guided on those reactions should be an aim for everyone.

So what’s the wine solution to Thanksgiving? Personally, I think enough wine to go around and plenty of variety! Now this may cause a stemware problem, but there is nothing that says you cannot have several different glasses going at the same time. There are many food dishes on the table, so why not several wine bottles?

If you are still looking for some inspiration, then we’ve published a Thanksgiving food collection for you to subscribe to. Just open the Taste ZiNG! app and search for a subscription with the code UPUGYY or the name Thanksgiving.

Happy Holidays.

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iPads in Restaurants

In a recent interview, top San Francisco chef Michael Mina was asked if he was a techie?

MM: I don’t believe in using the iPad for a winelist. I hate that. When I go to a restaurant, I want the wine list. I believe in using technology to make experiences better for your guests. … But I don’t believe in replacing the traditions in the restaurant with technology.

I’ve been using computers for a long time so I might be biased, but I do believe that technology could augment a diner’s experience. First and foremost, many wine lists are inscrutable even to those of us who are regular imbibers, so it would be nice to have some guidance on which wines will pair with the food on offer. For example, not everyone knows the difference between a Domaine Arlaud ‘Les Ruchots’ 1er Cru 2010 and a Massolino ‘Parafada’ Barolo 2004 (both similarly priced at Michael Mina in San Francisco) but you would not want to mix them up in a food situation. Now this is traditionally where a sommelier would step into the picture, but if you are still negotiating with the rest of your dining partners over dishes and wine, where everything is up in the air, this could take some effort and I for one would feel guilty taking up so much of someone’s time. Restaurant technology, if done well, offers the diner a greater opportunity and insight into a wine program than just a name and a price and at a pacing that suits them, and could be a tremendous trade up on tradition.

On a semi-related matter, Andrew Knowlton, the restaurant editor at Bon Appétit, is conflicted over the use of iPad menus. You see, his problem is that he steals menus, and obviously a $400 piece of consumer electronics is a very different moral proposition than stuffing a sheet of paper into your pocket. As we encourage restaurants to use Taste ZiNG! I always expected theft to be a concern, I just never expected it to come from food critics!