Friday, December 5, 2008

The myth of wine and food pairing

I always loved food and I've been serious about wine for at least 20 years. I've studied a lot of books and magazines, attended several courses, traveled in different continents, discussed with winemakers, chefs, sommeliers, wine lovers and casual drinkers but I've never really understood the art of wine and food pairing. To me it's just another myth, used to sell books and magazines and by self-called experts to brag about how knowledgeable they are.
The organoleptic analysis is almost an exact science: tons of chemical compounds create complex scents, flavors and textures that we can recognize with our senses. You can be good at it, you can train yourself if you are not, but, usually, there is a general agreement on the qualities of a wine. That doesn't mean that a good (or an excellent) wine is good to everyone. And this is the first problem. The second problem is that a recipe is a complex artifact by itself. If you add the complexity of a wine, the result is experienced differently by different people.
The biggest disappointments I had in my life were mostly when I chose the recommended wines with a dish or a menu: either I didn't like the wine or I didn't enjoy the pairing.
When I host a tasting dinner I try to pair 2 to 3 wines for a single dish so we can compare the wines and decide what we like the most. Surprisingly, almost everybody agrees on which one is the best wine but no consensus is found on the best pairing.
I'm comforted in this opinion by 2 great chefs I've been lucky enough to meet: Gualtiero Marchesi and Pietro Leemann. For both, the best approach to wine and food pairing is to take a great dish, add a great wine and enjoy!

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