Saturday, September 10, 2011

Wine 101

Wine intimidates me.  It's difficult for me to admit to this fact because I am married to a wine freak.  Pretty much every day we're popping open some varietal I've never heard of, and he's going on about the weather in Napa and what the Parker scores are.  Most of daily life is like Wine 101.  The problem is we've been married for 16 years, and by this time I should have my degree; instead, I'm pretty much stuck at Wine 101.  About all I can do is tell you the difference between a red and a white.  Um.  They're both good.

I think part of the problem is that hubby dearest knows
my palate such that I don't have to.  When it comes to wine, I get to be June Cleaver and let Ward deal with all the tough issues like how to disclipline Wally and the Beaver, and,oh yeah--decide what to drink. 

I have, however, learned two things.  The first is that when the right food is paired with the right wine, the experience and flavor of both is enhanced.  (And when the right food and wine are paired with the right people, well--that's pretty much a spiritual experience.)  For example, take my tomato sauce.  I pride myself on this sauce, and even my children know that jarred sauce in my kitchen is like ants at a picnic.  My Ragu-loving husband, however, can do one thing to make it better:  serve it with chianti classico reserva.  This higher-end chianti stands up to the acidity of the tomatoes and allows every single molecule of flavor to tap dance on your tongue.  Same thing happens when you  take a ruby port and serve it with the richest creamiest darkest chocolate dessert you can find, and suddenly your richest creamiest darkest chocolate dessert becomes utterly and simply:  MORE.  It's heaven.

The problem, of course, is knowing what pairs with what, and here is the second thing I've learned.   If you don't have a husband or a trusted fried that can pair your wine, find someone who can.  There are hundreds of such people; most of them own wine stores.  There is simply no shame in not knowing in how to pick the right wine.  There are about a million wines out there, and only professionals or weirdos like my husband can keep track of them all.  Note that I didn't say find someone to pick your palate.  Your palate is your palate.  It's sort of like sex, if it isn't good for you, then it simply isn't good.  The right wine guy will know this.

I don't frequently do shout-outs on this blog, but my favorite place to go for wine is Vienna Vintner in Vienna, Virginia.  The proprietor is guy named Victor Mendes, and he's about as approachable and unpretentious as they come.  You are greeted with not just with a smile, but on Saturday afternoons, he has a full spread of wine and food out for sampling at the back of the store.  Hit it at the right time, and you feel like you've walked into a really good party. Victor understands that wine and food are like a good marriage-each one does what they can to make the other better.  So when you sample his wines, you get a sense not just what they will taste like, but how they will hold up to particular flavors.  There's also usually someone there, if not Victor himself, who is more than willing to explain to you what it is you are drinking, and thus, after awhile, you start to learn what it is you like, and what you don't.  Go there often enough and you might actually learn enough about wine to graduate from Wine 101.

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