I have a recipe that dates back many years that I enjoy making a couple of times each year. I can tell the recipe is a bit “vintage” based on the print style of the magazine I clipped it from, the publication from font to layout looks much different today after a couple of updates. I recently made the recipe and over time I have made some adjustments to it. I have made these adjustments according to my own taste on how I like food, but the point is, I have the recipe in a pretty good place based on mine and Mary’s likes and dislikes.
The best winemakers I know are really no different. They all strive to make the best wine they can, based on their own likes and dislikes, but also on those of their customers. This winemaking style that becomes very individualized for each of them is then adjusted again, based on what each vintage gives them. Each growing year is a little different, and in extreme years, almost unrecognizable from the “normal” year. I was recently talking to Doug Shafer of noteworthy Napa Valley winery, Shafer Vineyards. He was talking about how wine writers, sommeliers and others will ask him: why don’t you make your wine this way? Or that way? Doug’s response was simply, that is not what I do. Doug has a style; he makes the wine to be true to his own taste and that of his customers, which must be working since his wines are prized and highly allocated every year. But Doug will also tell you that, overtime, he has “tweaked” his winemaking to adapt to vintage issues, but also gradually over time, as his and his customer’s tastes have changed ever so slightly.
There is also an entire set of beliefs and rules on what wines should go with which foods. If you look back at older wine and food pairing books and other publications, you would be lucky to find a red wine pairing suggested with fish. Similarly, white wine would never be considered as an accompaniment to anything but fish or cheese. Over time though, this has gradually been changed and updated. So much more goes into wine and food pairing today than these steady and steadfast rules from several years back.
All of this wraps into the beautiful adventure of both food and wine for us. It is also what we encourage every wine consumer to do from time to time. Tweak it all! Wine, while it may sound a bit contrived, is all about a journey. It is, each time you open a bottle of wine and pour a glass, a chance to discover something new. It is a chance to learn and let your palate evolve. Do we all have our favorites? Of course. Are there certain varietals or producers we will always have in our wine racks? You bet. Yet there is still so much to be discovered that we haven’t yet tasted, and one of those may become your new favorites.
So, we suggest tweak it all! Play with the spicing on your food, elevate some ingredient quantities to meet your tastes, or throw others out altogether.
When it comes to wine, instead of reaching for your reflexive choice, the one you go to all the time, make a commitment to try something new once per week or once per month, depending on your consumption patterns. One of two things will occur: you will either like your new, adventurous choice or you won’t. Either way, you will have learned something and perhaps discovered a worthwhile detour on your wine journey.
The next time you are entertaining (and this is really fun around the holidays when crowds gather) shake up your wine and food pairing. I am the biggest fan in the world of having really great Pinot Noir with Thanksgiving turkey, but each year we try at least one new wine with the big feast. Try basing your pairing based on acid levels to go with the richness of the foods, as opposed to flavor profiles. Mix up your “color combinations” to challenge those old rules. Try some high acid whites to go with rich beef, pork or lamb dishes. Whip out a Grenache or Rhone blend the next time you are grilling up some salmon or searing some tuna.
Will everyone of these new combos or new wines work for you? Probably not. It will challenge your preconceptions though, and if you do it with a crowd around your table it will make for some lively discussion. It is your wine journey we are talking about and you have a chance with every bottle or glass to make it exciting. We hope you seize that opportunity!
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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.