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A wine that is good enough

The synergy of wine with food
I’ve often heard it said that in pairing wine with food, you need to decide who is going to be the star: the wine or the food. And this seems to have been borne out by my experiences of pairing the two. In particular, as I have dined out in restaurants that have reasonably elaborate menus, I’ve been surprised time and again by how the food has been nicely complemented by simple wines -- those that I would normally not think very carefully about -- to such an extent that the wine has been elevated to another dimension it would not have been capable of if it had been drunk alone.

This is where good but humble wines come into their own: in partnership with food. In fact, if pressed, I’d say that this is the most satisfying aspect of wine; its highest purpose. Yes, there is a place for wine tastings with fellow enthusiasts exploring flights of fine wines under analytical experience -- this is certainly tremendous fun. But what a shame if the ultimate purpose of these fine wines is for them to be ogled over, analysed and given a score out of a hundred, without them ever reaching the dinner table.

Humble wines, tasted on their own, often underwhelm, and consequently are overlooked by many wine enthusiasts. My assertion is that there is much pleasure to be gained by drinking reliable, well made and often well priced wines in the context for which they were intended, with food and good company. And any wine lover who concentrates solely on more expensive, sought after wines, in many cases will be selling themselves short and missing out on this enjoyment.

Obsession with ‘the best’
Part of the problem is that in the USA and perhaps to a lesser extent in the UK, there is a culture that puts enhanced emphasis on ‘the best’, separating out just a very few exceptional examples and sidelining the very good alongside the rest. This phenomenon can be seen in any competitive activity, whether it be sport or business. In both these fields, exactly what is ‘the best’ is much more clear cut than in a subjective subject such as wine: you'll have a good idea who the best golfer is by looking at their stroke average, or who the most successful company is by looking at their share prices. Yet even though wine is not a competitive activity (at least as not as far as I am aware) people seem to treat it as if it were, continually searching out the 'best' wines.

To my mind, asking the question, 'Which is the best wine?' is as absurd as asking a workman 'Which is the best tool?' But it's a question you'll often hear asked. This relates to the notion of 'quality'. Quality in wine, as in other things, can be defined as 'fitness for purpose'. If you want to cut a piece of wood in half, a saw is a 'better' tool than a beautifully engineered precision drill, no matter how rusty or old the saw is. It really doesn't matter that the precision drill is vastly more expensive and well engineered than the saw. It’s the same with wine. Take a rustic taverna in a Mediterranean country on a warm summer's evening -- this is not the environment for classed growth Clarets or premier cru Burgundies. A humble country wine, in these circumstances, is a 'better' wine than, say, Château Leoville Barton 1982, because it suits the purpose better. Fine wines need to be savoured, they need to be sipped, whereas a juicy young Beaujolais or crisp, chilled Sauvignon Blanc demands to be glugged. Which wine is best? The one that fits the intended use better, I would argue.

Don't get me wrong: I love fine wine, and expensive, highly sought-after wines are often worthy of their reputations. There's a place for these great wines, but there's also a place for less exalted but well made wines that tend to be overlooked by wine geeks. It was Kermit Lynch who pointed out that Americans seem to look for a Great Wine Experience every time they open a bottle, but in doing so, they lose out on a lot of the pleasure that wine has to give. But when I choose a bottle to open, I'm selecting the best bottle for the purpose: one that matches the environment, the occasion and my mood. I want it to do a job for me, and in this sense, the 'best' wine is one that suits this purpose best -- a wine that is 'good enough'.

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