Forget wine and food matching: matching wine and people is the thing

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We talk a lot about food and wine matching. [Aside: I tend not to be too precise about this: I choose a really nice wine that is quite food friendly when dining out, because it’s rarely a one wine/one dish combo.] But shouldn’t we be talking more about matching wine and people?

I think carefully about choosing a wine based on who I’m drinking it with or serving it to. I have a reasonably open and broad palate when it comes to wine, but I know that some of the wines I like really won’t be enjoyed by some people.

Back when I was with Fiona, we had a wide circle of friends, and none were wine professionals. Some had a passing interest in wine. A few more were quite interested in craft beer. So when we hosted dinner parties, the last thing I wanted to do was inflict geeky wines on them, or even wines that would have required them to start noticing the wine, rather than keeping with the social flow of the evening. I knew just the right sort of wines to choose for these evenings.

Now, I have quite a few friends who really love wine, and are quite authentic/natural in their wine tastes. I wouldn’t dream of taking a techno wine, or an international-styled red to dinner with these folks. Quite a few highly rated critic wines would be left undrunk. If I took a Napa Cabernet (unless it was something like Corison), I’d miss the mark. Or a polished modern Bordeaux, or a Penfolds bin series red, or a Parker-starred Châteauneuf. It would be the wrong wine for the wrong crowd.

I had a recent illustration of this principle in a restaurant in Lyon. I was with some wine scientists, and we ordered a bottle of Richard Rottiers Beaujolais (one of the crus, I forget which one). I really liked it. The rest of the table rejected it, because it had some Brettanomyces. But the wine worked. They hated it and sent it back! It was the wrong wine for this group.

I know now that when I am with techno winemakers there cannot be a hint of a fault. So I don’t choose wines on the edge, or with some funk. I play safe. With other friends, playing safe will result in a bottle that never gets finished.

There’s a strong cultural element to wine. This is independent of notions of quality (this is a discussion in its own right). Part of the skill of knowing wine, is being able to find the right wine for a particular person, independent of the drinking occasion or the food choice.

wine journalist and flavour obsessive

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