Every year as the holidays start to roll in, it seems that every wine and/or food related outlet is ready to let you know which wines you should buy in order to have the perfect experience. I always am particularly amused by the interviews with wine “experts” bemoaning how difficult it is to pair wines with a traditional Thanksgiving meal (Revelation: It’s not). It is also interesting to note how the “perfect” wine pairings for various holiday meals changes from year to year. Apparently perfection is now something that can be outdone, which makes me want to start a hyperbolic series listing the More-Perfect wine and food pairings so I won’t be outdone by the likes of everyone else! However, the idea of the perfect wine pairing extends beyond the holidays and into general food and wine snob culture. The question I have for these people purporting perfect pairings is this: Can you define what a perfect pairing is?
Take this infographic for instance by someone at Vinepair.com. I won’t show the image here, because it’s ridiculous, but I could probably switch every single wine/beer/liquor pairing around on their chart and no one would complain. It’s clearly not based on anything except someone’s [unique] preferences. Fortunately, they posted another article shortly thereafter, giving some good advice even though it was supposedly only for “Geeks”. So, sorry casual wine drinkers, you’re going to have to stick to imperfection again this year. (However, here’s another good article that doesn’t appear to be for geeks that may help.)
Whenever someone (expert status or not) claims a match is a perfect pairing and you really press them on why they think it’s perfect, the answer always boils down to: “Well, I liked it.” There isn’t a metric being used that will be universally true for everyone and that’s really the crux of the issue here. Not only do people have their own individual preferences, but the variety of what is being served at various holiday meals should negate the relevenace of any broad holiday wine and food pairing advice. Yes, even Thanksgiving. But I do understand the point of giving this advice; it’s to make it easier for the casual drinker to pick out some wines at the store that they can bring to dinner. However, this is why I find it puzzling that many of these articles list specific wines down to the producer and vintage.
There are a stunning amount of wine producers in the world; so stunning that there is not a single person in the world who has tasted the offerings from them all. If you were to pop in to a different wine store in each state and make a Venn Diagram listing all of the wines each store had, the amount of overlap would actually be quite small. On the severely cheap end is where you find the most commonalities, because the business model of producers like Yellow Tail, Franzia, and Charles Shaw is to mass produce their product. Region-specific wine producers though, by their very nature, can’t produce enough wine to make it available in the majority of wine shops across America (let alone the rest of the world). So while it is great advertising for a wine producer when a wine writer from Napa or New York City annoints them as a perfect pairing for whatever holiday meal, it actually provides little to no value to a reader in Fly-Over Country (Where, surprisingly, most Americans still live) that won’t be able to pick up a bottle of that wine because their wine shop doesn’t carry it.
Therefore, if you’re a wine writer, let’s go ahead and stop the “Perfect Pairing” nonsense. I bet I could find at least 50 other wines that would be just as good to various people. If you’re the wine drinker though and you’re wondering what to bring to dinner this Thursday though, I will offer this:
Buy some wines you like of varying colors, bubbles, and sweetness. The more specific they are on the label about where it comes from, generally the safer the bet. As long as no one shows up halfway through the meal with a selection of wines that everyone unanimously prefers over the ones you brought, yours really will be perfect pairings.
Cheers. And for those still looking for meal ideas, you can just have what I had last year.