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Short ribs browned after sprinkling with salt and clove then slow cooked in a red wine/beef broth reduction with yellow onions, red pepper, mushroom stems, a dash of soy sauce, thyme, and bay leaves.  Served over a puree of golden potatoes and golden radishes blended with a touch of milk and butter.

Wine: Domaine du Gros ‘Noré Bandol Rouge 2011

FullSizeRenderNotes:  Look, I understand that my wine and food pairings have now been classified as cruel and unusual punishment due to the fact that you are not able to enjoy them, but I really don’t think that’s my fault.  You can have these too.  I believe in you.

The red wines from Bandol are made predominantly from the Mourvédre grape or Monastrell if you’ve been drinking Spanish wines.  Depth, structure, complexity; this particular Bandol is a ponderous wine which I spent at least 15 minutes sniffing to suss out the particularities of its vanilla notes.  I eventually decided on vanilla extract if anyone cares.  This wine enhanced the savoriness of the dish and the light clove buoyed the oak the wine was aged in which all created a heady experience during which I had to exhale a number of satisfactory sighs to keep from exploding with euphoria.

If I were to repeat this, I would have slow cooked the short ribs for around 8 hours instead of the 5 that I did so they’d be “melt-worthy”, but in my defense I only envisioned the dish at lunch time that day.

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P.S. That’s Jamie Goode’s latest book: I Taste Red that the bottle is sitting on.

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There has been an increasing amount of discussion over the past few years over what a ‘Fact’ is which is interesting in itself, because the word has a definition as all words do and that is a fact.  However, in this era of truthiness, an aspect of that definition that is more and more frequently being warped is the process of turning experience into fact. This insistence that things that are not actually facts are in fact facts is something that the wine world has been dealing with for quite some time.  Perhaps it correlates with the invention of the wine snob, but I can’t verify that as a fact.

If an experience happens; that’s a fact.  The fact that the experience happens though doesn’t mean that the experience was perceived accurately or that the experience is reflective of some larger truth.  As one example let’s say Person A believes, based on their experience, that all people with the name Aaron are horrible people.  Person B doesn’t believe this because they’ve had quite a few pleasant experiences with people named Aaron.  Additionally, some research has been performed which defines what a horrible person is and there has been a reasonable evaluation of a sampling of Aarons and that sample didn’t meet the definition of  horrible people.  However, neither Person A or Person B is fully aware of this.  In this case the facts are this:

  1. Person A believes people named Aaron are all horrible people based on some bad experiences.
  2. Person B believes people named Aaron are generally decent people based on some positive experiences.
  3. Research shows that people named Aaron cannot generally be defined as horrible people.

If someone bothered to look into the issue (and they really should;  highly critical issue here), we could see that while it is a fact that Person A and Person B believe different things based on their experiences, there is evidence that Person B’s belief is more in line with the larger truth.    Therefore, if Person A went around telling everyone that it’s a fact people named Aaron are jerks, they would in fact, be wrong.  No matter how many times they said it.  Even if Person A said: well, it’s their opinion and they have a right to voice it, they are still, in fact, wrong and should be encouraged to not purport their opinions and/or beliefs as facts. Even if Person C comes in to the conversation and says they agree with Person A, they are still, in fact, wrong.

Unfortunately in the wine world, there are a lot of Person As running around and have been for quite some time.  It seems that it is almost the standard rate of currency in wine knowledge that the more opinions/beliefs stated, the more knowledge that is held.  The sad part is that there is now quite a lot of research and evidence that people can reference to check these opinions/beliefs against.  People don’t generally question a statement coming from an “expert”, and usually take a statement expressed as fact at face value.  There have been a number of times that I personally have made statements regarding wine that I believed to be true and purported them to be facts. Why? Because I was told they were facts by experts.  I tend to be more careful about that since my younger days.

I would love to have an exhaustive list of all the mis-truths paraded around as facts in the wine world, but that would most likely be impossible and if it is, it would be better presented in an encyclopedia format.  Therefore, I’ll just address the major categories that seem to contain all of the issues and what to look for.

What Wine Professionals Learn in Class

I went through the International Sommelier Guild for my “official” wine training.  Through conversations and demonstrations of knowledge with people who have gone through other wine schools (International Wine School, Wine and Spirit Education Trust, etc. ), my impression is that the curricula are roughly the same.  While the breadth of knowledge should certainly be viewed as impressive for anyone coming out of this education, it should be emphasized that the main focus as you reach higher levels of the education is on the memorization of wine regions, what wines they produce, and what appears to be unique about the wines from those regions.

  • A historical overview of wine’s role in society.
  • The very rough basics of how wine is made and the various styles it can be made into.  Anyone attending these classes does not actually make wine as part of the course.
  • A high-level look at viticulture and the common ailments grapevines can face.
  • The wine regions, which grape varietals are most commonly grown in those regions, what styles of wine are generally made from those grapes, and what laws govern wine production including the legal descriptions of what “Quality” wine is in wine producing countries.
  • Sensory training to identify and describe acidity, astringency, sweetness, alcohol content, and basic aroma descriptions (see more on aroma descriptors below).
  • Traditions and expectations around wine service at restaurants including wine storage.
  • Traditions of pairing wines to various foods and a collection of “rules” to follow when creating pairings.
  • Cursory overviews of beer, spirits, and cigars.

It should be noted that little to no actual science is included in this education.  Wine schools are geared toward preparing students to work as Sommeliers, be in wine sales, and writing articles entitled “The Top 5 Wines You Should Be Drinking NOW!!!”…which it seems a lot of people forget, is still wine sales.   I always compare wine to fashion; if you are a fashion “expert” generally you’re just promoting certain brands and talking about trends and styles, but that doesn’t make you an expert on how the clothes are constructed, production costs, labor issues, the science behind dyes and fabric production, etc.  Most wine “experts” I know and come across still haven’t even bothered to make a single batch of wine and therefore when they talk about the subject, it’s really from an armchair perspective.  If you like sports commentary, maybe that’s your thing.  A wine’s legs or tears (the drips down the inside of the glass after you swirl it) is an aesthetic that is sometimes evaluated in wines, but it means nothing in terms of quality despite the opinions of some.  Therefore, it’s appropriate to question whether what is being related is a fact, or just this person’s opinion especially when it comes to statements as to what makes something better than something else.  It is also appropriate to question sensory assessments, but more on that later.

Wine and Food Pairing

There are a lot of facts about how we interact with wine from a physiological and psychological standpoint.  I address a number of these in my wine sensory experience series that starts here.  When it comes to wine and food pairing advice though, these are all matters of opinion and not fact. Most current wine and food pairing advice can be boiled down to one of two things: 1) What grows together goes together (Traditional pairings), or 2) Flavor matching, or putting wines that have certain flavor characteristics with foods that share those characteristics.  There’s a lot of talk about “perfect” pairings, but given that the designation is wholly subjective, as in, not based on anything objective or measurable whatsoever, we can throw out the idea that people are using any metric besides their preference to declare what wines go better with what foods.  This is why we spent at least decades with the thinking that white wines can only go with fish and chicken and red wines can only go with beef and, depending on some cultures or who you’re trying to impress, Cabernet Sauvignon should be ordered with absolutely everything.  Therefore, saying you had a certain wine paired with a certain dish and you enjoyed it is a fact.  Saying a certain wine pairs better with a certain dish than all other wines is a matter of opinion and given that the person probably didn’t taste test all of the wines in the world with that dish, it is perhaps an uninformed opinion regardless of who they claim to be.

Wine Aromas

If there’s one thing all wine buyers are constantly exposed to it’s tasting notes.  They’re on the bottle, they’re posted in reviews on-line, they’re heralded as the highest art form in the wine world.  People who are respected by other wine drinkers are said to have a “Good nose” or a “Good palette”, and what the hell does that even mean?!?! Are these people quantitatively more in tune with their senses than the rest of us?  Are the physically and mentally superior?  Usually, the answer is no, they’re just better at bullshitting (Important life skill kids.  Don’t say ‘bullshit’ though).  Now, there is a way to see if someone was actually superior to someone else at identifying various aromatic compounds and it is a skill that can be developed. In a nutshell, we teach ourselves to match up the aromas we are smelling with the “image” of an aroma in our memory banks, but that process can be conflicted and conflated by a wide number of different things.

Let’s face it, most people in this world aren’t that great at describing what we smell.  It’s not our fault, we just don’t have the words for it. Yet it’s the central focus in the world of wine.  To alleviate this, various lexicons of aromas have been developed.  Most notably is Ann Noble’s Wine Aroma Wheel which is a great way to have a discussion that compares and contrasts various wines.  But the aromas listed on that wheel were taken from looking over tasting notes, which as mentioned above, aren’t really a scientific analysis of the actual volatile aromatic compounds in the wines.  They are people’s perceptions or opinions of what they smell.  Therefore, if someone says “There are lilac and peach aromas in this wine.” the fact that they are meaning to convey is “I smell aromas that remind me of lilacs and peaches in this wine.”  You may very well smell something different.  This isn’t to say that there are no “correct” or “wrong” answers.

Regardless of what we interpret as the smell, one could chemically analyze the wine and compare it to the 40+ million fragrant molecules that have been identified that our noses can sniff.  And each varietal of wine has it’s own aromatic spectrum or range based on its genetic code of things it could possibly smell like…not to mention the addition of aromas that come from wine making practices, but we don’t have a definitive index yet of which fragrant molecules are absolutely found in certain wines based on terroir, or some might say, phenotype.

If someone tells you they smell cinnamon in a wine, you can wonder if someone else could interpret it as clove, anise, Thai basil, wild basil, malted barley, fresh mangoes, apricots, pineapple, strawberries, rosemary, potatoes, cooked asparagus, mozzarella cheese, or grilled beef.  Why?  Because all of those descriptions of aromas contain the aromatic compound eugenol.  But if someone said that the chemical analysis of this wine reveals that there are molecules of eugenol, estragole, s-carvone, apigenin, r-carvone, menthol, and anethole.  One could assume that an anise aroma could be found and one could also assume that someone wouldn’t interpret the aromas as butter (that’s primarily diacetyl).

But no one says that, and it’s highly improbable that you’re going to chemically analyze the wine you’re drinking. Let’s just say that when it comes to a wine expert describing a wine to someone it’s more of a performance and exercise in creativity than anything.The same goes with blind tasting.  But since I’m not writing a novel on the subject right now, I’ll just say this: while training does help with identifying a typical variety of wine from a particular place, a wine of a different variety from a different place can be made to taste the same way.  Education in wine builds the skill of identifying typicity, and that’s good for two things: recognizing when something is either atypical or typical of what it is supposed to be, and a neat party trick to impress your friends and potential mates.  Actually, there’s a third thing: verifying the server brought you the correct glass of wine.  Perhaps the best use of the skill, I’ve had to make corrections only a couple of times, but that was when I ordered a wine that I really, really knew.  I’ve probably been served the wrong wine multiple times, but it was similar enough I didn’t notice.  Mistakes in restaurant service happen and it’s ok.

The list of chemical compounds and aromas was taken from the book Taste Buds and Molecules and is the result of the chemical analysis of a large, but obviously not complete sample of wines.

To top it all off, there are a lot of “facts” floating around out there that have been disproven that are still in popular circulation: our tongues have certain areas that only perceive certain tastes (false), steak goes with tannic wines because the fat softens the tannins (false), sweet wines are always lower quality than dry wines (false), or even that people who prefer to drink red wines are more superior or somehow better educated than those who drink whites (false…in case you were wondering).  Therefore, it’s acceptable and encouraged to question anything being presented as fact in the wine world until you can have it proven for yourself.  You can prove that the more acid a wine has, the more saliva will rush into your mouth.  You can prove that wines made in typical styles from different locations are different from each other.  You can prove that when wines have certain characteristics, you tend to enjoy them better.  But if something being said seems ungraspable, unreachable, untenable, there’s a good chance it is.  While demonstrated experts should certainly be trusted, wine is not a magical beverage no matter how much we claim it to be so it’s best to also be skeptical.

 

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I really do hate to keep bringing up wine producers that I’ve mentioned in the past because there is a megaton of wine in this world and I have a secret goal to experience 75% of it.  Alas, I only have access to an estimated 10% through my local wine shop, a paltry 45 additional percentage points through the internet, and perhaps a lousy 2.5 percentage points more through my worldly travels.  That’s only 57.5% of completely made up figures!  The point is, we all live in a bubble.

Anyway, I had a smashed burger and a glass of Washington Chardonnay so I’m winning at life.

4oz of not so lean ground beef, divided in half and rolled into balls.  1 cast iron skillet perched atop a burner set to 11.  2tbsps butter thrown into the skillet and melted which was immediately absorbed by the two halves of a delightfully fluffy hamburger bun and then toasted.  Oh yeah, you gotta roll that bun in the butter and make sure a little gets on the outsides too.  Just toast one side of each bun half though, let’s not get too crazy.  When the skillet was smoking, the two meat ball were thrown on and smashed as skinny as I could make them.  After they browned in their own fat (Le Burger Confit, no?) in a couple of minutes, they were flipped.  Salt and pepper were then applied.  A 2yr aged cheddar was put on one of the patties because every burger should have cheese.  Once the Maillard reaction had set in on both sides, the patties were scooped a placed on the bun.

Wine: Dusted Valley Chardonnay 2014

IMG_5925Notes:

OK, yes I had a side salad made of who cares and that was nice too.  I just want to get that out of the way for anyone worried about my health.

I don’t know why people still assume red wines pair better with burgers.  Maybe it’s the whole red meat, red wine thing? Regardless, I’m pretty sure everyone who has done it is completely on board.  Why does it work?  Well fat flavor begets fat flavor, for one. The trick with Chardonnay, and we’re talking the MLF, maybe some oak kind*, is always to find one with that delicate balance of butteriness and acidity, primarily in the form of green apple flavors.  Chablis is always the standard-bearer for this style and exemplar of balance, but they are certainly not alone in producing quality Chardonnays.  The best Chardonnays I’ve had are generally from cooler climates than central California, don’t carry too much oak, if any, and pack enough acid to make you not think you’re drinking a stick of butter.  Then when you mix that balanced Chardonnay with a fine cheeseburger to bring out the fact that you’re ingesting some delicious fat, protein, and carbohydrates…well, then you’re just living on the edge.

Oh yeah, the next night I added a dab of duck fat to the pan for a “twist”.  Then the third night I didn’t, but I just used 6oz of beef instead of 4…I may have a problem.  Good thing I ran out of meat.

 

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2 1/4lbs of porterhouse lightly aged and seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper, browned on a hot, hot, hot cast iron skillet, then wrapped in foil with butter, olive oil, rosemary, thyme, garlic, Meyer lemon zest and shoved in a low-temp oven to slow cook for an hour.  And in the last act, the steak rested before I ate it or even cut it.  Because you always let it rest.

Oh, there was a side too: A hybrid caprese/panzanella salad composed of toasted bread in olive oil, salt and pepper, with tomatoes, mozzarella, and dressed with thyme, rosemary, Meyer lemon juice/zest, and olive oil.

Wine: R. Lopez Heredia’s Viña Bosconia 2004

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Notes:

While eating red meat all the time is certainly frowned upon in health and environmentally conscious circles, I find it entirely appropriate and perhaps the most luxurious thing one can do to have a perfectly cooked steak once in awhile.  Once in a blue moon may be too much time in between, but certainly no more than once every full moon.  Vegetarian and Vegan concerns aside, there’s nothing quite like the taste of highly saturated animal fat melting in your mouth.

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I had to include this shot showing the marbling on the steak because it’s my job to make you jealous in an educational way.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with various forms of cooking a thick steak, which of course I’ve always had with wine. I can say emphatically that if someone tells you you have to pair a certain wine with a steak they are most certainly trying to sell you something.  A wonderfully cooked steak, that has a bit of semi-crunchy texture on the exterior from the Maillard reaction (Which doesn’t “seal in the juices” or whatever people tell you) and a juicy interior regardless of any additional herbs and spices that have been added can go with a myriad of wines.  This steak could have gone wonderfully with a heavier bodied white that carried lemony aromas, or a sparkling wine, or a dry rosé, or one of a hundred different red wines.  Having said that, this steak was wonderfully accompanied by the Viña Bosconia because it is also a fabulous wine.  It’s mostly Tempranillo, as all riveting red Riojas are, and this one was displaying more bright red fruit flavors while the earthier flavors played back up.  Surprising myself, I actually let this wine sit in a decanter for a full hour before even looking at it.  That’s willpower.

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