Bob Harkey, a friend who has an excellent palate and uses it stocking his retail shop (Harkey’s Fine Wines, in suburban Boston), gives the spot-on advice around Thanksgiving, “Match the wine to the company–not the food.” I now expand that advice after a meal during the recent East Coast heat wave to, “Match the wine to the setting, not the food.”
On a recent evening, the temperature and humidity were racing each other to see which could climb above 95 first. The guests were clamoring for skirt steak, which was fine…since this flavorful cut cooks quickly on the grill and its variable thickness means everyone gets slices cooked the way they like it. But what to drink? Normally, this cut of beef calls for a hearty red or perhaps a mature Bordeaux or Burgundy. But not in this weather. Some would suggest a rosé, which probably would have been fine, but I think most rosés lack character and substance. A chilled Beaujolais would have been perfect, but I didn’t have any (that oversight has since been corrected).
In a reversal of David Rosengarten’s and Joshua Wesson’s 1989 book, “Red Wine with Fish,” we opted for a 2008 Michel Bouzereau Meursault “Les Tessons.” The bright citrus-tinged minerality and edgy acidity cut through everything—the heat and humidity as well as the steak. Though the wine was only a basic village Meursault, it had character and weight usually associated with a premier cru, which was not surprising since Bouzereau is one of the star producers in that appellation. A couple of guests continued with our aperitif wine, a 2002 Pol Roger Brut, which turned out to be an excellent choice with the skirt steak and reminds us that Champagne is not just for celebrating or to be consumed at the start of a meal.
Indeed, any lively, taut, high-acid white would have been fine on that muggy evening: A dry Riesling, a Savennières, a dry South African Chenin Blanc, or another Chardonnay-based wine that emphasizes structure, such as Kumeu River from New Zealand or Grgich Hills Estate in Napa.
This anecdote is not intended to debunk the importance of matching wine and food. Or to say, “drink any wine with any food.” Indeed, Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas, my friends and colleagues here at Wine Review Online, thoughtfully explain in their column, “Wine With….” why some wines “work” better than others with food. An obvious example is how much better oysters on the half shell taste when washed down with a limey Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc than an oaky Chardonnay. I just want to encourage readers to think outside of the box–consider the guests and the setting–when selecting wine because sometimes those two other considerations trump the food.
E-mail me your thoughts about your experience pairing food and wine at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein
July 29, 2015