when I was coming up through the ranks as a chef, most of the restaurants I
worked in employed a Sommelier, who’s job it was to pair food with the
restaurants wine collection. The Sommelier was often a mystical character with
questionable breath, cloistered in the wine cellar for hours on end writing
notes and sipping away. They seemed to know things about wine us mortals could
only dream about. The sommeliers job was to find the perfect marriage between
the wines and the dishes on the menu, resulting in higher sales of both.
a chef did not have to focus on learning what often seemed like an encyclopedic
list of wines and their individual characteristics. Chefs had enough problems
keeping current ever expanding areas of produce, meat, fish, cheeses,
confections and so forth.
Times have changed, and the bar has been
raised for chefs as well as customers, many of whom are now expected to know a
thing or two about wine, from terrior (the characteristics of a particular
growing region) to terrapins (essential oils found in all flowering plants)
At first it was a hassle to add
more knowledge to my repertoire, but I took the challenge and wines have become
more demystified. I learned to relax into the marriage between food and wine,
and to trust those same taste blending instincts, I use when I cook.
Because I live and work in the Dry
Creek Valley of Northern California, my job is to blend the food and wine
experience in a way which enhances the positive characteristics of both.
I have gotten past the pretense, and allowed
myself to detect the toast from the intentionally charred insides of the oak
barrel the wine was aged in, or the blackberry notes from those same terrapins
(essential oils) which are present in grapes as well as blackberries and other
fruit. I now appreciate the language of taste and texture as it relates to
I am now able to perceive the energetic
relationship between the wide variety of seasonal fruits, vegetables and
flowers that grow in the same region.
The connection has begun to make perfect sense. If I twist my brain
cells just right, I can wine speak with the best of them.
Flavors are based on four basic
tastes: bitter, sweet, sour, salt and a new one emanating from Japan called
flavors are related to the forward fruit characteristics of a wine, as
well as residual sugars (brix levels)
or sour flavors in a wine derive from the natural acidity of the fruit and
in many cases, additions of acid used in the wine making process, in order
to help with fermentation and preservation.
flavors particularly in red wine, derive from tannins, which are naturally
occurring molecules found in grape skins and to some extent oak barrels;
tannins can produce astringent mouth feel, dryness or puckering. Protein
and fat bond naturally with tannin producing a smooth mouth feel.
is not a flavor naturally occurring in wine, although I can swear that
sometimes a wine made from coastal vineyards has a distinct ocean feel to
it, which to my palate is sometimes perceived as salt. Salt in food will
serve to bring many flavors forward in a particular wine, such as acid,
fruit or even minerals.
is the flavor of Zen in a food or wine. It is the spark which ignites a
flavor. (In other words, I haven’t got a clue what Umami is)