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WRO Wine Blog

July 29, 2015

A Seasonal Take on Food and Wine Pairing


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.

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E-mail me your thoughts about your experience pairing food and wine at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

Posted by Michael Apstein at 9:42 AM


July 8, 2015

The Mad Crush

Books about wine satisfy many demands.  Technical texts are geared toward winemakers and grape growers.  Picture books are designed for wine tourists.  And there are novels that feature a wine-collecting detective.  Occasionally, the odd book is released that tries to be all things to all wine lovers.  Most of these books blend the technical with the conversational, often making recommendations that are long out of date or out of stock by the time the book hits the stores.  But, every once in a while, along comes a small book that strikes a balance between wine-geek facts and a personal account of the rigors and pleasures of winemaking.

Such a book is “The Mad Crush,” an easy-reading paperback by Sean Christopher Weir, who spent a couple of harvests working as a cellar hand at Saucelito Canyon Vineyard in Santa Barbara County.  The yarn that Weir spins focuses on the 1995 vintage under the tutelage of owner Bill Greenough and a cast of cellar workers that includes various wanderers and hippies--but is comprised entirely of people who are serious about wine.  Anyone who has ever toiled in a vineyard, worked as a cellar rat, or wanted to, will relate to Weir’s experiences.

Rancho Saucelito traces its history back to 1880 when an Englishman named Henry Ditmas drove a horse-drawn carriage along a rutted, bone-rattling road, eventually arriving in a remote canyon, southeast of San Luis Obispo, where he set down roots with an orchard and some Zinfandel vines.  Over subsequent decades, time and lack of attention worked their weathering ways on the vineyard.  When Greenough arrived in 1974, those same gnarly vines were barely alive.  Undaunted, Greenough dug deeper and discovered small clusters clinging to the roots and decided to restore the vineyard, tending one old vine at a time.

Weir had previously worked with Greenough so, when he received a call from his old boss in August of 1995, asking him to return, he packed up and drove into the canyon.  With hardly a slap on the back or a greeting from Greenough, Weir was put to work cleaning the cellar and preparing for the harvest.  The one thing he remembered from his previous time with Greenough, was:  “There’s the right way, the wrong way and then there’s the Saucelito way.”

Weir tells his story in 12 short chapters and 150 pages, with archival photographs.  In Chapter Two he fondly describes his return to Saucelito Canyon as a homecoming that included a mini course in how to make red wine.  This brief tutorial is a good refresher for the wine connoisseurs and the neophytes alike. 

Assisting Weir in the cellar were Wild Bill Neely and Bobby Hyde.  Before coming to Saucelito Canyon, the two teamed up to form a winemaking outfit they named the Pagan Brothers, a not-so-subtle counterpoint to a more pious Northern California winery known as the Christian Brothers.  Neely’s exploits are humorously recounted by Weir in the chapter titled “Rebellion.”  Greenough, Weir and the crew got things sorted out, and they made some serious Zinfandel from the 1995 vintage.  Eventually, though, Weir realized that it was time for him to pack up his truck and move on.

Despite all the semi-hippie craziness that went on back in Sauceltio Canyon, word leaked out about the quality of the wines, attracting such celebrities as Joan Baez and local advocates like Michael Benedict--who was famous in Santa Barbara and later California for the award-winning wines of Sanford & Benedict.

Weir writes that Greenough hung in there over the years at Saucelito Canyon, slowly building a reputation as one of the premier Zinfandel producers in California, before stepping back and turning the winemaking over to his son Tom.  Although the winery makes small amounts of Tempranillo, a blend of Tempranillo and Zinfandel called “Muchado,” Sauvignon Blanc, a Grenache Blanc, and a southern Rhône blend called Côte de Blanc, it is Saucelito Zinfandels that Zin lovers seek out. 

There is so much more in this little book.  I’m a slow reader, but I finished “The Mad Crush” in one sitting.  Weir’s personal account is fun and informative--a combination that’s hard to find in wine books.

The Mad Crush:  Sean Christopher Weir, Mooncatcher Media, softcover, 151 pages, $11.95, ISBN: 978-0-9851579-4-4

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WRO Columnist Emeritus Gerald Boyd contributes book reviews in this space on an occasional basis from his so-called “retirement”
Posted by Gerald D. Boyd at 11:22 AM