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Wine<"a living organism’

Wren Wertin
Vail Daily/Quentin HunstadServers from the Chaps Grill and Chophouse pour the first wine at the Taste of Vail 2002 Wine and Food Pairing Luncheon Saturday at the Vail Cascade Hotel.
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With so many wine experts running amuck about the valley during Taste of Vail, it’s difficult to know to whom we should listen.”Oak-aged” and “fruity” are common enough terms, but anything else is a bit beyond me. Therefore, I have subjected myself to the well-qualified opinions of industry authorities. As it happens, many of them agree on one thing<though there are authorities in the wine field, nobody can authoritatively say, “This is a terrible wine; it won’t make it.”The field of wine is, ultimately, simply a matter of subjective taste.Chris Farnum, sommelier and co-owner of Reservelist, agrees: because taste is a subjective thing, not every “fine wine” will taste good to everybody. Some will taste simply like their mother’s meat loaf.”Wine is a living organism,” said Violet Grgich during this week’s Grgich Hills Winemaker’s Dinner. “It changes based on what you’re eating, the mood you’re in, when you drink it and even the glass you drink it from.”This view can be likened to the phenomenon that food tastes better on a backpacking trip, or music sounds better live. The same components go into the mix: several ingredients put together in a specific ratio, or a certain amount of notes played in a specific order. But they seem or feel different, based on what else is thrown into the experience, such as the smell of the campfire, the backdrop of the night sky, or the body language of the musicians.So, too, it is with wine. Grgich has met several couples who went off for romantic weekends, shared a bottle of wine and then got engaged. The wine was fantastic. A couple of years down the road, the same bottle of wine just doesn’t taste the same. And why should it? They’re back in the city, juggling schedules and eating dinner on the run. It’s a completely different scenario.Jerry Comfort, culinary director of the Beringer Blass Wine Estates and home winemaker for 15 years, has a bit of a different spin. As part of his job, he teaches “umami” seminars, showing how the taste of a wine changes based on the accompanying food. A Zinfandel can go from a fruity quaff with a perfectly nice aftertaste to a bitter drink with no redeeming qualities, simply based on what you’re eating with it.Umami is described as the savory protein taste that naturally occurs in foods such as meats, seafood, poultry, stocks and sauces. The Japanese have been chasing this flavor for more than a century. Westerners have only realized it as a flavor for a decade or so. It is actually glutamic acid, but its flavor is similar to MSG.Comfort has devoted the last several years to studying why certain foods are good with certain wines<or not. What he has discovered is that foods that are properly seasoned, meaning they are well balanced in their acid, salt, sweet and savory (umami) contents, are good with a wide variety of wines. Plain steak might taste horrible with Chardonnay. The same steak with a twist of lemon, an acid, and sprinkling of salt will complement it well.”Unseasoned proteins are very reactive, and will change the taste of a wine,” he explained. “A lot of classic combinations came about not because they understood about proper food and wine pairings, but because it simply tasted good, and they knew it.”And that’s what it’s all about. Despite decades of a red-wine-with-red-meat philosophy, Americans are finally being told to discover their own tastes. Comfort describes his wife as a “Chardonnay-aholic.””She drinks Chardonnay with everything, and is happy to do so,” he said. “As long as I season everything properly, it’s just fine.”And it leaves the Cabernet for him, no small indulgence for a man passionate about red wine.The bottom line for many wine experts is to find your own tastes. There are no right and wrong answers in the field. It’s always changing, and the best idea is to simply figure out what you like.”Why force yourself to drink something that’s not pleasurable for you?” asked Mickey Werner, manager of the wine room at Avon Liquor. “Everybody’s tastes are their own.”Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.


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