Here’s a note from Derrick Schneider whose excellent blog An Obsession With Food minces many dicey issues.


One of my site’s readers asked the question below (he sent in a similar note as a letter to Art of Eating), and I wondered about your opinion on the subject.

“did you try drinking the wines blind and identifying the one with the sweet spot, and then drink (blind) with food and once again identify the one with the sweet spot?”

My response, though I imagine yours will be more insightful:

“Thanks for your comment (and the corresponding letter to AoE — my joking aside, Ed appreciated all the commentary).

The short answer is no.

The long answer is more tortuous. I believe that one of modern wine criticism’s biggest flaws is the lack of consideration for food pairing. Consumers don’t drink wine on its own; they drink it with dinner. And since wines with high alcohol often show better in a multi-wine tasting, the standard practice encourages the big wines that I dislike.

On the other hand, a wine maker tasting his/her wine during blending sessions isn’t sitting there with a good meal–even in Bordeaux or the Southern Rhone–and I would argue that a wine maker’s sweet-spot tasting is basically cellar work. So how is it different than tasting through the barrels and coming up with a blend, most of which is not done in the presence of food?

I don’t know the answer, of course, but I’d like to try the sweet spot experiment you suggest. Maybe I can convince Clark to try that some time.”

Hope all is well up there in Healdsburg,


Dear Derrick:

I liken this intrinsic problem to the plight of the painter. Art resonates with its environment. Two of the most important aspects of how a painting is perceived are the choice of frame and the lighting environment in which it is viewed, both utterly beyond the control of the artist.

It is always an article of faith that the customer will be sensible in these areas. (Maybe painters have it better than winemakers since their work is normally around for years and mismatches can be corrected.)

The best the artist can do is to create a work with a strong sense of itself; a focused, unified, harmonious whole. This guides the customer because when the presentation is incorrect, it’s really obvious.

One way to show this phenomenon of dissonance with the environment is simply to taste a wine while playing different musical pieces. Big reds generally like dark, minor key pieces and hate major key. Try a big Cabernet or Bordeaux with the Doors (say, “People Are Strange”) and then suddenly switch to a Sousa march or a polka. Terrible! Not much the winemaker can do to prevent these kinds of unfortunate pairings. It’s why we have traditions of classic wine and food pairings.

The key point is that winelovers should be encouraged to evaluate wines as to their function rather than their worth. Less judgement and more discrimination. This is the way to encourage wines of authenticity and terroir to be themselves — through discover of the hiigh art of consumption by finding the perfect setting and food match, assuming that really every wine has an optimum circumstance. It’s boring to have fixed expectations and to ask every wine to shoot your basket. It’s much more fun to put out a little effort — to get on down to the other end of the court and shoot the wine’s basket.