At Joseph Phelps Winery in Napa Valley, there is a wonderful tasting program. A group of about 15 or so gather around a large table in a glass room for a fee of about $20. Each participant is presented with 5 wines, a sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Red Blend, and a Young Cabernet Sauvignon. Also laid in front of each person is 5 small plastic cups, filled with sour water, sugar water, salt water, grape tannin, and oak tannin. The tasting begins with the whites, tasting each individually, then with the ingredients from the plastic cups, one at a time. Take a sip from the sour water, spit into the spittoon provided, taste the wine, spit if you choose, then pen your observations. Sauvignon Blanc was enhanced by the sour water, chardonnay was enhanced by nothing, in fact, everything takes away from the flavor of the chardonnay. Moving on to the reds, you find that the best response to the young tannic Cabernet Sauvignon is the salt water. The Merlot was pretty much ready to go on it’s own, as was the Red Blend, as the sour and sweet water took away from their flavor. (At the end of the tasting, the winery generously poured each person a glass of the insignia, which is great on it’s own.)
So what do we learn from this tasting experience? These flavors are the primary ones in the food we eat and learning how wine reacts to these compounds help us understand how to pair them. That lemon chicken pasta would be great with a Sauvignon Blanc. That beautiful New York steak welcomes another pinch of salt if paired with a young cabernet. Keep that Blue Cheese away from your Chardonnay, in fact, keep most things away from Chardonnay.
This is a great way to learn about wine and food, and it’s easy to do at home yourself. A couple lemons, some salt, sugar, (and I’m not sure what to do for the tannins, green tea maybe??)… a couple friends and bottles of wine, and go to it. You’ll learn a lot and be amazed at how the flavors in your wine changes. Robert Mondavi also launched a website dedicated to discovering wine with friends by throwing these tasting parties. The site provides a lot of details on how to do it, visit www.discoverwine.com
That said, here are some pairing suggestions for you this week. Bon Appetite.
The Chronicle’s Blake Grey breaks down some flavors for you, and suggests quite a few options.
Ted Allen, from T.V.’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, talks with Bon Appetite magazine and suggests some wines from around the world.