By Tim McNally
Trouble, oh we got trouble,
Right here in River City!
With a capital “T”
The Music Man
Author: Meredith Wilson
Trouble in New Orleans
The trouble in New Orleans is really the trouble with New Orleans. There is simply not enough time. What? You were thinking City Hall, potholes, crime, street lamps, sanitation, or….well, you have a few more, don’t you?
Those matters are all small potatoes. We’ll do something about all that, maybe. The trouble I’m referring to here is the lack of time. Yep, not enough time to do all that this town offers. Constantly, decisions are being made on what to not participate in and what to do. Add to an already overloaded calendar of events, now we “have” to watch A&E Network’s The Governor’s Wife. Oh, yes, that train wreck of a television reality show is not to be missed. As the kids are fond of saying, “You can’t make this stuff up.”
So here we are looking at any given evening and seeing 3 or 4 events, any one of which you would like to enjoy.
Take November 21, as an example. That is the night the French-American Chamber of Commerce is staging their annual Beaujolais Nouveau grand event at the J.W.Marriott. Beaujolais Nouveau, by French law, cannot be released to the consuming public until the third Thursday in November each year. It is the first wine from the current year’s vintage anywhere in the world. And it’s cause for celebration. Ticket information for the New Orleans introduction of Beaujolais Nouveau is available here http://www.facc-gc.com/chambers-activities/calendar-of-events/vue-detail/d/2013-beaujolais-festival/
Just a few blocks away, Charles Mara, who makes some very fine wine in Russian River, Sonoma County, California, will be in town and teaming up with Chef Brian Landry at Restaurant Borgne in the Hyatt to stage a terrific dinner with fine wines from Mara Wines. Between Charles and Chef Landry, you can expect great things. Tickets are available by calling 613-3860.
And on that very same night, the Saints take on the Falcons from Atlanta on national television with the Thursday Night Football broadcast.
This is not an unusual situation. It happens all the time. A few mayoral administrations ago, City Hall was a central reporting point for folks planning activities. There was a general city calendar of all events happening at any time. If you were planning an event, you could access the calendar and see who else was also staging an event on the night and/or time you were considering. It worked fine. And I am certain lots of conflicts were resolved with this simple and sensible solution.
Trouble in your Wine Rack
According to Sud Ouest, a regional French newspaper that is quite plugged into wine matters, likely 20% of all wine sold is counterfeit. It’s very unclear where they obtained that figure, and it seems a little high to me, but the point is there is a lot of counterfeit wine out there in the marketplace.
You would likely only encounter such fake wine if you are a purchaser of the finer labels from Bordeaux or Burgundy. And you are more likely to encounter a counterfeit bottle if you are shopping the internet. There is always the possibility that a reputable distributor will be duped into purchasing counterfeit wine to be resold to their restaurant and retail clients, but that is not the usual path.
Besides the internet, auctions are a likely place for counterfeit wines to be found. Wherever the provenance of a product cannot be identified, there will likely be phony wines.
In this day and age of everyone owning a printing press of high quality, labels can be printed that are difficult to detect from the real deal. And wine in a bottle, from one to another, pretty much looks like the same stuff. The other aspect to this frightening story is that the Chinese are involved. All those who are surprised, please raise your hands and as you are leaving the room, don’t forget to pick up your deed to a bridge in Jefferson Parish. Just put your check on the table. We trust you.
According to Sud Ouest, last week, magistrates in Bordeaux sentenced Armenian immigrant Armand Aramian to four months in prison for selling fake Château Mouton Rothschild labels on eBay to a Saint Emilion-based winemaker and label collector. When police searched Aramian’s Paris apartment they found 8,000 wine labels in his cellar.
The case comes as Hong Kong millionaire Henry Tang has launched libel proceedings against US lawyer Don Cornwell who accused him of knowingly consigning fake DRC to a recent Christie’s auction.
Chicago-based celebrity chef Charlie Trotter is also being sued for allegedly selling two collectors a magnum of fake Domaine de la Romanée-Conti for £30,000 last year.
Most of us don’t play in that stratospheric purchasing poker match, but it does pay for us to be diligent. When something does not quite look right, from appearances to price, it likely is not.
I do remember telling friends in California who were seeing some pretty amazing bargains in European wines on-line after Katrina that all of those bottles removed from our finest restaurants had to be re-sold somewhere. They were not destroyed and the insurance companies would try to recoup some portion of what they paid to the restaurant as part of the insurance coverage.
It’s a crazy world, and if there is a buck to made, someone will always be there to make it. Let’s hope it’s not your buck.
The “Genius” of Pairing
By Tim McNally
So, you’ve come to a wonderful state of understanding about wines and spirits. You know how the products are made. You know where they come from. You are even somewhat familiar with weather conditions in a particular year and how the rains and temperatures affected the final outcome. You know the difference between distillation and fermentation.
You’ve come a long way, baby.
Now you are involved with bringing the beverages to the table, and the next question is, “What foods can I serve with (fill in the blank)?” All your wonderful knowledge is about to put you in the realm of knowing quite a bit, but not knowing what to do.
What happens if Wine A does not go with Course A? What happens if the cheese completely overwhelms the beverage? Worse, what happens if the whole pairing thing does not work at all, and every guest is left with a bad taste in their collective mouths? (Oh come on, you knew that pun had to be here somewhere. Don’t be so surprised.)
The first thing to know about pairing wines or spirits with food is that you have to relax. While every wine expert, every sommelier, every chef will happily spout off about culinary faux pas’, what they won’t admit is that there really are very few pairing possibilities that are complete failures. Even if you miss the pairing-call by a bit, I don’t see a stoning in your future.
There are traps out there, for sure, but usually it comes down to a pairing that is not as successful as it could be. It’s not about total breakdown.
Even the best food and/or wine expert is capable of screwing up, and sometimes their advice can be distracting to what you are trying to accomplish. For instance, have you ever read, or maybe experienced, that dark chocolate pairs very well with heavy red wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel?
That’s not as successful pairing as you have been led to believe. In fact, thanks to the sugars in the chocolate, it really does not work at all. Now, toss in a Port, and you have something. The sugar in the Port is a fine match for the sugar in the chocolate.
So there is a guideline for you. Keep characteristics on both sides of the table as equal as possible. Sweet does not do well with Dry. Savory is not necessarily a true friend of Sweet.
Another guideline that should help your pairing success: what are the folks back home eating?
With wine, it’s good for you to know where the grapes are from originally. Maybe you are having a pinot noir from Russian River, Sonoma County. That’s not the real home of Pinot Noir. Burgundy, France is. And what are the folks in Burgundy enjoying with their wine? The same thought process is true for Sangiovese. What are the winegrowers in Tuscany having for dinner, or a snack? And so on.
Wine is the product of literally hundreds of years of trial and error in every original locale. During that time the locals have evolved a cuisine that works very well with their wines. What are these people eating? And then you have an answer to what you should be eating to enhance the wine tasting experience.
Cheeses can be a little bit tricky since there is such a broad spectrum of flavors and textures. But by following the guideline of place of origin, you have a lot of answers. A wonderful manchego from Spain goes quite well with a lighter style Tempranillo-based wine from the Ribera del Duero region of western Spain. Creamy cow’s milk cheese, like Brie, is a marriage made in heaven with the wines of Burgundy.
In truth, most cheeses pair better with white wines than reds. I know that may violate what you think you know but the more expressive fruit in white wines, as opposed to the tannins and heavy structures of reds, is a better match with cheese. The influential factor here is that the skins of white grapes allow the meat of the grape to shine through more, while the heavier skins of the reds bring about stronger “elements” of the wine, muting the subtle fruit characteristics.
Cocktails present a more difficult challenge when it comes to pairing. Most cocktails are multi-layered and a cocktail by definition is a combination of sweet, sour, and alcohol. Along those lines there is a lot of fruit juice, citrus presence and a grain-based spirit. Go for typical cocktail snacks. Salted nuts, crackers made from wheat, processed meat, and dried fruit can all work depending on the style of drink.
Some softer, more savory cheeses work with cocktails, particularly when the drink contains a wine element, like sparkling wine in a French 75.
If you are in doubt, or doubt your knowledge and abilities (get over this feeling. You are fine and have as much good sense as anyone.), check with your wine merchant, cheese monger, or deli manager. But don’t be a slave to their opinions.
What is often fun is to take their advice, then also inject something of your own choosing. Give your guests a couple of choices and see how your approach stacks up against the so-called “expert.” I bet you will be quite surprised at how well you do, and I’ll also wager that your guests will never be able to discern which pairing came from an experienced professional and which came from the perfect host/hostess.
That should tell you something right there. Go for it, with great gusto!
THE TWO BIG RULES
By Tim McNally
I’m really not a fan of having rules when enjoying adult beverages. You’ve heard, “white wine with fish;” “always finish with the best wine on the table;” “when drinking spirits, keep your pants on.”
Rules take away from the spontaneity of a fun occasion and often put someone at the table in the position of being a policeman. No one needs that.
So we will immediately give dispensation to everyone enjoying this website not to obey The Rules, whatever you think they are. And yet, there are two gentle guidelines that I think will help you enjoy wines and spirits more.
DRINK WHAT YOU LIKE, WHEN YOU LIKE.
Maybe having a great steak and a vanilla milkshake is something you enjoy. Do it, and don’t let anyone tell you it’s wrong.
THE MORE YOU KNOW, THE MORE YOU WILL ENJOY
Throughout the world of wines and spirits there are many stories. There are stories that are historic. Stories about exotic places, families, mistakes that turned out well, amazing people from every walk of life, music, tragedies and triumphs, the human condition writ large, and so much more.
These stories, which surround the story of how the beverage came to be, are fascinating. And if you will spend just a little time getting to know the product and the people better, you will reap more enjoyment with every encounter.
We hope we can add to your enjoyment of wines and spirits. And we would love to hear from you. What do you want to know? What can we do to add to your pleasure? We welcome your comments, your questions, even your disagreements with our views.
After all, we have a common interest. Friendships have been based on much less than that. Thank you. Tim