It is time for another foray into the Monthly Wine Writers Challenge and the last winner was Elizabeth of Traveling Wine Chick with her excellent essay, and as the winner she selected our next theme of “choice.” Immediately I had a choice, do I look up the word on the internet or do I go into my library and look up the word in my huge Webster Dictionary that sits on its own stand waiting to be used again. I am old school, so it was the book that got my attention. The main definitions of choice are: selection, opportunity, specially selected and carefully picked (superior). The easiest part of this essay is done and now the reasons for the wine labels will become apparent.
There were many ways for me to tackle this subject and the first was all the choices that our esteemed wineries have to make, but since I am not a winemaker, but a wine consumer, I decided that this was the tack I must pursue. Since most of us that are reading this article, if any, tend to enjoy drinking wines, the first concept is selection. What wine to select? While this sounds easy enough there are enough quantifiers that make this almost a labor at times. In the old days when I first started out enjoying wines without writing about them, the rule was red meat with red wine, and white wine for fish. It seemed almost with out question during my formative wine years that this rule fell under attack. Beef, veal and lamb easily went to red wines without too much difficulty, but then pork became a white meat and then people started experimenting with all sorts of wines to compliment pork as an entrée. Poultry was always considered white, but then when the dish was prepared in a more robust manner, say in a roast, reds became more of a go to selection. Then there were the richer poultry selections like duck and goose and while a great White Burgundy would stand up to the dish, most suffered as being rather indifferent. I always write about how I prefer Pinot Noir especially with duck and even goose when I get a chance, but with Foie gras the classic pairing is with Sauternes, but then some swear that an Alsatian wine is the best. Then we get to fish and seafood and another conundrum. While light fish and seafood always pairs well with white wine, some of the meatier fish like swordfish and shark, seem to demand a red wine, and then there is my Bride who thorough enjoys a red wine with salmon. More choices and no steadfast rules and I can only offer suggestions as I am not a rule maker, and being a child of the Sixties, I may be more of a rebel, then I realize.
Opportunity is also cause for the word “choice” to enter into the discussion. Some restaurants offer the barest of a selection from which to choose from. There have been times when I have inquired about wine and I am told that they have a white wine and a red wine, which usually means that I will have a cocktail or even a soft drink with my meal. Then there are venues where the opportunity to select or choose a wine or wines is a monumental task in itself. I have been to many restaurants where the wine carte is a tome of fifty pages or more or in this computer driven world the latest craze is to be handed a tablet with the wines listed and one can search out wines in a variety of manners that the traditional wine carte cannot. The choice can cause one’s brain to have a melt down, or the need to have a glass of wine, while one studies all of the choices.
The concept of opportunity is a very neat segues to the concept of special selected. The restaurant that hands you a tome or a tablet for you to make your selection, has specially selected the wines many times. Not only do they offer many wines, they may even offer vertical runs of many vintages of the same wine and often one choice is predicated on the wallet. If money was not an issue, every one would order 1921, 1945 or 1961 vintages of the great growths and be done with it, alas I am not part of that group; actually I usually have to answer to a higher authority, namely my Bride, who may question my selections if I get too animated or start thinking that money still grows on that tree in the backyard. At the other end of a “specially selected” wine list, one encounters a large selection of popular priced wines with that specially selected restaurant “price” to get the maximum dollar with the least outlay on their part, and then you search further and you notice that there is a huge gap in pricing and then some wines in the hundred dollar plus range versus all the thirty dollar insipid wines that the list starts with. So my thoughts are always to go with the over-priced thirty dollar wines that they move, because one is never sure how the few trophy wines on the list are actually stored.
Which leads us to the “carefully picked – superior” classification of choice when it comes to choosing a wine or wines for dinner; and it is the most fun, and sometimes the easiest. When one is having a dinner party at the home, going into the cellar is fun and easy, as one knows (most of the time) what is there. At the restaurant that has the treasure trove of wines, I have always enjoyed searching for that wine that is in the middle, which some people may ignore, because of lack of knowledge. Let us take for study that there is Chateau Margaux on the carte, if has the where-with-all, the selection is easy. If not one can search for a Second Growth like Chateau Rauzan-Gassies, a Third Growth like Chateau Catenac-Brown, a Fourth Growth like Chateau Marquis de Terme, a Fifth Growth like Chateau Dauzac, or even a secondary wine from a listed Chateau as in Alter Ego de Chateau Palmer. One can also use this same thought process on Burgundies or almost any wine area around the world.
Of course sometimes choice as simple as going into the kitchen or the refrigerator and seeing what bottle is waiting to be finished from a prior meal.