It's nice to have friends who know how to cook well. The wine you select can make that meal a memorable adventure.
Over the years, I've said many times that one of the unforeseen benefits of working in a wine store is that we meet so many terrific home chefs. And why not? It should be no surprise that the same type of people who don't settle for flavorless fruits and vegetables at the grocery store and populate the city's many farmers' markets, might be more particular about their wine selections than the mass market boredom of a typical grocery store wine shelf.
Long time friends and great home chefs Carl and Pam Taylor taught us a lot about how great ingredients in a regional dish often are made memorable with a wine from that region. Their uncanny ability to come home from a trip to a European country and re-create a favorite dish, often without a recipe, almost dares me to select a proper wine from that country that'll add even more authenticity to the meal. That's why I'll suggest a Tuscan wine for a Tuscan recipe, or a wine from the south of France with a Provençale dish. For some, a Bandol might just be an interesting flavored wine; for me it is one of the more special wines I want to consume with a garlic and rosemary-studded leg of lamb.
Another great home chef is our friend Jack McLaughlin, whose decades-long passion has been regional French cooking. Jack was the one who showed us that dry rosé wasn't merely a crisp summer aperitif, but a vibrant, serious wine when served with aïoli (garlic mayonnaise) and seafood, vegetables, lamb and chicken cooked in the Provence fashion.
Another thing Jack demonstrated was stylish dining even for a backyard lunch. I suspect for most of us, a backyard lunch means paper plates and plastic cups on a picnic table for easy cleanup. Then it's fried chicken from a bucket, or grilled hamburgers with an array of bottled salad dressings.
Taking a cue from the French, though, means taking all meals a little more reverently, from the quality of the baguette you choose to the specialty stores you shop in, to the tablecloth, china, stemware and flowers you must have even at a picnic. If this sounds fussy, it really isn't. Except for some extra cleanup, it takes little time to stretch out a tablecloth, bring out your decent stemware (like the DiVino sets sold at The Wine Country), real plates and flatware. Take it from me, your food will be more appreciated, and your wine will taste better.
It was a warm summer Sunday afternoon that Jack invited Dale and me over for a leg of lamb patio lunch with homemade aïoli. The starter was a special gazpacho made from heirloom tomatoes and garnished with a grilled prawn.
The Tempier Bandol rosé and Tempier Bandol La Tourtine were our wine contributions, and the combination of good friends, outdoor eating, elegant table, cuisine made by someone who knows how to cook and regional table wines made our gathering one we'll remember longer than most of our birthday dinners.