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30 Apr 2019 | Randy Kemner

Re-Thinking Your Wine's Purpose

Last month, once again we put ourselves in a familiar position to defend German Riesling, historically some of the world's finest and most revered white wines.


The occasion was our Saturday afternoon tasting the day before Easter.  What do families eat on Easter Sunday, we asked.  In my house growing up, it was always a ham with scalloped potatoes and green beans in some sauce made from a can of mushroom soup.


What wine can you serve with American-style ham?  The dang thing is so salty a lot of families put crushed pineapple on top before they bake it.  Tannic red wines will have you reaching for the water glass.  Beaujolais and its ilk are about the only reds that stand a chance. 


Some people prefer a full-bodied rosé, not the little Côte de Provence wines we drink all summer, but a full-bodied example like Tavel, or even better, a fruity Anjou rosé if you can find one.  I grew up with a jug of rosé at the Easter table.  It wasn't very good in those days.


But German Riesling, especially with a little sweetness, provides an accompaniment that makes it unnecessary to crush pineapple.  It becomes the fruit the ham needs to make your meal balanced. 


To make the point, we served some deliciously smoked ham at our German Riesling tasting, a lineup which included some of the country's finest producers, including Zilliken and Fritz Haag.  To show that German wine can be delicious when dry, there were four of them, too.


And then there was Sharon.  Sharon dislikes sweet wines, but, because she has a sweet soul, she came to our German wine tasting with her friends to give our Rieslings another chance, bless her heart. 


"There are a few of these (the dry ones) that I like," she said, "but I don't like sweet wines."


That's when I went into my set rebuttal:


"Do you like fresh strawberries?"




"Sweet ones?"


"Of course."


So why don't you like sweet German Riesling?"


"It's not the same thing."


And that's where the booze mindset trumps the food vision for wine.  I'm afraid wine, for most American consumers, is another thing to drink besides vodka tonic and Bourbon.


But at its most basic, wine is fruit juice.  From grapesFood.  Rarely aged in oak barrels for flavor like Chardonnay and Cabernet, Riesling displays its fruit up front, unashamed, with such an impeccable acidity that it is balanced at any sweetness level--dry to super-sweet.  Just like your favorite fresh fruits.  


When wine functions as "flavored booze", any style that gives pleasure is a purpose in itself.  When wine becomes the fruit accompaniment to food on the table, its purpose--and often its taste--is completely different


When you perceive wine as the fruit juice it actually is, especially when a variety like Riesling is naturally fruity, then a sweet or semi-sweet version can substitute for fruit on the table, adding balance to salty things like ham, Thai food, Chinese food, cheeses, omelets and various patés. 


Judging by the enthusiasm our Riesling lovers in attendance displayed, German wines made them happy by themselves, and with their food.


The overriding purpose of wine is to give us pleasure.  But there is always more to what wine can do for you.  As Cecil DeLoach once told me, "It can get you high," and if you like, that can be wine's sole purpose for you.  Muscadet, the racy, dry white wine grown near the mouth of the Loire,  when washing down raw oysters, serves a different purpose.  Chinon with a steak, Brunello di Montalcino with a steak finished with olive oil.  Roquefort cheese with Sauternes, Stilton and vintage port, all these wines find a new purpose as they function as fruit in a glass.


My purpose is to open you up to new ways of enjoying wine.  Re-thinking your wine's purpose is a good way to further that aim.


Ken Brown & Rick Longoria To Visit The Wine Country


On Friday May 10, Santa Barbara County veteran winemakers Ken Brown and Rick Longoria will join us at The Wine Country for an evening of great tasting wine and insights you'll rarely experience.


My association with these great winemakers goes back to the mid 1980s when my fledgling wine broker business was just getting started.  Rick was winemaker at The Gainey Vineyard after creating one of the Santa Ynez Valley's only successful Cabernet Sauvignons at the J. Carey winery.


I met Ken, who began his winemaking career as founding winemaker of Zaca Mesa winery, as he began his second year at Byron Vineyards (Byron is Ken's first name), and sold nearly every wine Ken made at Byron ever since, including the rare sparkling wine featured near the beginning of Sideways.


Both winemakers are making wines with their own labels, both of their careers have spanned the history of commercial winemaking in Santa Barbara County, and each provides unparalleled insight into the past, present and future of wines from their region. 


Read more about these two giants in Chris Costales' article in this newsletter.


And Speaking of German Wine & Food


At The Wine Country, we don't just talk about wine and food, we do wine and food.  For only the second time in over three years, Thai District Restaurant is hosting a dinner pairing their elegant Thai cuisine with some very finest German Rieslings on Monday May 20th.


I sat down with chef-owners Ty and André a couple months ago and we sampled wines, sampled some food and paired them up with some very delicious dishes in anticipation for our Monday May 20th wine dinner. 


Reservations have been filling up, so I suggest calling yours in soon  at Thai District (562) 951-7181.  Reception starts at 6:30 p.m. and dinner commences at 7 p.m.  Cost is $75 and you can see the menu in our events calendar.  Thai District restaurant is in downtown Long Beach near Broadway and Linden.  Parking is a bit difficult, so give yourself a little extra time.  Über, Lyft or a taxi may be best this night.


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