Monday, May 21, 2012

Rant: Regional Wine Tastings--Forget The Obvious

Today, I am attending a wine tasting and food pairing seminar led by Drink Ribera, showcasing Spanish wines from the Ribera del Duero region. As I love Spanish wines, I am very interested in this event and tasting some of the latest wines from this area. The event is being held at Taberna de Haro, an excellent Spanish restaurant in Brookline, and Chef/Owner Deborah Hansen is sure to create some delicious Spanish dishes to accompany the wine.

But Drink Ribera has missed a significant opportunity, especially considering they are holding a food pairing seminar. They have gone with the obvious, failing to transform this event into a better learning experience. As the event is being held for trade and media, they are addressing a more knowledgeable audience, so there was really no need to go with the obvious. And this mistake is a common one, committed by a number of other regional wine tasting events.

What is their error? Pairing regional wines with regional cuisine, and in this case specifically, pairing Spanish wines with Spanish dishes. Yes, that is of course a tasty food & wine pairing but it is also the most obvious choice. Who doesn't realize that Spanish wine and food go well together? The same applies to other regions as well, such as Italian wine pairing well with Italian cuisine, French wines with French fare, etc. It is a given that such pairings work and individuals in the wine trade should be even more than cognizant of such basic matters.

At today's food pairing seminar, I will be extremely disappointed if they merely tell us how well Spanish wine pairs with Spanish food. I am hoping, and actually expect, that they will discuss the versatility of Spanish wine, how it pairs well with a wide variety of cuisines. If Drink Ribera hopes to spread a passion for their wines, they need to promote it as something more than just for Spanish cuisine. If consumers see such wine as restricted to Spanish food, then they are unlikely to make these wines a regular part of their lives.

Now, even if Drink Ribera tells us how versatile their wines might be, they are not providing us the opportunity to actually experience that versatility. Instead, we are stuck with the obvious, Spanish food. I have no doubt the food will be tasty, but that is not the point. The point is they should be trying to expand our minds by actually showing us that the wines of Ribera del Duero can pair well with something else, like Italian or French cuisine, German or Asian dishes. This event should not have been held at a Spanish restaurant.

This is not the first, and certainly won't be the last, regional wine tasting event that has gone for such an obvious pairing. I have previously attended events where Italian wines were presented at Italian restaurants, French wines with French dishes, etc. Though fun and pleasing to the palate, they also fail to educate as well as they could. They need to think out of the box, to consider more daring culinary pairings, to show the true versatility and flexibility of their wines.

In some of the Sake events I have hosted, I have tried to do just that, such as pairing Sake with Italian cuisine, to show that Sake is more than just for sushi and Japanese dishes. People are open to such experiences, but someone needs to lead the way. If you keep pairing regional wines with their respective regional cuisines, then you are not leading people anywhere they have not already traveled. They would enjoy experimenting with other cuisine pairings, but wineries and regional wine organizations need to show them the possibilities.

Forget the obvious and I bet your results will be much better.

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