Nobody's Perfect -- Or, A Really Bad Pairing (It Happens)

If you're a regular reader of this blog (hi, Mom), you're probably surprised at how often the secret meal and secret wine pairings, while sometimes unexpected, work out so perfectly. (Read last week's if you missed it.) I can just see them over at Food & Wine, racking their brains -- "How do they do it, those Garagistes-in-Training? Is it, maybe, some etheric force that connects us all, sending imperceptible suggestions to make every pairing better than the laws of probability or common sense could ever allow?"

Well, maybe. Why not? If that's it, though, then you've got to expect an occasional disturbance in the force.

It was my turn to choose the secret bottle of wine this time. I'm still searching for the perfect local wine shop, so I went to one I hadn't yet visited. I'm also still trying to figure out whether there's a San Diego School For Aspiring Wine Shop Owners where the admissions department peers at applicants over a checklist:

Male? (Check.) White? (Check.) Between 50-65? (Check.) Tall? (Check.) Yes, you may open a wine shop. Next!

Wine, Interrupted

This particular tall, white, male, 55-ish wine-shop owner seemed friendly, and indulged my browsing ways without following me around or offering unsolicited advice. I took my time, but hadn't found anything yet that leaped out, when my phone rang.

Jody and Elijah (age 6), who'd gone on a grocery-buying expedition, were locked out of the house. (Our key situation is uninterestingly complicated.) Groceries needed to be brought inside, right away, and I was already at least 10 minutes out. All of a sudden: pressure! Just pick something, already! So, I did -- Talia, age 10, was with me, and I spotted a Bordeaux from her birth year for $20. Why not? I've got to get out of here!

1999 Château Lamothe de Haux, Bordeaux, 12% alc.

We don't ever buy much Bordeaux. Nothing against it, really; I've tasted some older ones that I found fascinating, but for everyday wine drinking, it's just not practical, since most of it needs years of aging, and who has that kind of patience? Also, our palates simply skew toward different grape varieties than the typical Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot-dominated Bordeaux blends. (The other grapes used in Bordeaux blends, for my dear wine newbies, are Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Speaking of which, there's a new California Malbec that I'm quite keen to taste.)

This wine decanted for about an hour and a half. It had lots of cherry aromas, along with blackcurrant, and menthol. On the palate, pleasant enough, if a bit thin. It wasn't a terrible wine, though it tasted like it had seen better days. I wondered what would happen with the meal, which Jody had admirably created from a combination of odds, ends and what turned out to be the pairing's mortelle faille (oops, have I given away the ending?): salmon.

Do They Eat Salmon in Bordeaux?

Last time salmon entered the (double) double-blind pairing, it was a delightful partner to Randall Grahm's Grenache-based Bonny Doon 2004 Le Cigare Volant. It also was a perfect piece of salmon. (Note: This is what we creative-writing majors call foreshadowing.)

Jody tore it up in the kitchen per usual and invented a tasty ragout from things we had in the fridge, added to things he bought at the store because he thought they'd taste good together, to be spooned over fettucine and topped with the salmon -- wild and fresh, of course.

Ragout of artichokes, mushrooms, radicchio, herbs and bacon

Doesn't that look like a nice pairing? Ahem.

The ragout was delicious; the pasta, perfectly cooked. The salmon tasted, er, a wee bit fishy. Not fishy in a good, anchovy or mackerel fishy way. Fishy in a 1980s-Grandma's-medicine-cabinet-fish-oil-supplement kind of way. (Don't tell me I'm the only kid who used to bite off the end of those things, squeeze the foul goo into the trash, and chew on the gelcap ... wait, I am, aren't I? Never mind. You know what I mean.)

Still, the worst was yet to come. One sip of that reedy, fruit-faded (to be expected at 10 years old!) Bordeaux, and the inside of my mouth went from a slight smack of residual fish-oil to Oh! Oh no! My mouth! I must get this awful fishy fish mess OUT! (Involuntary throat-closing noises may have been involved.) The children, in disbelief, began laughing so hard they, in turn, almost choked. It was not a pretty scene. 

Drink the wine you like with the food you like, begins the inevitable closing paragraph of every boring food-and-wine pairing article you ever read. It's mostly true; no one's found any Bacchanalian commandments carved into stone tablets -- but let me hand you this piece of advice, earned the hard way. If you like inexpensive 10-year-old Bordeaux, and you also like salmon, enjoy them separately. (Unless fishy fish mess all up in your mouth is your thing. Then, hey, just enjoy!)

Until next week, friends - cheers! Drop a comment in the box.