I find Will Lyons’ wine columns in the Wall Street Journal gentle and congenial, so I regret that I also find myself holding them up as a mirror towards wine views that distort reality.
His most recent advice column begins by stating, “Pairing wine with cheese is actually a little more complicated than it seems.”
Then he ensues all manner of complicated but, I dare to say it, irrelevant combinations: a cheese called “Sottocenere al tartufo, made in northeast Italy, is complemented by the richness of the local red wine, made from the Lagrein grape variety.”
He recommends Muscadet and “a ripe slice of local goat cheese” while considering the proper cheese after “potted shrimps and white Burgundy, followed by beef and mature red Bordeaux.” Lyons ends by suggesting that we now-cowed readers “… experiment and bear in mind that rules are there to be broken!”
He’s probably more right than wrong on all accounts, but this is the sort of seemingly contradictory advice that is all too common in wine, and that speaks to a dwindling and, I’ll dare further, annoyingly precious sub-group of gourmands called wine snobs.
For most people, wine is no more than a drink. There is nothing wrong with that. I drank a luncheon glass today from one of Burgundy’s greatest winemakers, Michel Juillot; it was a nice glass to accompany my tuna salad but it was just a drink. Okay, it was merely Bourgogne Rouge, but still.
Yes, there exist wine and food matches that offer exquisite interplays between flavors, aromas and textures, but mostly people want to have a nice drop of wine and something good to eat with it. All this talk of perfect matches between foods we’re not sure we recognize and wines we’ve never seen runs counter to the idea that rules are meant to be broken.
Haven’t we passed that moment when those small rebellions have been overwhelmed by a revolution in understanding: that flavor is and always will be personal?
We like different things because we experience them differently. This is as true of flavor and aroma as it is of color, sound and the feel of the wind. Too much of wine writing unconsciously waxes nostalgic for a homogenous world of bullyboys from university school days grown now to balding braggarts with cellars much spoken about and rarely violated.
To them, I would say, “Drink, don’t talk about it.” And to everyone else, drink exactly what you like. Don’t worry about breaking rules that no longer exist and that evince a world that has disappeared, swept aside by the riot of flavors our smaller and far more heterogeneous world offers.
Still, it’s nice for Mr. Lyons to suggest that someone drink Muscadet, a wine that today is doing its best work in years. His writing clearly has value; I don’t mean to suggest it doesn’t. Read him and look for tips on interesting wines you might want to explore. Just don’t feel like you have to have it with local goat cheese.
Doug Frost is a Kansas City-based wine and spirits writer and consultant who for decades has happily educated the public about all things drink. He is one of only three people in the world to have earned the coveted titles of master sommelier and master of wine. He contributes a monthly wine column for The Star’s Food section.