Editor's note: On Fridays Deb Harkness of Good Wine Under $20 joins us to talk some Serious Grape. Take it away, Deb!
When it comes to wine and food, it can sometimes feel like the more you learn the less you know. Each new bottle, each new grape, and each new food reminds us just how vast and complex the world of taste is.
Every now and then it is worth putting yourself—and your taste buds—in the hands of professionals to take your knowledge to the next level. Whether you head to a wine store to taste a flight of new wines, go to a restaurant and let a knowledgeable sommelier pick the wines, or attend a cooking and wine class, there are plenty of opportunities for the curious oenophile.
Here, after the jump, are some hints on where to find local resources to help you out with your continuing wine and food education.
Check Local Wine Stores and Wine Bars for Tastings
Somewhere in your area there is a wine store, a wine bar, or even a grocery store that is hosting a wine tasting in the next few weeks. Even on the remote Sonoma Coast, where the cold winds howl, the local grocery store holds Saturday afternoon tastings next to the counter in the wine department. These tastings can focus on a region, a grape, or a particular maker and are wonderful opportunities for low-risk experimenting with new tastes.
Look for Food and Wine Classes
Anne taught us how to make a series of easy and affordable hors d'oeuvres for entertaining, and Jill Bernheimer from Domaine547 paired each dish with an affordable French wine. The emphasis was on regional French food (not a surprise, given Willan's James Beard Award–winning book The Country Cooking of France) and the wines that would bring out the best of each dish.
While the shrimp and the wine were fantastic on their own, when you tasted them together it was sheer magic—and it's a magic I plan on recreating at the first possible opportunity.
Seek Out Special Tasting Menus at Restaurants
Many restaurants will have special tasting menus with specially-selected wine pairings to go with them. Much like the cooking class I attended, the chef and the sommelier work together to pair each item on the menu with the appropriate wine and the results are nearly always surprising and rewarding. At a recent tasting dinner with wine at the superb L.A. restaurant Sona, for instance, the chef's innovative cuisine—which had layers of sophisticated tastes and textures—was enhanced by the well-chosen wine pairings. And, many of the dishes would have either stumped me in terms of a wine pairing, or I would have played it much safer than the sommelier.
The real revelation for me was when the sommelier paired a dessert dish made with different incarnations of green tea with a sweet dessert wine made with botrytised Riesling grapes. I remember thinking that there was no way such a honeyed, apricot-rich wine was going to work with green tea. Instead, the dessert picked out leafy, herbal, and tealike flavors in the wine.
These experiences have reminded me—and I hope they will remind you, too—that no matter what you think you know, there's always more to learn. This spring and summer, take advantage of your local area's experts. You'll forge some new friendships, pick up some valuable tips, and add to your stash of food and wine knowledge.
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