Why Holiday Wine Pairings Shouldn't Be Perfect
Resist rigid standards and choose a delicious, adaptable pour like Cru Beaujolais.
I’m done obsessing about perfect pairings. The path to grouchiness is paved with worries about serving the “right” wine alongside “flawless” menus, so this holiday season, I’m focused on flexibility.
Inspiration came after being reminded just how loud the drumbeat has become. Invited to plan a wine tasting for a dozen clients of a prominent financial firm, the organizers kept emphasizing the importance of “perfect pairings” to impress these VIPs. When someone paused for breath, I interjected (diplomatically, I hope) that this approach was simply too rigid. No fun. Why not craft an experience featuring memorable pours and small plates that would allow attendees themselves to discover what they liked best? Shoulders seemed to relax around the table. I know mine did.
We all want our family and friends to enjoy the wines we serve. There is a special kind of magic when a thoughtfully chosen pour elevates a humble weeknight dish like roast chicken or a special Sunday supper. The trend I find dismaying is the obsession with perfection, the kind that paralyzes—whether facing a wine shop rack of unfamiliar bottles, or feeling intimidated by a restaurant wine list.
Happily, there are multiple approaches to pairing and they are as varied as people and their palates. A winning strategy is to have a go-to bottle on hand that will adapt easily to a wide array of dishes. The key is finding a wine as flexible and joy-promoting as we ourselves strive to be during this season.
One of these versatile, full-of-character pours is from France, a Cru Beaujolais imported by esteemed Berkeley-based wine merchant Kermit Lynch. A 2014 Marcel Lapierre Morgon offers pure pleasure. Even the bottle, with red sealing wax cloaking the lip and neck, looks like a class act. Crafted by the son of natural wine pioneer Marcel Lapierre in the Rhone commune of Villie-Morgon, this elegant red should not be confused with the young “nouveau” style that appears around Thanksgiving. This bottle, made from the gamay grape, is lithe both in weight and texture. Its just-ripe fruit and floral-mineral character, buoyed by refined acidity, allows it to pair with fish or fowl, simply grilled meats, or an aromatic vegetable dish.
Last month, at a splurge of a restaurant meal in Chicago, a dining companion and I marveled at how this Morgon paired seamlessly with both Galician octopus, as well as beef tartare topped with quail egg. It lifted the creamy richness of hand-made pasta with shaved white truffles (remember, this was a splurge) and complemented entrées of arctic char and sea bass, each with roasted root vegetables and herb-tinged sauces. (It’s a talented red that can pair with fish.) Fortunately, this pour is not confined to the Midwest. It’s available all around town for holiday merry-making.
If you’re wondering about that wine tasting, the one with the overzealous planners, I’m pleased to report the clients loved it. No one had to dictate to that crowd what pairings to like. They discovered it for themselves and spent the rest of lunch telling one another why they preferred one combination over another.
When we let go of ideas about rigid perfection, we open the door to all kinds of possibilities—surprising, liberating and close at hand.