After spending a week cycling through the Dordogne river valley in France with four other guys, eating huge lunches and dinners each day, both with plenty of good wine, I’ve been thinking about how we choose the wines we drink. I’m working on a theory that there are three kinds of serious wine drinkers.
1. The first is the “I drink what I like” crowd
My friend Ephraim falls in that category. I recall sitting on his redwood deck in Marin County with our wives, eating takeaway pasta with Bolognese sauce from the local gourmet market, while drinking, for the only time in my life, a glass of 1947 Cheval Blanc. One of the ten greatest wines of the last century, a red Bordeaux of incomparable power, grace and finesse. Sharing this bottle with Amy and me was an act of extraordinary generosity. For Ephraim, red wine was Bordeaux. Even for him, the ’47 Cheval Blanc was a very-special-occasion wine. The ’82 Mouton Rothschild was more of an everyday bottle. My wife Amy is also a “drink what I like” gal. She drinks red with everything. White wine gives her headaches.
2. The second type of wine drinker is the “match the wine with the food” drinker (which is what I am most of the time)
If I’m eating grilled steak, I’ll open an Aussie Shiraz, an Argentine Malbec or a French Hermitage. For roast chicken, a cru Beaujolais or a Cotes de Beaune red Burgundy. For crabcake, a Central Coast chardonnay or a white Burgundy. For pizza, an Italian Barbera, Dolcetto or Rosso di Montalcino. At a dinner party in a restaurant, I’ll ask what everyone is eating and then start searching the wine list for matches.
3. The third type of wine drinker is the “match the food with the wine” guy
They first choose what to drink and then decide what to make for dinner, or order in the restaurant, based on that prior wine choice. Once or twice a year my wife Amy and I do a wine dinner for charity, where we both cook the meal and provide the wine from our cellar. For these dinners, we are pulling exceptional, often older bottles of wine. Hermitage La Chapelle ’90. Rochioli West Block Pinot Noir ’94. The wine is the star of these meals, and the food follows.
Of course, there is a fourth type, the person who drinks, often to excess, whatever is put in front of him, without any special regard for what it is or whether it plays nice with the food. But none of us are like that.