The other night, my church small group held our second annual Wine Tasting party. It was such a beautiful evening of great wine and great food (there was even Chardonnay paired with Chicken and Waffles–and it worked really well!).
Similarly, this year, my inner nerd-dom drove me to come up with a whole presentation around my attempt at another odd pairing. I wrote up some notes to guide me, and I thought I’d post them here to guide you on your own wine experiments this weekend, especially if you want a great pairing on a budget.
This is a different kind of tasting. It’s not so much about bringing out certain flavors as it is experiencing an unexpected reaction between the two items. It’s going to take some focus, so prepare your taste buds. But first, a story.
It’s the year 374 in the small town of Langres, France. Some political turmoil has broken out, and it has been directed at the local clergy. The local bishop, fresh to his new post flees from his home and hides among the nearby vineyards. He is found by the winemakers and vine-dressers, who show him compassion and help him hide. He took this moment to just go ahead and convert them all to Christianity.
These newly-converted winemakers helped him move from vineyard to vineyard among the various times, continuing his ministry as bishop of the area. In the midst of this work, he of course, became know for especially loving the Communion “Blood of Christ”, and became well-known to the wine industry of the area. After his death, he became the patron saint of winemakers and is prayed to to pray against against alcoholism.
His name was Saint Urban of Langres, and he (hopefully) will be the namesake of my first-born son.
Langres, the town Urban served in, is along the Northern border of the Burgundy region of France–a region which is most associated with the wine for this pairing: Pinot Noir. The name roughly means “black pine”. The grapes are super dark (almost black) and grow in a tight pine-cone shaped clump. The wine (literally) has a very thin skin and it is very sensitive to nearly every possible variable that goes into winemaking.
America’s St. Urban (in a sense), Andre Tchelistcheff who, after Prohibition, rebuilt the California wine industry, once said that “God gave us Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot Noir.”
Despite its difficulty in cultivation, Pinot Noir is one of the most popular wines in the world. It has been described as “the most romantic of wines, with so voluptuous a perfume, so sweet an edge, and so powerful a punch that, like falling in love, they make the blood run hot and the soul wax embarrassingly poetic.” The first female American Master Sommelier, Madeline Triffon, calls Pinot Noir “sex in a glass”.
Which is why, for this pairing, I wanted to put this powerful, erotic wine with Cool Ranch Doritos. Or, as I like to call it, “Sex in a Bag”.
And for this tasting, I am pairing with with Barefoot California Pinot Noir (about $9.99, but is often on sale for $6.99).
Tasting Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir can have a very wide range of possible flavors, aromas, bouquets, and textures. But at the most basic level, Pinot Noirs have a light to medium body and an aroma of black or red cherry, raspberry, and other darker red fruits like currant.
This tasting particularly uses a California Pinot Noir. While the European versions are lighter, fruitier, and cleaner taste, the California style is more powerful, with a larger body. It has fruit on the front end and can have a darkness, depth, complexity ,and spice on the back end that is similar to Malbec or Syrah. It also has a higher alcohol content.
One last interesting note before actually tasting the wine: Pinot Noir is a very ancient variety of wine. One thing I didn’t know before researching this wine is that experts actually know what was probably the original grape vine used for wine thousands of years ago. It’s called Vitis sylvestris, and it is believed that Pinot Noir is maybe one or two generations (genetically speaking) from this original grape vine.
Tasting the Barefoot Pinot Noir
Okay, now drink some of the wine.
What do you taste? On the front: dark cherry and raspberry. On the back, do you taste that bite? To me, it’s not quite a “spice”, like the pepper taste in Malbec. Instead, it’s seems to me to be more like the carbonation and tingle of Coke. Taste it again, thinking “Cherry coke”. This is key: where on the tongue does the spice hits? It shoots hrough the center of the tongue and lingers in the back of the mouth. It leaves the syrup-y dark fruitiness on the edges and the front of the tongue.
Tasting the Doritos Cool Ranch Chip
Now taste the chip.
What do you taste? There is a garlic and onion bite, but then it’s complemented by a very round-tasting cheddar and buttermilk taste. Where does the spice hit on your tongue? Here, the spice runs along the edges of the tongue, especially the front. Notice the other flavors, where do they go? They sit in the middle.
It’s the exact opposite of the wine. The chip has the spice on the front and edges, and the wine has it in the middle and back.
Pairing them together.
Now chew up some of the chip and while it’s still mashed up in your mouth, drink some of the wine.
On the front and edges of the tongue: The wine complements and softens the spice of the chip. Notice how the fruitiness from the wine doesn’t have the usual “spice” of citrus that you’d expect from berries. The chip spice, adds that citrus-y spice that your brain expects, so the chip spice gets incorporated into the wine fruit. The cheesy buttery-ness from the chip also mingles that mixes well with the thick syrupy-ness of this California Pinot Noir. It’s pretty seamless.
On the middle and back of the tongue: The chip’s buttermilk taste, with an aroma of cheese, sits in the middle of the tongue, but the wine’s spice shoots through the middle, breaking up this aftertaste, both cleansing the palate and almost completely neutralizing (and therefore balancing) the spice/fruit interplay happening on the edges of the tongue.
What makes this tasting so different is that rather than bringing out flavors in one or both of the items (as most other pairings try to accomplish), these two items seems to be each other’s complete opposite, almost neutralizing their flavors.
And so, in my opinion, unless your conscious about tasting it, these two items can so complement each other that they cancel each other out, and you could honestly think you’re just drinking water.
This makes this pairing a good “snacking” pair. If you want something casual and fun, where the flavors down wrestle and fight but simply meld together unexpectedly and seamlessly–and if you don’t want to spend a lot of money–then this is the pair for you.
(A friend of mine took some video of this tasting that I’ll post as soon as it’s uploaded, probably later this evening.)