A Sense of Place

"A sense of place," it's the one of the greatest compliments a wine aficionado can bestow upon a wine maker.  More than the French word terroir, for New World wine lovers, "a sense of place" means that a wine tastes like the culmination of mindful farming, precise harvest, watchful fermentation, and conscientious aging.  Lovingly crafted, such wines stand in defiant opposition to the insipid, mass-produced, hot, over-oaked drek lining the shelves at Vons.  If you can taste fruit, warm sunshine, wet earth, clean rain, and a complete palate of complimentary, wonderful, ancillary flavors then you know firsthad what elevates a "sense of place" wine from simple drink to poetic muse.  It is why a pinot from Oregon should taste different than one from California, Otaga New Zealand, Okanaga BC, Maipo, or Yarra Valley.  It should be the winemaker's stamp that reads "This is my wine.  I made it with heart and care.  It is unique and extremely special.  I hope you like it, too."  It is what we strive for in our impassioned zeal to create the best pinots on the planet. With a more generous and fanciful spirit, "a sense of place" is also a metaphor for the bewitching way a great wine transports us into the intimate recesses of our own imagination.  Nowhere has this been better played than in the recent WSJ article entitled "The Lamb-Chop Test."  There John and Dottie taste tested 10 wine-shop recommended wines alongside simple broiled lamb chops, divining the best pairings of the day.  Beyond which wine "beat" another, the most alluring part of their prose was hearing those lovebirds detail the sappy, nostalgic places they imagined they'd been sipping their stuff.  They write (without irony), "The dinner had an altered feel depending on which wine we were tasting.  With Consilience Syrah, we were sitting around a fire on a beautiful night; with Gorrondona from Spain, the meal took us to a friendly provincial restaurant; with a 1999 Rioja, we were at a very fancy, white-tablecloth place."  Obviously all crazy, wine-obsessed nuts share a passion for poetic hyperbole, lest you think my camping-flashback nausea was all in jest.

Today, in a humbler offering than a world class, white-tablecloth meal, I thought I'd share a personal, favorite wine-food pairing of mine: Lamb Stew with Chickpeas and Pomegranate Molasses with Tor Kenward's Rock Syrah.  When I first tasted this particular syrah, at fancy white-tablecloth Addison Grand Del Mar, I was incontestably certain that it would pair magnificently with my (what cheeky impudence- it's a Cooking Light recipe!) lamb stew.  The bold wine, equal parts juicy, ripe red fruit and peppery earthiness, would transform a hearty, braised, meat stew into something really special.  Plus the pomegranate molasses had a piquant fruity kick that could cut though the heaviness of this big wine.  And so, with a half bottle between us, a hot bowl of steamy lamb stew, and the persistent tinkling of Bob the Builder's theme song in the background, Brian and I drifted off to the most romantic, magical place of all: that precious moment of quiet and calm in our very own House of Preschool Horrors.  Of course it was over almost instantaneously, first when Kid #1 pestered us for a sip of "daddy's water" followed by Kid #2 screaming to fast forward through the part with Muck and the porcupines. 

Please understand, this is not an endorsement to rush to your computer right this minute to buy the very same vintage of that very same wine (although it's one we love).  Instead I challenge you to cook something satisfying and delicious tonight and pair it with whatever is in your cabinet right now.  Who knows where it will transport you?  And if you're a little buzzed, you may find the bottle speaking or singing to you or even directly "saying to the lamb, ‘Get on my shoulders, little buddy, and I'll carry you.' " Thanks John and Dottie; you're always an inspiration.

Next week I will share the aforementioned recipe along with some simple techniques for mastering awesome, super-duper stew.