Food Wines | Who is the Driver?

I had the great opportunity to attend a very interesting wine training this past week.  And besides the fact that it started with pouring the sample wines as early as 6am for all of the attendees, it was GREAT.
The training was for our staff from various departments within our company and was all about Wine, Wine, Food and Wine and the comfort to sell the EXPERIENCE!
The training was conducted by the Constellation Academy of Wine and the trainer was no less than Luis Torres, a Master of Wine!
First training session was to learn more about the Super Palate!   Super Palate?
I could tell that the attendees thought "I am going to hear more about wine descriptors such as wet stone, barnyard, hint of extra ripe Meyer lemons, moist Forrest floors et cetera! So, they got really excited when this wasn't the case. They will not be sitting in a boring class learning about different soils, sun exposure and other great things they may never need in life instead they will actually learn the basics about wine and what is likely important to use when selling/describing a wine to a guest. So instead of stating that the wine has "oaky" notes or is acidic, they would describe the wine as juicy (from the acid) and share that the wine has notes of Coffee or Chocolate (characteristics that develop during the oak aging) et cetera.  Cool Stuff for the waitstaff and great to help the guest make up his/her mind for what they might want to order a glass or bottle of.
The rest and majority of the class was then committed to identify
food wines.  What works well with what and why is that?
We tried various wines with different sugar and tannin levels (only the reds) that worked better or worse with various foods such as Potato chips (representing fried foods), Tabasco (spicy foods) and acidic foods amongst others.
That was a very interesting exercise and a real eye opener for most of the attendees in the class.
As I don't want to get into detail and lengthen the blog, let me just highlight a couple of things that stuck out!

What matters most when seeking a wine to go with a dish, is to identify the "driver" of the dish.
Just because you ordered a steak, doesn’t mean that a big red wine is the best choice, especially when prepared with a spicy sauce or marinade. There are five key drivers/elements and they are Acidity, Sugar, Alcohol levels, oak presence in the wine and the tannins (in red wines).  To give you an example; when high alcohol is present, a spicy and/or salty dish would not be a good offering as the alcohol would likely cause a burn on the palate versus added dining pleasure.
As a general guideline, ensure that your wine has more sugars than your food, and you are of to a good start!
Of course that doesn't mean Ice Wine should become your recommendation for all foods, there are lots of other factors and help out.  And remember, sugar comes in lots of different ways such as in food items (starches, dailry products...)

As a closing comment, I would just like to remind everybody, especially if you are in the hospitality industry, never correct a guest when he/she orders a wine!  The guest may order your biggest (high in alcohol, oak and tannins) Cabernet Sauvignon with your very spicy dish, and you will say - Absolutely!


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