"All going down, looking for the tango king…"

by Katie Pizzuto on January 7, 2009

in Food/Wine Pairing

tango2You may find this hard to believe, but there are, in fact, people in this world who either can’t or don’t want to have an array of wines served alongside their 10-course tasting menu. Among them are pregnant women, 12-year-olds, those on antibiotics, and those who simply don’t like wine (i.e. weirdos). Seriously, though, there is no reason that these paying customers deserve any less of a gastronomic experience merely because they choose not to have wine. After all, who the hell would want to have a corn syrup-laden cola with Maine Lobster Tail “Cuite Sous Vide” w/Gratin of Cauliflower, Granny Smith Apples and Madras Curry with Crispy “Pappadoms” and Cilantro Shoots? The only other option is usually still or sparkling water, and that will add about as much to these dishes as a white boy would add to a tango.

Paul Roberts, Director of Wine & Beverages for all of the Thomas Keller properties (The French Laundry and Bouchon in Yountville, Per Se in New York City, and Bouchon in Las Vegas) has been doing something revolutionary for patrons that don’t want wine with their meals…he’s paying great attention to pairing non-alcoholic beverages with Keller’s dramatic cuisine. Roberts set out to provide an equally great dining experience for those who can’t or don’t drink alcohol, and his beverage program deserves applause. For starters, he and his crew make their own tonic (with unbleached quinine…something unheard of in most mass-produced tonic), and have partnered with Navarro vineyards, which produces great grape juice from pinot noir and gewürztraminer grapes. He also works with a perfumer from Berkeley in order to produce natural oils and hydrosols that can add essences of chamomile, lavender, passion fruit, etc. to water. Want an interesting beverage to pair with foie gras, but can’t reach for the Sauternes? Roberts recommends an artisanal root beer, with plenty of sarsaparilla.

What I want to know is why all sommeliers don’t treat their beverage pairings as they would traditional wine pairings…paying attention to the weight of dishes, matching/contrasting flavors, etc? Why aren’t THEY reconsidering glassware, knowing that it is a part of the sensory experience, too? One can only hope that more high-end restaurants will follow Paul’s lead here. When customers are shelling out hundreds of dollars for a single meal, it should be a full-contact experience…nothing should be an afterthought. And if the food can’t dance with the wine for whatever reason, it should be given an equally compelling partner.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Linsey January 8, 2009

hey! Im not a weirdo… ok I am a lil but not coz I dont like wine! hehehe

… add to that the fact that I rather like just water with my meal – especially if its ice cold … oooooh dear!

I do like the idea that someone is willing to give non-drinkers like me something of an extra experience whilst dining out though … great idea!

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2 Katie Pizzuto January 8, 2009

It is indeed a great idea, especially when you’re shelling out several hundred dollars per couple for 1 meal. Most high-end restaurants haven’t given this any thought at all…it’s wine they pair with your meal, or else you are SOL.

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3 Thom Calabrese January 9, 2009

I’m intrigued…… I might(I said might) fore go the wine just to check it out. At least once anymore.

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4 Thom Calabrese January 9, 2009

That was anyway! I already had coffee so it’s just a case of the stupids.

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5 Katie Pizzuto January 9, 2009

That’s ok, Thom, I’m fluent in typos. I’d be willing to check it out as well…if nothing else, it’ll save a few bucks, right?!? 🙂

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