The French philosopher Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once said, "A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine." Brillat-Savarin often had panache for making peculiar remarks on food and wine. He also coined the phrase "you are what you eat" and perhaps more interestingly, commented on "silly things" and how the wines of Bordeaux, France "make you talk of them."
Wine can be as complex as you want to make it and for those who are simply thirsty, it can be a simple drink. Bordeaux is arguably the most famous wine region in the world. With bottles reaching thousands of dollars, the price-tag represents a lot of attention that speaks more to pomposity than accessibility.
This is too bad because Bordeaux produces plenty of wines under $15, and whilst these may not achieve the greatness of a $2,000 bottle, eventually they will make you talk of silly things.
Take for example the 2010 Château La Grand Maison ($11) from the sub-Bordeaux region of Blaye. The wine smelled of a candy store, one stocked with nothing but caramel and butterscotch, both of which are derived from oak barrels (or chips). On the palette, you get a sense of spice, with chewy dark chocolate tannins. Silly indeed.
Sounds like it’s coming out of my ass? Yes and no.
Aroma compounds have been studied for ages already; the food industry knows how to replicate them. Just think of all the "fruit" candies and energy drinks and what
"natural flavoring" means.
Just to be clear though, winemakers don’t put flavoring into wine. It’s the complex mingling of grape juice, oak and yeast that gives rise to all of these wonderful interesting aromas and flavors. These descriptions are the best way for me to convey a sense of aroma and flavor; as opposed to telling you I smell diacetyl (butter).
Tannins, on the other hand, give a tactile sensation and is a compound originating from the vegetative material of grapes and oak. Think of when you drink really strong tea and how it makes your mouth pucker; tannins cause dryness. They can also add to the body and structure of wine, giving it complexity, though too much and it becomes harsh.
In contrast, the 2009 Château Camelot La Chapelle ($11) was a more austere offering, perhaps not quite Coyote Ugly as opposed to Black Swan. A darker brooding bottle with a cooked fruit stew nose mixed in with restrained oak, which may have been slightly oxidized. It had chewy tannins that coat the palette, insisting a pairing with steak, chops or meat in tubular form, sausage for example.
To mediate between the two, the 2011 Château Haut Roudier ($10) starts with hints of vanilla and oak leading into fresh crushed cherries. A slightly flabby wine that could have used more acidity, it nevertheless had nice tannins that seem ‘dusty’ as if there was something chalky in your mouth, which ends with an earthy finish at the back of the palette.
The three red wines here are all good with food, particularly those with some fat because of the tannins. By eating something rich like cheese, your palette gets coated, which helps ease any harsh tannins. A simple guideline is that anything with more tannin should be paired with something that has more fat. In return, tannin can also help cut through greasy food making your oversized slab of bacon less naughty.
So let’s recap on today’s lecture. Any meal with wine is inherently better because science says so, particularly with the grilling season reaching its apex. Wines from Bordeaux can be affordable. Lastly, they can make us talk of silly things and with enough encouragement, probably make us do silly things too.
Editor's note: The Summer Evergreen does not encourage underage or irresponsible drinking.