Friday, December 12, 2008

A Sense of Place

A wine’s feel, its flavors, is defined by its environment, or terroir, which is the geology of the soil, the topography of the vineyard, the climate. It’s the vegetation that grows, and the food products that are produced and eaten, along with the wines. A good wine brings with it the feel of a place, invites you in to the pleasures of the table, brings people together.

We didn’t inherit this POV. When we first started down this road, we didn’t have a lot of money. We were living in San Francisco, bought food in bulk at places like Rainbow Grocery, shopped at Farmers’ Markets, cooked a lot at home, becoming more and more intensely curious about food and wine. We read cookbooks, read about wine, experimented, drank lots of different wines.
One of the cool things about being an American is how unlimited the choices are. But the number of choices can be overwhelming. And, because there isn’t a food and wine culture, a structure, like one would have, say, growing up in Burgundy, it’s daunting trying to figure things out, how to pair this with that.

Luckily in the San Francisco Bay Area fresh ingredients and good local wines are pretty easy to find. Thanks to people like Alice Waters, California Cuisine is a defined entity. Occasionally, we treated ourselves to a nice bottle, or were given one as a gift. We quickly found we preferred certain varietals and wanted to understand their roots. Which led us to the Kermit Lynch store in Berkeley, which was a revelation, a turning point, in our wine exploration/education. Whereas California wines, like New World wines in general, tend to have over-extracted flavors and high levels of alcohol, greet you like a punch in the face, Kermit Lynch’s traditional French wines are all about finesse and grace.

In the wine-producing regions of Europe, decisions on food and wine pairing fairly effortlessly reflect a sense of place. In America, pairing wine with food comes less naturally. We tend to feel intimidated, or think it’s pretentious, to talk about wine and to think about food and wine pairings. But wine and food are blessings, things to be enjoyed while you learn more and more about them. Maintain an open mind and give yourself the liberty to enjoy the open road.


Eric Swanson said...

Hi Michael,

Congratulations on leaving your corporate day job behind. It sounds like the store is your first love by many a mile. Good luck to you.


Michael Yarmark said...

Thanks for the good wishes!