I've spent a goodly amount of time in the company of wine connoisseurs, but I can't claim to have distinguished myself in this field. I'm still known to make purchases based on label design -- I like contemporary with bold colors-- and whether I'll be able to pronounce it at presentation.
Nectar of the gods, consolation for mere mortals, wine has a valuable place in history -- flowing like lifeblood through religions, culture and commerce. And who can dispute its aphrodisiac qualities? Relaxing inhibitions and promoting joy -- the fundamental requirements for good performance. In mythologies, orgiastic festivals were celebrated in honor of Bacchus and Dionysus, the Greek and Roman gods of wine and eroticism, during which crowds filled the streets drinking and fornicating without restraint. Attend a couple of office Christmas parties, and you'll see not much has changed.
A few years ago I had the privilege of dining at Picasso, the renowned five-star restaurant at the Bellagio resort in Las Vegas.
Beneath original paintings and ceramics by Pablo Picasso, we dined on a five-course degustation menu, each course paired with wine. The meal was sublime, even worthy, we concluded, of its obscene tab (roughly the budget of a small country).
One of the most memorable aspects of the dinner was our table captain, who introduced each glass of wine as if he was reciting poetry to his beloved: "The hint of cherry caresses the lips like a first kiss, the breath of Mother Earth sighs with tender affection for the baby peas in the soup ..." and "This Viognier sings of peaches and ripe sun, whispers the pink and secret flesh of women." We moaned a lot and passionately agreed that the wine and food were like tango partners in the romance of this dining experience -- the language and rhythm were mesmerizing.
Although wine can enhance the flavor of a meal, choosing the right one can be intimidating for us beer-swilling ignoramuses. One of the first rules of thumb my viticulture pals tell me (which I can't seem to adhere to) is to not serve cocktails before the meal lest the taste buds be dulled. Next, the ideal is to serve white first and then two or three varieties of reds (assuming you're having more than one course), with the youngest wine followed by older or better labels.
Although rules can be reassuring sometimes, I say forget the rigid mantra of red with meat and white with fish. Spaniards drink their local red with just about everything; Italians and French regard matching food and wine with the same amused disdain with which they regard Americans. Quite simply, the more assertive the dish, the more robust the wine.
The ultimate criterion for any wine is purely subjective: Do you like the taste?