What wine to pair with people? While tomes have been written on pairing wine with every intellectual and sensory accompaniment available to a thinking and feeling person –food, literature, music – it’s a wonder we spend so little time matching wine to a person’s character. When you buy someone a gift, you match the idea with the person. Why not with wine?
The challenge arose recently when I was without a car for a week and took to walking as my means of transportation. On my daily outings, I was reminded of how much more you see and connect with on foot. One day, not 50 metres from home, I walked under a lemon tree that stretched over the footpath. The tree shuddered and a fat lemon thudded onto the path in front of me. I froze, waiting to be hit by more citrus missiles, when a voice came from the tree. “Would you like some lemons?”
I looked up and saw the lower half of a man on a ladder. The top half disappeared into the tree, like a character from an Enid Blyton novel. He stepped down to reveal himself to be youngish, lean and whippet-fit. “They’re big and delicious,” he said, stepping off the ladder, “but I won’t get through them all.” We admired how well lemons work in a gin and tonic and he arranged to hang a bag on a fence picket for me to collect on my way back through.
Pleased with my new connection and vowing to become someone who walks everywhere, I decided to repay my neighbour with a bottle of wine. But what to choose? I had been practising the matching-wine-with-people technique on others with reasonable success.
There is my friend Nick whom one could describe as a top bloke with a sensitive side buried beneath a dry, laconic sense of humour. We met at a publishing company about ten years ago and still catch up regularly. At the time I had suffered a romantic setback. Nick used his rough charm to cheer me up. “How are you?” he’d ask as we snuck a glass of wine on our lunch breaks. “Still a bit sad,” I’d say. “Is that ‘cause your hair looks crap?” I know. But try not to smile.
For the decade or so I have known him, Nick has enjoyed Australian red wines with presence. Big names, big palates, big flavour. Though it’s not my place to dismiss a friend’s preference, I will try to evolve it, particularly if I have to share a bottle or two over dinner.
To my mind, I can’t think of a more appropriate pairing, nor delicious wine, to share with Nick than Australian Grenache. A variety first planted for fortified production way back when, it lost favour to the other more popular red wine varieties. The best Australian Grenache and their blends are utterly charming and rustic treasures. Like Nick, and the 2014 Adelina Grenche by Col McBride and Jen Gardner. Also responsible for the Some Young Punks label, Adelina is the more restrained label of the thoughtful winemaking pair. This wine is made from two acres of 80-year-old Grenache vines in the Springfarm Valley sub-region of the Clare Valley and is right next door to Wendouree. It is a beautiful, charming wine with billowy red fruit aromas, rustic earthiness, fine detail, enlivening acid all knitted together with, some might say, laconic restraint.
Another friend, Christine, is an advertising executive and one of the most efficient people I know. She eats to-do lists for breakfast and I swear could run a country in her spare time. It’s this efficiency I believe is the reason she loves Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and has done for years. “I know what I’m getting and I can get it every time”. I suspect the pace and drive of the wine also appeals.
For many, such consistency is one of the virtues of Sauvignon Blanc, for others, a drawback. When such debates arise, I am reminded of the quote by C.S. Lewis, “A creature can never be a perfect being, but may be a perfect creature.” But while we wine people have spent several years debating this, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc continues to soar and my friend is now a senior executive.
I checked with Christine recently to see if she was still a die hard: “Does a duck quack?” Though she did ask if there was anything else she should try as long as it was Sauvignon Blanc. (I consider her aversion to Chardonnay my work for another time, perhaps when she starts to slow down). I was delighted to explain that her favourite wine is evolving with many producers using barrel fermentation, wild ferments and ageing before release. The Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2013, from Marlborough Grandmaster Kevin Judd offers muted tropical fruits, hints of brioche, herbs, flintiness before a textural palate with more citrus notes and gentle acidity. A perfect match for Christine – the wine is distinctly Marlborough, but it’s complexity demands one slow down and take a moment to explore it.
But a word of caution. For this matching-wine-with-humans exercise to work, one should be somewhat familiar with their subject. I was humbled recently when I offered a repair man a bottle as a thank you for his work. Without looking up from his tools he said, “Three years, four months, two weeks and three days without a drink.” One must be careful.
To return to the question of what to trade for my gift of lemons. I had few cues about my new neighbour. He seemed fit and healthy, which might mean he didn’t drink alcohol at all; a choice I respect but am never sure what to do with. If he was a wine drinker, he seemed too modern to favour traditional Claret varieties. Maybe he was one of those super-fit types who only drink white spirits?
I decided on a bottle of Hunter Valley Semillon. My logic was loose but reasonable – if he liked lemons and gin and tonics, he would surely like Hunter Valley Semillon, one of the world’s great varietal and regional pairings. Typically picked early to beat the summer rain, Hunter Semillon sports refreshingly low alcohol, searing acidity and an energizing lick of juicy limes and lemon zest. Like the classic Brokenwood 2015 Semillon which was all that and more. So I bought a bottle and hung it on the same picket that he left the lemons. I do hope he liked it, but I still don’t know. I got my car back soon after and I have never slowed down enough to ask.
This column first appeared on timatkin.com