Robert Mondavi commanded center stage at a conference in Hawaii during the summer of 1989. Imperial, opinionated, passionate. His strong Roman chin and nose jutted out at an audience of several hundred food and wine professionals as he explained the perfect food match for his famous Fumé Blanc with an appetizer created by his winery chef. It was a mesmerizing performance, and Teri and I, newly arrived in Napa Valley and knowing little about wine, bowed before the Master. Here was truth revealed. Two more winery owners and their chefs followed this command performance, with each “team” parading more facts on matching wine with food. I scribbled madly to capture the subtlety, the brilliance, and the truth revealed. But wait! A murmur gathered force across the crowd as each of us tasted and drank the same pairings, while the moderator, holding a cordless mike, moved through the room, capturing the public opinions from Julia Child and other Gods of Food and Wine. Pandemonium. Heated Opinions. And No Agreement. It wasn’t just whether Robert Mondavi’s Fumé Blanc was served at the “proper” temperature, or that another winemaker’s Fumé Blanc might have made a superior choice, but more astounding, these professionals who earned their living based on the acuteness of their palate couldn’t even agree whether the wine should have been Red or White. I stopped scribbling, started drinking, and relaxed. If the experts couldn’t agree on the color of the wine, then maybe the subject of wine and food matching shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Don’t apologize for your wine choices. There’s probably going to be a wine expert who finds your choice brilliant.

Is That Wine Red or White?

Want to amuse your dinner guests? Have them taste wine from black votive glasses (available at Target). The black interior makes it impossible to see the color of the wine. Each guest tries to identify only the color of the wine. Unless the wine is a big, buttery California chardonnay or a high-tannin California red fruit bomb, picking the correct color will be difficult! Enlist the aid of an expert. Go to your local wine store and involve the owner or manager in selecting the wines that will lead later that evening to confusion, wrong guesses, consternation, and amusement.

Wine from the Refrigerator? What To Do?

An unfinished bottle of red wine lies in the refrigerator. And you’d like to finish off the bottle early that evening before opening another bottle. But the wine is 44 degrees and warming it to cellar or room temperature will cause an agonizing wait. The solution: Pour yourself a generous amount, and place the wine glass in the microwave oven. Heat for 7 seconds at full power! The wine will have risen to just above cellar temperature, the microwaves have no effect on the taste of the wine, and you’re immediately able to enjoy a glass of wine.

Serving a Young Red Wine with Lots of Tannins?

A noted Napa Valley winery owner confided the following tale. Arriving in the tasting room just prior to an important tasting with a wine critic, the winery owner discovered that the latest cabernet release, a big powerful wine with lots of tannins, hadn’t been decanted hours in advance and remained unopened on the tasting room counter. Decanting it vigorously wouldn’t have softened the tannins sufficiently. But maybe a few pulses in an electric blender might prove more effective. Now that’s a very different use of the word “blended” from its usual meaning in the wine industry! The critic loved the wine, and the electric blender remained unmentioned, out of sight, and available.

Cooking with Wine

Students often ask me whether they should cook with the same wine that’s going to be served with dinner. The answer: Absolutely Not. It’s an often-stated rule by chefs that using the same wine in cooking establishes a “taste bridge” between the food and the wine. This practice is flat out wrong and leads to the most pretentious wine discussions. Not even a wine educator is going to be able to tell the quality of wine used in cooking once that dish—a beef stew for example—has simmered for hours in a sauce flavored by garlic, tomatoes, caramelized onions, dried porcini mushrooms, salt, and pepper. Save the good wine for drinking.

Do you have any stories about wine, the subject of wine and food pairing, myths to debunk, funny wine stories, or reactions to the above “wine tales”? I’d love to hear from you.