I’m a fairly firm believer in the idea that you should pair wine with food you like, pair food with wine you like, and not worry much about the “rules” of wine pairing. I agree that fish oil reacts poorly with very tannic wines, but even then some people may like the flavor, and some milder red wines, for example a Pinot Noir, often pair well with salmon in my experience; when I finish NeanderChef, Red Wine With Fish is a companion I’d consider authoring. In essence, I am of the opinion that you should eat and drink whatever the hell you want, and not worry much about the rules set forth by whomever once felt so entitled as to create them.
I think that creativity with wine pairing is ideal. I love my Napa Cabs with steak, but I also feel that it’s important to change things up frequently, try a nice Alsacian Riesling with my steak, or see how that Napa Cab fares with, say, elk chili. It was Peter Prager of Prager Winery and Port Works in Napa who really got me thinking like this when he encouraged me to try a bottle of his Aria, a white port that Sonja and I had purchased on one of our first trips out to Napa, with lobster bisque. It was phenomenal, and got me to view fortified wines in a whole new light. No longer was port wine simply for dessert.
And yet, as I sit here writing down something that you will later read, we seem to be in agreement that food is not the only thing in life needed to sustain us. I have often felt that wine and literature were excellent companions, and as I work through my reading list in 2020 I thought perhaps I’d share a few of the wines with you, wines that pair beautifully with the complexity and nuance of a good book even sans cuisine.
The first book I read cover to cover in 2020 was A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, a gift from a former student teacher. Author of The Kite Runner, Hosseini has a unique talent as a storyteller. An Afghan refugee who set both of the previously mentioned stories primarily in Kabul, this book follows the stories of two women and those who weave in and out of their lives, some good, some bad. It is all at once an examination of the human spirit, the darkness of humanity, the recent history and culture of Afghanistan — and by extension America, and so much more. I found myself in love with the divergent story line and, later, in awe of how those two threads located one another and wound themselves so tightly. I had a difficult time putting the book down — always a wonderful experience. Thankfully, I found the conclusion of the book to be far more satisfying than that of The Kite Runner; dark stories do not always end without light, after all. Hosseini wastes no time trying to make people feel good. Instead, he is real, one part poet the other prophet, and his writing forces me to ask questions of myself that at times I’d rather not. He also makes me want to visit Afghanistan — something my military friends assure me I should wait still a bit longer to do. When I finished the book, I immediately handed it over to Sonja. Last night, after a day or so, she appeared to be about a third of the way finished.
Such a book as the one I have just described requires a mighty and complex wine, and to pair with it, and in honor of the man who made me reconsider wine pairing, I have selected Prager’s Petite Sirah Port. Petite Sirah is known for the tightness and density of its berries, and the concentrated flavors they can offer. Couple that natural phenomenon with a master winemaker and a fortified wine, and you’ve got yourself something rather special. 19% ABV, this wine is as smooth as glass with a nose that begs for it to be served in something that will allow the aromas to waft out. Notes of chocolate, followed closely by dark fruits — blackberry jam, plum, fig, and later subtle traces of leather make up most of the flavor profile. Ruby in style, it is lip-smacking, mouth-coating, sip-worthy wine, and like A Thousand Splendid Suns, complex from the start to its satisfying conclusion.
I recommend Prager’s Petite Sirah Port, and I recommend Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, to just about anyone who will listen. I also recommend pairing your literature with a nice glass of wine every chance you get. It’s one of the most satisfying ways I know to end a day. And if you read the book, or try the wine, please be sure and let me know.