Thursday 23 January 2020
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Fat, Sugar & Salt: My Take on the American Palate

SAM“Do you have any sweet wine?” She asked nicely.

We always wince when we get asked this while we’re pouring. The simplest answer is “No,” but I always find it hard to stop there…

“No, we don’t. But did you know you are leading a deprived sensual existence?”

This usually gets them; women in particular. People DO lead a deprived sensual existence. They’ve been doing it forever and don’t even know it. But then again, half the Arizona restaurateurs I speak to don’t know there are Arizona wines either.

It’s simple. Three of the most powerful and most abused food flavor enhancers we have are fat, sugar and salt. Look through your supermarket shelves and you will find heaps of them in all the packaged foods. If you start with good ingredients you only need to use these sparingly, if at all. For fruits, and especially vegetables, fresh and organic works best; second best to growing your own. Most people I talk to haven’t tasted a carrot just pulled from the ground and I can tell you there is no comparison. More people have tasted freshly picked tomatoes and the difference is unmistakable.

You can get this stuff at farmers’ markets. It’s a little more expensive than at the supermarket but totally worth it.

Same with wine. A high-profile chef in Phoenix was heard to say that Arizona wines were too expensive. I asked him if he bought his produce at the local supermarket. Of course not. Gallo makes 8 million cases of wine a year. I might get to 3000 this year. So it is more expensive. But you do get something special; it was made by a human being who cares and who you can talk to. Just like at the farmers’ market.

What’s this have to do with fat, sugar, salt, and for that matter, with wine?

Well, want to make a cheap wine that sells? Easy. Over-crop your vines to produce heaps of grapes, over-ripen the fruit (makes the wines nice and jammy, and over-ripe means high sugar levels, means high alcohol wines), add some sugar if you accidentally ferment to dryness, throw some oak chips in the tanks, and slap on a label with a big animal and voila! Oak-flavored, sugary, fruity wine. It’ll sell like hotcakes.

Trouble is, it’ll be lousy with food and you’d save money by adding some grain alcohol to grape juice.

Like that freshly-picked carrot, try starting with great fruit…some of the right vines planted in the right spot…trellis and prune so as to not over-produce, to expose the fruit to the right amount of sunlight and breeze. Nurture with organic sprays and fertilizer. Weed by hand and machine to avoid toxic sprays. Drop some fruit to get more concentrated aromas and flavor; do some leaf-pulling to regulate the exposure to sunlight and air. Then harvest at different brix levels so you can blend with more precision later.

This is just more expensive. Simple.

Now, ferment to dryness. ‘Dry’ means complete fermentation of natural sugars to alcohol. Why dry? Lets go back to ‘deprived sensual existence.’

French Fries. If done right, what a treat. They are pretty much fat and carbs. Add some salt (sea salt for a real treat) and you have one of life’s decadent joys. Now, let’s add some ketchup. Contrary to popular belief, it’s more sugar than spice. Now dip a fry. Can you taste the fry anymore? Nope. You can only taste ketchup. So why bother with the fry? It has become a sugar delivery system.

Why do we have dessert at the end of the meal? Because sugar tends to cancel out your ability to taste. Got a crappy wine? Add sugar. You will never know. You aren’t tasting wine. You’re tasting a fruity grape/alcohol delivery system.

By the way, I’m not knocking quality dessert wines, or wines with some sweetness with certain dishes, particularly highly spicy foods. That’s the subject of another article.

So now hopefully you have access to a fragrant, complex dry wine. If the fruit is good, you have complex aromas, front and middle palate treats, which are varied and which evolve in the mouth. And the real bonus, a lingering, layered finish. And that other delight is what happens when you breathe out after you swallow.

Try pairing it with foods like the French do. Just put a slab of greasy BBQ pork slathered with garlic and spices in your mouth, swallow it, and now you have a mouth coated in fat, sugar and salt. Now this can be a good thing. The next step can be really fun…so try sloshing it out with a really fruity, bone-dry acidic white, like a dry Gerwurtz or a New Zealand Sauv Blanc, or our 2009 WildChild White. There’s fruit that will match the flavors of the pork, and it’s dry and acidic to rinse away the fat: you are refreshing your palate with something fragrant and clean to set you up for the next mouthful. It makes the next morsel that much better. This is where the joy of food and wine is.

Or you could swig a sweet, over-oaked red wine and really clutter up your apparatus.

Some people prefer that. Some people prefer having sex with blow-up dolls too. Go figure.

Article and Photos by Sam Pillsbury, Pillsbury Wine Company
Originally Published in Arizona Vines and Wines Fall 2011 Issue

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