Rules, Rules, Rules

Rules of Conduct
Rules of Engagement
Rules for Living
Rules for Romance

Rules, Rules, Rules.

I've been thinking about them lately and even more lately chose to disregard one set of rules that, for all their ballyhooed value, actually put a cramp in my style and didn't match my disposition and no one got hurt by my not following them.

But it got me thinking about the the massive, detailed and often overly intricate set of rules that govern wine and its consumption.

Any set of rule seem to be to be born of experience matched with expectations. They usually are in place to guide us in the event that intuition and experience is lacking. The key with any set of rules is to know when to break them and understanding the risks of doing so.

Personally, I like the kind of rules that result from necessity. Take the last six of the Ten Commandments. Without the vast majority of people following these rules you generally would have a break down of civilization, if not the complete end of civilization as we know it. Good set of rules. So, there are good rules and this is why I'm sort of on the outs with Henry David Thoreau who said, "Any fool can make a rule, any fool will mind it"

But the Rules of Wine don't usually result from necessity. Red wine with meat, white with fish. Sweet wine at the end of a meal. Stemware instead of coffee cup. Let the big wine breath. Garbage.

This is not to say that all "rules" or recommendations on wine drinking and wine service are bogus. Many actually result from that which helps preserve a wine in one way or another. Not Garbage. It's just that lately I've become suspicious of Rules.

And I'm not being suspicious out of trying to be cool or different, an attitude that has led astray one too many young people. I'm just noticing that in certain areas of my life the rules I've been acquainted with or aware of simply aren't working out for me. And since I'm always thinking about wine, I suppose it's natural I would begin to question the value of adhering to many of its quaint but often useless rules.


18 Responses

  1. Benito - July 17, 2009

    Amen, brother.
    There’s a story in one of Jeremiah Tower’s books in which he did a whole multicourse dinner where every dish was paired with a Sauterne of some vintage. Vegetables, cheese, seafood, meat, soup, etc. And it was all glorious.
    I obviously haven’t recreated that feat, but I experiment occasionally and try unorthodox pairings. One of my favorites that doesn’t get the love it deserves: rare roast beef and white Burgundy. God, it’s such a great combination.
    On the stemware issue: at some point every wine lover needs to take a swig directly from the bottle, propriety be damned.

  2. Charlie Olken - July 18, 2009

    Jeremiah Tower learned that trick from the French. Good trick too. You ought to try it. We have–using wines of various ages and styles and loved it.
    The secret is to choose your food choices carefully. You might like your roast beef with White Burg, but you may not be so happy to have it with a young La Tour Blanche.
    The rules that Tom describes as Garbage are Garbage and there are plenty of others.
    But there are also rules that make sense.
    Drinking wine out of tulip shaped glasses does enhance the aroma of the wine. On the other hand, it does not change its basic flavor profile no matter what some folks say.
    Serving sparkling wine chilled is a good idea. I hate my bubbles at room temperature.
    Keeping wine out of the sun is a good idea for its long-term ageworthiness.
    Not pulling out your most prized bottles at the end of long evening of drinking is a good idea.
    And so on. I bet Ron Washam could probably tell us some other good ideas like pulling the cork before pouring, not adding vodka to Petite Sirah and not smoking in the presence of late harvest Zinfandel.

  3. Thomas Pellechia - July 18, 2009

    I once hosted a five course dinner completely with Madeira wines: Rainwater, Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malmsey.
    Marvelous event.

  4. Samantha - July 18, 2009

    This is sooo a post after my own heart. First of all the fact that two of you brought up Jeremiah Tower, when I was reading I was think of Alice Waters, ironic to say the least, but mostly becase I find many “rules” seem designed to curb, or control other people’s behavior. I have no business telling others how they SHOULD live their life, nor do I want anyone telling me how to live mine.
    Much like Benito, one of my favorite pairings is a big, fatty ribeye with Sauvignon Blanc, I find Cab and Zin just to massive with a rich cut of meat…find the SB is like squeezing fresh lemon juice all over the meat, so for me the contrast is perfectly balanced. Would I tell everyone that is how it SHOULD be served, hell no, just as I would never mock someone that wants to drink Moscato d’Asti with their Meatballs. Drink what makes you happy, drink it how, and out of whatever pleases you, (gotta confess I’m with Charlie on the Sparkling Wine though, chill those mother f’ers) just drink wine….I also think that much of the Pomp and Circumstance, or “rules” around wine actually keep more people from drinking it.

  5. Charlie Olken - July 18, 2009

    Not mocking someone who drinks Asti Spumante with meatballs? Please. Maybe if the meatballs are made of tofu and dressed in pear pulp vinaigrette.
    Back in my salad days, when I spent a few years as guest writer about wine in the L. A Times, I often introduced my mother in law who, swear to god, drinks Port with her tacos. I won’t say I was mocking her, but the line was always good for a laugh.
    I suspect SB with fatty ribeye is as well.
    Just kidding.

  6. Gretchen - July 18, 2009

    Following the rules may make you virtuous, but not happy.

  7. Thomas Pellechia - July 18, 2009

    I learned my lesson in 1985, fresh in my spanking new winery and its tasting room, where Riesling was my star wine, but I would never think to serve it with a rare steak.
    One day, a couple comes into the tasting room and the woman quickly announces that she interested in tasting only Riesling. I assumed she meant that she had heard about my Riesling and she wanted only to taste it, but as I poured the wine she told me that she liked only Riesling and that it was the only wine she ever consumed.
    Being a smart ass I asked if she ate red meat.
    When sh said that she did I asked, kind of sarcastically, so you drink Riesling with steak?
    She said that she liked her steak rare and her Riesling with it.
    That night, I tried it, didn’t like it, but realized that she was a customer and what did it matter when she drank the Riesling, so long as she bought a case of it from me.

  8. Ron - July 18, 2009

    I agree with Charlie, there are some rules that are just common sense.
    Never use a corkscrew to solve your constipation.
    Never expose your wine to sunlight or Connoisseurs’ Guide.
    Always serve the wine with whatever animal is on the label. Dover Canyon is delicious with lightly grilled Saint Bernard.
    The most important thing you take into a good wine shop is your own price gun.
    Never believe anything I ever write about anything.

  9. Thomas Pellechia - July 18, 2009

    …and never give a sucker another day to live on the vine.

  10. Dylan - July 18, 2009

    My question is who ever said many of these options were rules. If anything they are guidelines and based on the comments they have been treated as such. Yes, you’ve followed the guideline to some points of success, but it isn’t constricting, it’s merely a guideline. You have all also ventured out. What I mean to say is, there’s not much use in calling these rules if there’s nothing to enforce them.

  11. Thomas Pellechia - July 18, 2009

    You obviously haven’t been to an offline with a bunch of wine geeks 😉

  12. Samantha - July 18, 2009

    What I meant is if a customer likes Moscato and I try and sell them Chianti becuase it, “goes” and they hate it…what good will come of that? Gotta sell people what they like right? Okay, I might snicker at them AFTER they leave, but never to their face. So Thomas, I agree with you again.

  13. Charlie Olken - July 18, 2009

    Sam, snicker away. But do not do as the Scottish do and have your Snickers deep-fried and breaded. Neither Asti Spumante nor my mother-in-laws port can help it.

  14. Thomas Pellechia - July 18, 2009

    Keep agreeing and you may never get rid of me in your comments…
    I love it in Italy at a small family-owned restaurant where, not only have you no idea what’s in the carafe, but you must drink it from a thick, jelly jar-like glass. Usually, it ain’t bad at all.
    I’m forgetting the place, but there is (was) an upscale place in Manhattan that serves/d wine out of non stemware–but the wine prices were not carafe-like.

  15. Benito - July 18, 2009

    Don’t forget the earthenware crock used in place of a clear glass carafe. I think some of my favorite wine memories involve something that looks like a Vermont maple syrup pitcher.

  16. Alan Kropf - July 18, 2009

    Ye Gods! Mutiny against the rules I say!

  17. Thomas Pellechia - July 19, 2009

    Yes, and the chicken ceramic…I have three different sizes of that at home.

  18. fredfric koeppel - July 20, 2009

    last night we had rare ribeye steak with a Mazzocco Petit Verdot 2005; it was wonderful. when I was in Germany two weeks ago, everytime we had a red meat dish, even beef, they served riesling. and everytime i thought, “Man, could I use a great zinfandel right now!”

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