I love wine…It is easily one of the few things that I am truly passionate about. I will excitedly talk about wine with pretty much anyone that will listen (to a fault, honestly).  This weekend while catching up with some friends (that we don’t hang out with nearly enough), and after several beers, a few cocktails, and sentimental talk of cows; we ended up on my favorite (and what is quickly becoming my wife’s least favorite) subject – Wine. I was asked to order a glass of wine for one of our friends. It was in recent memory one of the more nerve racking experiences that I’ve had in a while. In that moment, every little bit of my wine brain went into overdrive. I am at best an enthusiast, not an expert, and more importantly, I only really know what I like. How can I suggest to someone what to drink…Oh, the pressure!!

The answer to my dinner dilemma – Context (I’m borrowing this idea from Richard Betts, look him up!).

A little background on me first. I’ve told you before that I don’t formally have “wine education”. I did have the opportunity to take a “Special Topics in Geography: Food and Wine Pairing” college level course (seriously!) taught by educated men (one holding a B.S in Oenology, the other a Ph.D. in Geology). They taught me a great lesson and one that I wouldn’t fully realize until just recently. Essentially, you only know what you know. So go try to know more. This ties in to Betts’ concept of context.

My take away – If you haven’t experienced something, you can’t form an opinion on it (novel idea, huh!). What is the worst that happens? You try something and don’t like it? That is still a win in my book. Now I know what I don’t like, and more specifically, what I don’t like about something.  I’ll use tomatoes for example. I love tomato sauce, even fried green tomatoes, but I hate raw tomatoes because of the texture. By trying the tomato, I know what I like and don’t like about it. I’ve built context. I do the same with wine, and recently thanks to this blog I’ve started writing everything in a notebook.  To quote Tim Ferriss (Author of The Four Hour Work Week) – “I trust the weakest pen over the sharpest memory”.

So, back to my dinner dilemma.

First, ordering wine for someone when you don’t know their taste is exceptionally difficult, so you need to rely on context. I’m not a hardline traditionalist about food and wine pairings, but through context I know the traditional pairings are a good start. So, once I stopped over thinking the situation, I let my contextual brain do the dirty work.

In the end, I went with what I know. Her meal was a cream-based tofu curry rice (I told you, sentimental cow talk). I paired it with a chardonnay. She told me that she liked oaky, so after a quick taste of their chardonnay selection we had our dilemma solved.

I am a huge proponent of “drink what you like”, but what you and I like can be two different things. So, I had to rely on the framework of information I had squirreled away from tasting, and trying, and learning. Did she like the pairing? I don’t know, I hope so; but I do know it helped build context for both her and I (I now know that I don’t like ordering wine for people, it’s scary!). But at the very least it led to more talk about wine so I was happy.

Just remember, if you try something and don’t like it, it doesn’t make it bad; it just means that it’s not to your taste. Just like me and raw tomatoes.

I’m off to go build context heavily.



Everyone needs context!

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