Wednesday, August 03, 2011

El Bulli-the wines gone AWOL!

As those whom prophesized that life as we knew it would end with the last meal served at El Bulli came out of their panic rooms, emaciated and blinking into the flashes of the paparazzi-sunlight, understood that life, does indeed, go on.
So many hand wringing and woe-is-me obituaries have flooded the papers, mags and blogs lamenting the closure of what was arguably the world’s best restaurant, whatever that means. Well, worlds best according to a mineral water company anyway. I wonder which restaurant would be crowned best in the world if the major sponsor was a hamburger-pattie manufacturer; my guess is that it wouldn’t be Noma. However, I’m not going to demean this passing by calling into question the legacy that Ferran Adria has left the cooking universe but I think it fitting that a company peddling beverages can neatly fill a segue into the topic I intend to discuss here. That topic is of the alcoholic beverage variety.
You see, in all of the panting reportage of meals enjoyed at the Pantheon of world dining colossus’s I have found it difficult to find any mention of…err…wine?
Maybe I’m not looking hard enough; I am a bloke after all. But I even had a Mum-Look and have come up with sweet Fanny Adams on the subject of wine and particularly, wine matching with this type of food delivery. If someone can show me evidence to the contrary, I’ll happily eat my Kangol.
As we are all generally aware, wine and food are mostly meant to be enjoyed together so the notion that worlds most celebrated restaurants whose stock in trade is the multi-course degustation seem to ignore this most basic of fact seems like a massive grey elephant in the room, why has such an obvious transgression gone mostly unnoticed, or worse, why have we failed to question it?
Disclaimer: I have never been to any of these restaurants however their dedication, zeal for the craft and uncompromising standards are inspiring.
But in the pursuit of culinary envelope pushing maybe someone just assumed that the wine would just tag along for the ride? I know this might sound a tad trite but seriously how does one match a wine with a Dego whose courses stretch into infinity?
Maybe we should ask: ‘The Wine Guy’? Whomever that apron emblazoned vinous Yoda might be.
As a friend said to me recently, ‘some of the courses are but a tiny spoonful of something’. My question is this then: Do you sign up for the Full Monty, multi course extravaganza and prey that the two or three bottles you choose will match the high notes of the menu?
I’ll go further her to provoke and ask: does wine ultimately know its place on the dais of magnitude when it comes to the sport of eating and drinking and does it accept that it will always be a silver medallist?


bri said...

The (few!) degustations that I've eaten have all offered matched wines by the glass as an optional extra.

The matches have been almost always completely outstanding - as you'd hope for restaurants of this calibre - the combination of food and drink doing that thing where 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts' - definitely a better outcome than getting a bottle or two and hoping for the best. But yes, I still think the wine is secondary to the food in this situation...

Getting a new glass of wine for each course, even a smaller than standard glass of wine, ends up being rather a lot of wine by the end of the night!

The sommelier at Tetsuya's very successfully took up a challenge to match spirits and sake for a friend who doesn't drink wine. He knew his stuff!

Stuart Knox said...

I'd concur even though as a sommelier myself I'd like to be standing on the top dias!

In any gastronimic temple, the wine is there to support and add to the myriad of courses you succumb to. No sensible sommelier would attempt to provide 30+ wines to suit a El Bulli style menu.

Having said that, to not offer a matching option and leaving it to bottles makes for a lesser experience. The wine, along with the service, are still integral to the overall experience.

Edknob said...

Never ate there. But I can out wank a lot of people thank goodness by saying that "Ferran told me" any good wine goes with good food!

Champagne was a preferred choice.

sir grumpy said...

A cup of Billy Tea ought to fix anything.

Sue said...

Enjoyed reading yet another thoughtful post Steve. We went to El Bulli 11 years ago. I can still remember many of the dishes but can't remember much about the wine. We weren't offered a wine matching so had to choose blind knowing nothing about what we were about to eat. We made the problem worse for ourselves because in those pre Euro days we'd gone from France to Spain for the day and hadn't taken the trouble to find anything about the exchange rate. We had absolutely no idea how many 100s of peseta equalled an Australian $ and no i-phone. With no currency knowledge the wine list looked fairly scary - lots of 000s - with the oppportunity for a major stuff up on our credit card if we made a mistake.
We didn't make great progress with the sommelier's advice because we wanted a local wine and he clearly thought we should have been drinking Burgundy. We drank bottles of wine and from memory they were too big for the food. In retrospect we should have taken his advice.
But, in the end, it didn't matter. We knew we were eating a meal that was a bit of a metaphorical earthquake. We just sat back and enjoyed the moment. We also drank some great sherry at the beginning.

At noma last year, though, it was a complete experience. We had an extraordinary meal and the wine matching made it infinitely more interesting than if we'd ordered wine by the bottle. We drank glasses of wine we're never likely to be able to try by the bottle (not trophy wines (yet) but hand-made wines made in tiny quantities by small producers that just aren't available) and the matching was great. I think that's probably the key. If you're eating an innovative meal full of surprises you want the wine matching to be equally as innovative and unexpected. The wine has to be delivered with the same spirit as the food. Noma did that in spades.

steve said...

Hi Bri-Its a good point you make about what can end up as a very large amount of wine to consume during a matched dego.

Hi Stu-thanks for visiting! Yes it would near impossible to match so many courses and perhaps that why its not done at El Bulli?

Hi Ed-Champagne goes with everything!

G'day Sir G-I would love to see a degustation menu pairing Billy Tea with a course!

Hi Sue-nice to hear from you. That underpins the thrust of my post about El Bulli and perhaps shows exactly where the wine fits into the scheme of things from Adria's perspective.
Its interesting that Noma had a completely opposite approach? What about places like the Fat Duck. WD50 & Alinea? Are they wine cenntric?

Dillon said...

I agree with the champagne with anything.
Away from restaurants,I sometimes have fun making a “special wine or wines” the star(at least equal billing) of our meal, and base appropriate foods around it. (very Olney way of thinking).

sir grumpy said...

I note a return to Rose in the Uk for spicy foods, maybe that was an option for some of the hot paprika dishes at Bulli.
Ot the Bulli Tea still stands.

thewineguide said...

Mr Cumper,

A nice piece, and you are right, wine gets short shrift in the gastronomic world, where we all rush to bow down and worship at the feet of chefs, yet totally forget that it is the front of house that brings their creations to life. One simply cannot exist without the other.

Anyhoo, I did eat at Mugaritz recently and while the food was brilliant, much of it was challenging to match with wine. However, our Sommelier Nicolas did a great job keeping flow in the meal, matching with wine, sake, artisanal beer and one of the best gin and tonics I have had in my life.

A great meal transcends the food on the table, it encompasses every nuance of every step on the full journey.

Of course I would love to see more mention of wine when we discuss great dining, but that seems to be considered 'base' and beneath writers, or maybe simply outside of their abilities to communicate.

Bravo for the piece, and keep it up.



steve said...

Hi Dillon and thanks for reading-yes most people choose food then their wine match and yet if you chance upon some particularly good bev-surely one would look to a an appropriate food match?

Hi Sir G-maybe El Bulli might end up part of the 'bubble-tea' franchise?

G'day Ben-nice to hear from you. I think its a good point you make about most food journos inability to effectively communicate the nuances of their wine choices. At the heart of this, I suspect, shows a reluctance to nail ones colours to the mast for fear of appearing ignorant of things vinous? O rperhaps I'm just talking out of my date as per usual?! ha ha!