Porn in pairs

The best pairings are food, wine, and connections to other people
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paulr@sfbg.com

Although my subscription to Annals of Wine Pornography has lapsed, I still glean the occasional fetishistic detail from other press outlets — in particular, obsessive accounts of how this vintage of that winemaker's reserve pinot noir pairs brilliantly with a particular kind of sheep's milk cheese, left at room temperature for an hour, then smeared over some kind of heirloom fig that's been grilled, cut side up, over a medium applewood fire for six to eight minutes while the grill chef recites poetry.

This sort of elaborately specific pairing reminds me of the day in high school chemistry when our teacher tossed a bit of sodium into a large tank of water and smiled in satisfaction as the metal hissed and sputtered like some kind of mutant fireworks display, then vanished. We are talking about show business, really, the producing of a briefly miraculous effect by some unexpected combination of ingredients. It is fun for a moment — and I've enjoyed a few of these moments over the years — but when the show ends, you're still hungry, you still want to eat, and you still want somebody to eat with and talk to.

The reality — I hope and believe — is that food and wine are not consumed in some kind of one-dimensional universe, with attention focused on the flavors at hand and nowhere else, as in some kind of science experiment. Food and wine are agents of sociability, and the greatest pleasure they bring is the connection to other people. Wine, for me, is mostly an aperitif, and the best glass is almost always the first glass — the one you sip when you first sit down with someone at a table or step into a party and start talking to someone you haven't seen in a while.

As it happens, I find the so-called food-friendly wines, many of them from Europe, to make lovely aperitifs too. They are solid but discreet; you enjoy them without being distracted by them, and they will go with the food too, when it finally appears.

A friend who sojourns in Italy noted recently that the Italian paisanos of his acquaintance make a red wine and a white wine — both good and both enjoyed with every meal, although "they don't even know what the varieties of the grapes are." Could it be that they don't need to?

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