Pair Up with La Sommelierre - April 2013
Interview With a Sommelier, by Alison Clary
Our “Pair Up” columnist Maria Terry is always happy to share her experience and knowledge of wine. Maria pursued her interest in wine in earnest after her two daughters started growing up. As soon as she started courses at Las Positas College, she was hooked and was the first student to graduate with an associate’s degree in enology. What was the attraction? Maria enthused, “There is the biology of the vines, the chemistry of the production, the history and sociology of the cultures who produce it, the puzzling nature of pairing it with food, and the hedonistic pleasure of drinking it.”
I asked Maria if the old rules applied: “Serve white wine with fish and red wine with meat.” To my relief, she answered, “The new rules are no rules. If it tastes good to you, drink it. That said, there are simple guidelines for getting started and creating successful pairings. Match the weight of the food to the weight of the wine. If you have a heavy dish, you need a bold wine. Lighter dishes shine when they are not overpowered. From there, it is just fine tuning.” That made sense, but I thought it was clever to ask why people think red wines are superior to white wines. Maria drolly said, “Because they cost more.” She then explained, “Actually, red wines take longer to make and generally involve expensive barrel aging. They also have longer shelf lives, which allows for collecting, and collecting drives the price up for anything. The perceived value of red wine is higher than that of white because of the added complexity imparted by the flavors from the skin and barrel.”
For clarification I asked Maria if age was the main difference between cheap wine and expensive wine. She emphasized “wine value is definitely no longer dependent on age. Historically, aged red wine had higher value because they needed time in the bottle to tame their high tannin content. But modern winemaking techniques have responded to a consumer market that demands wine drinkability at an early age. Micro-oxidation is just one technique employed to reduce the level of tannin in red wines. Wines no longer need to be old to have soft tannins. Free market forces determine the price of a wine.” So it does come down to supply and demand.
After moving from the Midwest, I developed a preference for California wine over, say, French wines. Here was my opportunity to ask a certified sommelier the difference between new world and old world wines. Maria explained that “as a general rule, new world wines are softer and more fruit forward and old world wines are higher in acid and earthier, likely because old world growing regions tend to be cooler and new world regions are warmer. Old world wines often utilize more traditional winemaking techniques (such as using native yeasts), and new world areas are more likely to try new techniques (such as using modern yeasts).” Maria stated that lines are becoming more blurred as temperatures change and new ideas develop. I also wanted to know what she thought of the new trends in wine from areas such as Australia? “The quality of wine from the entire world is growing by leaps and bounds. As new viticulture and winemaking techniques are adopted, better quality wines are created. Additionally, financial markets reward producers who create uniquely delicious products that are made in small quantities and find high demand.”
What is the best part of Maria’s job? “Chatting with people who are enthusiastic about wine and enjoying it responsibly. Wine is fun.” I could have interviewed Maria for hours, but would have to be content for now to read her monthly column and take her friendly advice to “Go on, pair up!”
Maria Terry is a Certified Sommelier and Wine Educator in the San Francisco Bay Area. www.LaSommelierre.com