While traveling recently, I found the Manzanita restaurant in the Lake Tahoe Ritz Carlton Hotel to be an entertaining, warm respite for tired and awestruck hikers and skiers. Sitting atop one of the many peaks surrounding the beautiful Lake Tahoe, the restaurant offers great food, drinks, and a preponderance of modern, effective, glass bead-laden fires—a very cozy, smart-but-casual atmosphere.
At these higher-end eateries, I’ve always found recommended food and drink pairings to be a strange concoction. Generally, I usually accepted, without as much as a question, the validity and appropriateness of feast and tipple unions proffered to me. My thinking was that someone, qualified and well-trained, had anticipated my nourishment and imbibing needs, well in advance of my emerging appetite, saving me the trouble and bother of picking from an interminable catalog of permutations and combinations, which might otherwise result in some gastronomic catastrophe or other recipe for disaster. Or worse, social shaming and peer belittlement. For example, should one happen to like Merlot and artichokes, or Chianti and tuna salad and have the audacity and impudence to desire them outside the privacy of one’s own home.
There are, undoubtedly, numerous rational merits to pairing appropriately, such as avoiding potential hangovers or unforgiving acid reflux, but other than circumventing biological imbalance some matching suggestions vex me. Certainly, cuisiniers, culinary artistes and gourmet virtuosos have the ability and skillset to match foods, sauces, preparation methods and beverages for concurrent consumption. In a gallant quest for palatable perfection, Ritz-Carltons use a pre-defined matrix to match foods with wine based on a variety of factors such as sweetness, spices, acidity and bitterness.
Over time, however, while I have in part come to appreciate the aptness of precision pairing, my gut tells me that restaurateurs could perhaps think a bit bigger than mere chow compatibility or other half-baked ideas. Instead of matching drinks to food, why not to other mood modifying stimuli, such as the weather?
Take my old favorite, Scotch, for example, which after many years of personal research, I have come to conclude is best served with rain. Blended whiskies generally tend to go well in light dreary drizzle, while the stronger single malts hold up better in a disheartening deluge. One of my favorite smoother blends, the Famous Grouse, matured in oak casks for six months, is fabulous for the palate when balanced with a somber sprinkle. Best served in a soaking downpour, the trademark of the glorious ten year old Macallan is the misty aftertaste of handpicked sherry seasoned oak. Ultimately though, during a marauding monsoon, I find that there is nothing quite so soothing and aromatic as a sip of full-bodied sixteen year old peaty Lagavulin. Best enjoyed with wellies.