Nov 122012
 
Ochoa sisters

Adriana Ochoa (left) and Beatriz Ochoa (right)
Photo Credit: Tracy Ellen Kamens

As head of marketing for her family’s winery, my friend Beatriz of Bodegas Ochoa in Navarra, Spain was visiting the New York area this week. We had arranged to meet up for dinner on Friday and, when I asked her what type of restaurant she would prefer, she merely stipulated that it be trendy and fun. I admit that I am a bit out of the loop when it comes to trendy, so I reached out to a friend who is more knowledgeable about the hot new restaurants and received a list of places to consider. The only problem is that, because they are hot and trendy, these restaurants were already booked, so the list was abandoned. As an alternative, I reserved a table at a slightly faded star, but in a trendy neighborhood.

Friday arrived wet and windy, with the requisite weekend traffic, further compounded by the President’s visit to town, all of which meant that it took Beatriz a full hour to travel the 10 blocks from the train station to her hotel. The reservation came and went, so we switched to Plan B.

The wonderful thing about New York City is that we have a ton of restaurants of every conceivable type (and even some inconceivable ones). Although she indicated that she was up for anything, Beatriz mentioned an interest in Mexican food, so we walked down Ninth Avenue in search of whatever caught our fancy. We paused to peruse the menu at a French bistro, but the fact that one of the items was called “Tuscan lemon chicken” made it difficult for us to take it seriously and we continued on our journey. Less than a block away, we found a lively Mexican restaurant and were seated immediately.

So, what else had Beatriz been eating since her arrival in the U.S.? Spanish food. Or, probably more appropriately erzatz Spanish food. And lots of it. It seems that no matter where a winemaker or other ambassador of a winery travels to, the conventional wisdom is to pair their wines with hometown cuisine – in this case, Spain.

As Beatriz and I continued to talk, it was clear she would have preferred that her distributors had been more creative when scheduling some of her dinner events. I’m all for the adage, “What grows together, goes together,” but this is a very limited view for the industry to take. Is this truly the message that we should be sending – that wines from Spain (or Italy or France or wherever) taste best when paired with food from Spain (or Italy or France or wherever)? Shouldn’t we, instead, send the message that wine can be paired with a wide range of cuisines? Especially in a place like New York, where we have such diversity.

And, the more I thought about it, it was a missed opportunity. Perhaps, it could be argued by some that some Spanish wines may seem a little out of place on certain wine lists, but wines from Navarra are primarily varietally-labeled wines – Chardonnay, Merlot and Tempranillo among others. These are wines that can easily transition to nearly any restaurant’s wine list, regardless of the cuisine’s origin. Moreover, as good quality wines at reasonable price points, Navarran wines seem to be a natural fit in this regard.

Yes, if I go to a Spanish restaurant, I would be more than surprised not to find the list heavily weighted with Spanish wines, but I’d love to see other options available to me as well. I might be in the mood for an Italian Vermentino to pair with my Gambas al Ajillo. Similarly, why not include Spanish wines on the list at a French restaurant (Rioja with escargots) or a Japanese sushi place (Rias Baixas with a tuna roll)? We have been trying to expand consumer’s palates and their pairings – getting them to explore such matches as red wines with fish. Let’s take this permissive attitude to the next level and think outside the cuisine box when hosting lunches and dinners with winery personnel.