Evan Goldstein on Perfect Pairings

Evan Goldstein, MS, and President and Chief Education Officer of Full Circle Wine Solutions Inc., is one of the nation's most prolific food and wine industry veterans. His food and wine career started at age 19 in Paris, and in 1984 he joined his mother, chef and author Joyce Goldstein, in opening Square One, where as sommelier his wine lists received a myriad of awards. In 1987, he became the eighth American and youngest ever at the time to pass the Master Sommelier examination. Since 1990, Evan has created education programs, wine training and service hospitality schools with Seagram Chateau & Estates Wines Company, Diageo, Allied Domecq, and most recently, as the Vice President of Global Wine & Brand Education at Beam Wine Estates. In addition, Evan continues to train and examine candidates for the Court of Master Sommeliers as a Founding Board member.

Evan is the author of Five Star Service: Your Guide to Hospitality Excellence and Perfect Pairings: A Master Sommelier's Practical Advice for Partnering Wine with Food (University of California Press). His sequel wine and food book for the University of California Press, Daring Pairings, is planned for release in Spring 2010.

Perfect Pairings

There's a sobering realization when you become conscious that you have done something for longer than you haven't. That fact hit me like a ton of bricks recently as I was recounting my epicurean career to someone who had asked. If you discount the fundamental truth that I have been enjoying great food and wine since I was a young lad (statute of limitations is up on my underage consumption!), I have been doing epicurean as a pro since 1978, so that's 30 years, and teaching about wine since 1985, that's 23 years. Ouch.

One of the queries I often get is that question of epiphany: when were those moments when the food and wine came together in such a memorable way that it was permanently branded into my long-term memory? There are unquestionably a number of "snapshots" that stick out, some fancy schmancy, while others were simply perfect. I thought it would be nice, in such a public forum, to highlight a few of those moments, and what about them made them special.

Eating well as a child (easy to do if your momma is Joyce Goldstein), it was subconsciously possible to become complacent about food… And, since we were allowed to imbibe a glass of wine at dinner if we kept our high school grades up, wine. The heyday of "Bob red" and "Bob white" (the initial offerings from the late Robert Mondavi) were generally our daily fare, except for special events and dinners. It was one Thanksgiving at home in Berkeley, when I was fourteen, when my Mom pulled out a bottle of sheer nirvana: a 1943 Richebourg from Domaine de la Romanée Conti. The wine was extraordinary and sheer perfection and made me realize, right then and there, that wine was my "it girl."

WHY SO SPECIAL: My realization that wine was so much more than just a bottle of fermented grape juice, and it sent me on my way. And yes, I still have that empty bottle on my plate shelf in the dining room.

Living and working in France in the late 1970s was transformational. That said, I never did the three-star thing until the mid 80s when, on a wine trip in my early Square One years, I had a meal at Pic in Valence. The sommeliers, indeed they had several, blew me away with their skill; the dishes, as brilliant as you'd expect but with a rustic Rhône charm, were memorable. And the experience was completed with great wine (a small vertical of Hermitage 'La Chapelle' from Jaboulet) in the company of a great mentor (the late icon, Gerard Jaboulet).

The coup de grace was my first true encounter with a "cheese sommelier," a gentleman whose sole job was to buy, age, or affine the cheeses and bring them out, seasonally and at ripeness, to an adoring audience of fromage-ophiles. That was a WOW moment for me.

WHY SO SPECIAL: Great food, great wine, great ambiance, and great company in an amazing wine region, a culinary grand slam. And a cheese sommelier years before Picholine and Terrance Brennan!

As I married and began traveling with my wife, we'd always try and max our culinary pleasure knowing that once we had kids, well, we'd lose those moments for a few years. While we had a number of amazing experiences that ranged from eating at Les Crayeres with Gerard Boyer before he retired (and I thought I really understood wild mushrooms before that trip), to simpler pleasures, like enjoying fresh-picked raspberries (red, golden, and albino) at Navarro Winery in the Anderson Valley with Ted and Deborah Bennett while munching on salmon, smoked by Ted in a Sears' smoker (!), all the while washing it all down with multiple bottles of his luscious pinot noir.

But when my wife Barbara was about eight-plus months pregnant, we were in Vigo (Northeastern Spain) and visiting with a friend/producer in Galicia. On our way to his vineyards, we stopped for lunch at a nondescript little restaurant called La Reveca, complete with cracked Coca-Cola sign and a picture of a little fawn (think Bambi). I was intrigued as we walked in, greeted by a few Formica tables and a soccer game blaring on a TV stationed in a corner of the dining room. While we ordered a couple of bottles of albariño with a bunch of seafood: percebes (local barnacles), octopus, sardines… I was stunned and blown away by the simplicity yet perfection of the pairings. This was further brought to fruition by a pitcher of slightly chilled local quaff (a blend of mencía and other red grapes) and a ceramic cauldron of caldo gallego, a rich meat stew. I was in heaven.

WHY SO SPECIAL: Aside from the delish wine and the company, the simple yet total perfection of the unforced and not overly obsessive food pairing--it was so unexpected, and so amazing.

Finally, in Australia's Barossa Valley about a year or so back, it was a searing hot day as a few of my business colleagues and I made it to our third winery, sopping in sweat but so delighted to be there. As many of you know, Australia is increasingly all about higher-end food, as witnessed by the tonier restaurants in Melbourne and Sydney. The heart of the Barossa isn't where you expect to eat memorably. Drink well, of course, but dine? Well, maybe not on my radar screen.

As we pulled up our chairs to an alfresco lunch moved indoors because of the heat, Matt Gant, winemaker at the time at St. Hallet winery, treated us to a feast of locally smoked fish and shellfish, and platters of artisanal charcuterie and sausages crafted by third generation German "wurst" specialists, all enjoyed with several bottles of aged Eden Valley riesling (something I had never really explored prior to that), and individual lots of Barossa shiraz from different vineyards' sites all across the valley. WOW.

WHY SO SPECIAL: Unexpected wine treats that transform the way you perceive a region (I am now a walking sandwich board for aged Aussie riesling and truly "get" micro-regionality within the Barossa).

So for lots of different reasons, wines and foods can hit you in a memorable way and leave you with indelible memories from which you build your portfolio of "epiphanal" culinary experiences. There are plenty in addition to those I just described, and I know there will be even more down the road. Discovery and experience are what it's all about for me, and are best where and when you least expect them. Did I mention those gorgeous chilled kiwi pinot noirs enjoyed at a great hawker market off Orchard Road in Singapore…?