Pairings: Is Wine the Only Perfect Partner as a Complement to a Wonderful Meal?
By Juan Carlos Flores Executive Sommelier, Pueblo Bonito Hotels Resorts & Spas | October 2008
Throughout time, food and beverages have been the most important pairing on earth. Our existence depended on them. Water has been and still is the most important liquid-vital to survival. Through evolution and experimentation, human beings have found ways to produce additional liquids by pressing fruits, cacti and various other plants. Adding a further element of sophistication, we have also learned to mix these liquids and infuse them with cereals, flowers, spices and herbs to obtain the wide variety of interesting beverages we now have available.
The origins of beverages, like that of foods, are related directly to natural conditions of as weather, soil and water. If we want to understand why a product exists, we need to look at how these elements, together with the needs of the people in a specific time of history, gave us the products we now have that constitute a habit, fill a need or are a temporary vogue.
Let us consider two of our best known beverages that have had enduring importance in history: tea and coffee. Both have interesting stories and were completely suited to the natural conditions and needs of the people in the time and area in which they became prominent. Tea has existed for many centuries in Asia because it was well suited to the weather conditions and the ceremonial usage of the population. These people enjoy drinking tea while eating because it helps digestion and, depending on the type, could help in many other ways to improve health.
But why would a country like England adopt a habit of daily afternoon tea when it is so far removed from where tea is produced? Some say it is because of the time gap between English luncheons and the late English suppers. But why become dependant on a product that you cannot produce? It becomes logical when we consider that India, one of the world's most important tea producers, was controlled by the British Crown. The British Parliament was also exacting high taxes on tea, making it a profitable business. This taxation resulted in the American protest known as the Boston Tea Party, which history tells us was one of the important events that led to America's independence from Britain. It was then that Americans turned to coffee. It was also evident that coffee had a profitable future. As you are probably aware, certain varieties of coffee beans are quoted in the New York stock market and others in the London market.
The Bible mentions coffee, this dark hot beverage that long ago was forbidden by the Vatican. It was considered diabolic because of its color and because it stimulates human senses. Coffee also has an interesting history of Turkish people traveling across Europe and introducing it to the Italians, French, Dutch and Austrians. Because Turkish coffee was extremely strong, other countries modified its flavor to please their tastes and enriched its calorie content for cold weather with sugar and cream, serving it with sandwiches and pastries for a perfect pairing. Are you aware that the French croissant represents the shape of the half-moon in the Turkish flag? After wining a battle in Austria where the croissant was invented to pair with their coffee, the French chose to keep this special bread as a symbol of their victory. Coffee and tea are increasingly being used in recipes, and some restaurants prepare special menus with them. I once had the opportunity to taste a menu prepared with and paired with different teas that was delicious, light and healthy. By preparing infusions of various plants, fruit and water, it is possible to achieve a delicious tasting menu, pairing non-alcoholic beverages with each course.
Have you ever considered why people in most northern countries tend to drink beer and distilled products while in Mediterranean countries they drink wine and in tropical climates they drink more fresh fruits juices and cocktails? It is because of the weather conditions that produce the natural resources used in these products. Cold climates produce cereals; grains and certain plants that can be use to make beer and other fermented bases that can be distilled into products such whiskey, gin and vodka. The Mediterranean climate is suited to production of good quality grapes for wine, and tropical conditions yield wonderful fruits for juices, cocktails and in some areas, sugar cane for rum. It is no coincidence that bourbon was created where corn is plentiful or sake where rice is a major product. Nor is it a coincidence that food recipes, often made with these same ingredients, go well with these beverages. We can prepare a Bourbon chicken salad or some ribs in a "Bour BQ" sauce or even a delicious vanilla, ginger and bourbon cr`eme brul'ee.