Bad advice. The wine industry seems to be full of it. From the suggestions of snobs to novices, the notions of wine critics on what is a great wine, and ideas on wine-and-food pairings, this industry seems to be a font of un-knowledge.
But there is good news on the horizon.
The entire topic of wine-food pairings, for instance, is so fraught with misinformation that I hate to bring it up. But it's understandable there's confusion here. As others have pointed out, it's not the main ingredient that is crucial here; the other ingredients may count most.
I'm often asked what wine goes with chicken. That all depends.
Chicken a la King and Chicken Cacciatore are both made with the same main ingredient, but the former (laden with cream), calls for chardonnay; the latter, with its tomato influences and use of herbs and cheese, would be best with Chianti or a lighter zinfandel.
Chicken breasts pounded and served scaloppini style with lemon and capers would be nice with sauvignon blanc. And Chicken Forrestiere, with mushrooms and a deep red wine and bacon reduction sauce, is probably best with syrah or cabernet sauvignon.
Bad wine advice creeps into the simplest situations. Once I asked a bistro waitress about a pinot gris with which I wasn't familiar. She said the wine was light and delicate. It turned out to be so oaky I looked outside to see if the forest was still there.
One bad bit of advice came from a wine retailer showing off his (faux) knowledge. He suggested the fellow buy some particularly tannic cabernet, suggesting the wine would be great. Maybe in 20 or more years. But the neophyte wine drinker seemed thrilled as he walked to the checkout counter with a case of the stuff. I can only imagine his reaction when he opened a bottle.
Bad advice can also come from waiters trying to pad a check. At a thankfully now-defunct Italian caf?in Beverly Hills years ago, I ordered a bottle of Chianti. It was on the wine list for $28.
The waiter returned with a different wine. The waiter quickly said, "I'm sorry, sir, we're out of the one you ordered, but this is almost the same price."
"And how much is it?" I was gauche enough to ask. It turned out the wine was $45, not "almost the same price."
Good advice is rare, but greatly appreciated when we see it.
Late last year, we were dining at Fleur de Lys, Hubert Keller's sensational San Francisco restaurant. Immediately after an appetizer dish arrived, sommelier Marcus Garcia came over and said he had just the perfect wine for it, though it was rather obscure.
We ordered a glass to share. The wine-food combination was sensational.
Which leads to the good news: It is the good advice I've gotten from some of the country's most creative young sommeliers and wine waiters. Many are delving into wines that most diners have never heard of before. And they are uncovering some sensational wines.
It's an exciting time for those with an adventurous palate, with new grapes, new wine regions, and new wine styles emerging almost daily.
Wine of the Week: 2011 Tablas Creek Vermentino, Paso Robles ($27) -- The aroma of dried peach, slight citrus notes, and a dry, almost angular, mid-palate leads to a fine dry and elegantly tart white wine from an Italian grape. It should be sensational with breaded, pan-fried seafood (trout, sole, etc.).