This is a new one for me: the dish that goes a little awry, and the wine that isn’t as good as it should be, and the surprising tête-à-tête the two end up having. That’s right, I’m talking about a not-perfect meal having a curious affinity for a not-perfect wine. It happened like this: With summer winding down fast, I’ve been trying to make the most of the last of the summer produce. I’ve been cooking my way through Lulu’s Provençal Table by Richard Olney; I positively love the book—it’s a classic—and about three weeks back I realized I’d been slacking off and that summer was about to pass without my having cooked the last of Lulu’s summer recipes (thus dooming me to a feeling of incompleteness, in addition to whatever other blues winter might bring).
As a result, it’s been pretty intense around here, what with the eggplant-tomato gratin, and the fennel-tomato-sauce gratin, and the tomato-based soup, and the fried eggplant and zucchini. Among Lulu’s great meat dishes, I was down to the lamb shoulder with eggplant-tomato confit, and yet when I hit the Sunday market, my favorite meat purveyor, Prather Ranch, had no lamb shoulder. Compromise number one: I bought two lamb shanks. Nothing wrong there, just the flexibility a home chef needs to have. Keeping it loose. But, unfortunately, there were other compromises, like a braising pot started and stopped and chilled overnight, and a braising liquid doctored with white wine instead of just red, and no access to winter savory, the recipe’s preferred herb. And by the time it all came out of the oven, the combo just wasn’t what it should’ve been. It was still delicious—great meat, great tomatoes, great eggplant—but the flavors didn’t quite jell, and something was out of place.
And then, curiously, the same was true of the wine, in a way that worked. It was a Morgon Beaujolais, a 2005 Raymond Bouland that hadn’t been very expensive. I think I told the salesman I wanted something rustic, and boy did he deliver—this wine had such a randy taste of some old, dank barrel, and such a curious forest-floor quality, that it made me think something was altogether wrong with the bottle. In fact, I don’t intend to finish it. But imagine my surprise when the wine’s off tastes seemed to match up just right with the food’s off tastes. Not that they had any kind of synergy, but they did have a similarity, and it made me wonder if a person might make a list of such matches—flawed foods and flawed wines that seem, oddly, to have their flaws in common.