Every family has mealtime traditions. Those little quirks that get passed down, because that's how we've always done it. My family likes to undercook our greens. We like having lots of seafood for hotpot. We always add a pinch of sugar when we cook. We pride ourselves on making the most amazing clear chicken broths using chicken and only chicken. And we insist on continually wiping down the countertops and stoves as we cook. Matters of habit, perhaps, but these traditions are every bit as important to our cooking as recipes and techniques.
Wine, however, is a new tradition.
As immigrants, we're left to fend for ourselves. There is no template to follow, no support system outside a tight-knit group of friends. We have to figure things out on our own, and yes, that means sometimes it's a free-for-all. And we've adopted wine as a regular part of our routine. Maybe more than a regular part. Ok, so maybe I'm verging on an obsession here, but no one's qualified to make that diagnosis. As a family, we started slowly ... a bottle on the weekends, chosen methodically by region or varietal usually, and always, always drunk with food. About 10 years down, it's developed into something a bit more, but the principle never changes - we drink wine as part of our meal, one enhancing the other. Wine serves an intellectual purpose, certainly, but also works to bring us together, to stimulate good conversation and a sense of family.
I try not to be so rigid when I choose what wine to drink anymore, rather letting my mood guide me. Usually this time of year, I reach for red wine, something structured and dense. Yes, not very imaginative, but then again, my definition of 'density' still falls in with the high acid/moderate alcohol crowd. The cool crowd. This bottle, one of their more simpler cuvées, reminds me of why traditions aren't necessarily exciting or noteworthy, but always comforting and incredibly satisfying. R. López de Heredia is one of the stalwarts of Rioja, holding up the banner for the traditionalists. And while young, this crianza sings of what Rioja wine is, all strawberries and subtle vanilla, fine tannins and linear texture. Finesse, yes, and understatement, totally.
When we have people over for dinner, it's always gratifying to share some of our traditions with them. And although we do little more than pick out bottles off the shelf, I like to think that the wine we serve follows along the same lines - strict purity and authenticity that derives great pleasure.