a glass of red wine and various foods

Two wines from recent dinners were the 2021 Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina and the 2021 Domaine de Fontsainte Gris de Gris. Carla and I enjoyed the Falanghina with roasted salmon filets and the gris de gris with pollo-asado marinated chicken thighs done on the stovetop and finished in the oven.

The two wines couldn’t have been more different. Falanghina is one of the trio of ancient Greek grapes that found its way to the hills of Campania over two millennia ago. Feudi di San Gregorio’s Falanghina is one of their so-called entry wines and priced at under $20. You’d never know about the entry level part. The wine has concentrated fruit, tart acidity, and pronounced salty minerality. It literally smells like Visine. Strange but true. And wonderful.

The Fontsainte is a dry rosé from the Corbieres region in the Languedoc in Southern France. It’s  like an adult sour cherry Sweet-tart with a bit of chalk dust thrown in. According to importer Kermit Lynch’s website, the grapes used to produce the 2021 were 90% Grenache Gris, 5% Carignan, and 5% Mourvèdre. It was also produced as a dedicated rosé as opposed to the traditional method of making pink wine called saignée, which roughly translates as “to bleed.” In winemaking parlance, it means to drain off a portion from a red wine fermentation while in process. The benefits are two-fold. Afterwards, the red wine is more concentrated and you have pink wine to sell within months. The latter means cash flow, which is always good in the wine business.

Aside from all the wine speak blah blah blah, I thought both wines were delicious, but in completely different ways. The Falanghina was a high-acid, mineral-driven white and the Fontsainte a vibrant young rosé. Then I thought about the delicious tag I’d given to both. What does delicious mean? And why am I asking you? (thank you, Hedley Lamar).

The D-word seems to be a moving target at best and highly subjective. Think about what’s irresistible tastewise to a five-year-old. No doubt it would be cloying, sweet, and monochromatic to an adult. Likewise, most kids find foods that are acidic, earthy/savory, or bitter to be inedible. There are always exceptions. Those kids grow up to be in the restaurant business.

Deliciousness. How to define it beyond something that tastes really good to us? There seem to be universals most people would agree to be delicious. Things like chocolate mousse, French fries, or fresh fruit in season. If they have anything in common, all manage to overload one or more of our five primary tastes; those being sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami-savory. Note that there could be as many as fourteen of these so-called tastes, including spice-heat from the capsaicin in peppers, the physical sensation of heat, and CO2. I should also note that kokumi, the Japanese term for the richness of dairy products and fat are among the others. But you already knew about fat. And you also knew that bacon should have been in that list of universals. Who am I to disagree.

Are there any common delicious denominators? I think quality is important. Something delicious has to be well-made from high quality raw materials. However, as soon as I wrote that, McDonald’s French fries came to mind. Rumor has it that they’re made from potatoes harvested by orcs somewhere in remote Idaho. Not the larger Uruk-hai from Isengard, but the smaller weaselly guys from Mordor. Sorry, digression.

Quality aside, the recipient is key. What a person deems to be really good to eat and/or drink is the bottom line. While there’s room for agreement, even on a mass French fry scale, personal preference trumps all. A large part of that preference is an individual’s tolerance of, preference for, or avoidance of, the primary tastes listed above. To that point, some people crave high acidity. As kids, they drank the dregs of the salad dressing right out of the bowl (my wife Carla, for one). Others can appreciate the sour thing, but they don’t crave it. Same goes for sweet, which again seems to be almost a universal for kids. But by adulthood, most veer away from sugar land to other taste destinations. If not, serious health issues may loom in the future.

Salty is also one of the tastes that can take hold early on. If used judiciously, salt makes things taste better, even something like grapefruit. I remember someone showing me that as a kid. I didn’t believe them at first. And they even used Morton’s table salt. But the grapefruit, a ruby grapefruit if I remember, tasted even better because the salt took the edge off the acidity. Now if I eat something made with table salt, all I can taste is the iodine.

Salt leads us right to fat, as well it should. Frying things is one of mankind’s greatest inventions. Sprinkle salt on something just fried and you have a bit of magic, just like French fries. Fat is also one of the key components of all things delicious. Think about the dairy in the aforementioned chocolate mousse, cheese, or all that is bacon. No more need be said.

Two other destinations lie on the horizon of our taste tour: savory and bitter. Earthy/savory things are far from the wheel house of a five-year-old, at least the ones who won’t end up on the restaurant floor. But savory things start sneaking on to the dinner plate early on in the form of spaghetti sauce (from tomato sauce and paste) or any form of mushrooms, even from a can. By the time little Biff or Betty can handle a cheeseburger, savory has found a home. It just has to be accompanied by other tastes like sweet (ketchup), salt, and the richness of kokumi found in a slice of Kraft American.

Bitter is the last stop on the taste tour and for good reason. Humans are hard-wired to avoid all things bitter with the idea that it equals poison. Which is still often true. But sometimes bitter is the cure for having poisoned yourself the night before. Queue Fernet Branca.

Hangovers and Amari like Fernet once again point to the fact that one’s taste preferences change over time. This is especially true for wine. In the beginning, sweet white or pink wines are favored over all others. Think Katy Perry. Next up are oaked whites like Chardonnay, the smooth jazz of white wine, followed by full-contact, monster truck pull reds like Cabernet. Thankfully, the next phase moves on to nuance and elegance found in certain lighter red wines like Pinot Noir. I call that experience “oh blinding light.” Finally, the last phase is a return to slightly sweet high-acid white wines like Riesling and Chenin Blanc. It’s a small world, indeed.

Ultimately, what we define as delicious is highly personal and based on context. Like the guy who was a regular at a bar in the financial district of the City where I worked for a couple of years. He often wore a pink cashmere sweater and he drank nothing but White Zinfandel. He once told me that pink was his favorite color and that he wanted his wine to match. I never would have known. But he also thought the wine was “too sour.” This despite the fact that practically every White Zinfandel ever made has residual sugar. Pink cashmere sweater guy always had me give him a packet of Sweet’n Low, which he added to the wine. “Now it’s perfect,” he would say. And for him, it probably was.

In the end, perhaps the most useful definition of the word “delicious” is not just something you like. You love it. And it could be anything from the likes of bacon or chocolate to something more obscure like roasted radicchio with Balsamic vinegar. Hopefully, it’s also something you enjoy with your mate or friends. Because delicious is always better when shared.

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