My wife Michelle and I are weaving along country roads, windows down. The Spring air carries the scent of Magnolias and daffodils, clay and manure. The sun sparkles through the trees. It’s a familiar mix of sensations that reminds me we’re in the Pennsylvania countryside.
These long drives evoke memories of visiting my grandparents’ farm, where we played in the corn silos, chased chickens, ran the fields, and straddled tractors. The days always ended with a home-cooked meal, made from food grown right there. The food filled our stomachs, but the conversation and the energy at the table fed our souls.
Those days were a long time ago. Caught up in the rush, we’ve lost touch with ourselves, each other, and our world. Our culture undervalues the need to slow down, savor, and enjoy life. And as a result, we’re missing the important bonds that are formed when we gather at the table and share something that was made with love.
When I first met Michelle, we were hungry to connect with the world. Our first instinct was to travel, so we bought an Atlas and organized weekend road trips.
One such adventure brought us to a winery. At the time, I knew nothing about wine, but I quickly made the connection that winemakers, like my grandparents, are farmers. They are stewards of the land who coax from nature something nourishing. The work is often a family affair, the process, a craft. And like good food, wine brings people closer together. On that day, wine both reconnected me to my past and changed my future.
From that point on, I was obsessed. We traveled from the Finger Lakes, to the Napa Valley, to Europe. We experienced how, in France and Italy, where food and wine have been partners for millennia, people spend hours at the table savoring, sharing, talking. Michelle and I both felt that we needed to bring that joy and intimacy back home.
I learned to make wine, I studied it intensely. In 2012, I received a Diploma from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust of London. I was qualified to work as a sommelier, but I decided to share my experiences with wine and food on a more personal level.
I founded my business, Wine Living, to illuminate wine as a catalyst to a richer, more intimate, and connected life. I create custom tasting events: Intimate experiences where I make food, pair it with wine and bring it all into people’s homes. The simple, farm-style dishes I cook to pair with wines at tasting events is directly informed by my local farmer’s market. It’s seasonal, fresh, and as close to the source as possible. I try to just step aside and let it shine. We eat, drink, laugh, and learn. It’s a celebration of the senses.
Having started as a novice myself, I know that pairing food and wine can seem daunting to the beginner. The way I think of creating pairings for a meal is to think of it in terms of music. Every great song is made of multiple layers. There are dominant voices, and backing instruments, each part has its role to play. In the harmony of a meal, wine is another layer on top of the food. They should sing along with one another.
For a springtime dinner party with friends, I choose pairings are all about layering flavors harmoniously, complementary voices that are light, airy, zesty and fresh. We begin with grilled pears that are both sweet and sour. To accompany them? Austrian Grüner Veltliner because the wine is fruity, zippy and floral; mirroring the pear, ginger and honey in the dish. For the main course, I work in reverse. Knowing that Chardonnay we’ll be enjoying is fresh and citrusy, I dust cornish game hens with citrus zest and dress asparagus with lemon, to thread everything together. For dessert, chouquettes, airy French puff pastries with a cream filling. I chose a rich sparkling wine with a creamy, nutty character that floats gently between the rich lemon filling and pistachio topping.
In Pennsylvania it’s still a little too chilly to dine outside – so I’m bringing the outdoors in. I’m setting the table with light, seasonal colors that remind me of the brilliant Spring sky. The flowers are local – the daffodils are from our own yard. The handmade tableware is made by our friends just down the road at Heirloom Home and Studio.
Our property is secluded, so we don’t have curtains on the windows –we’ll be sitting down to a full view of the woods, just as the sunset begins.Our meal this evening is essentially a wine tasting event like the ones I do for others, and really, it puts together all the pieces of our journey. It all started with the windows rolled down, an open mind and a need to feel connected again. We ventured out to see the world, and it ended up bringing us closer to home.
This story was featured as an evening gathering in Spoonful’s Spring ’17 issue. For more beautiful stories, lush photography and seasonal recipes, pick up a copy of the print magazine!
Photos by Russell Underwood