Last week we hosted some friends in San Francisco and found ourselves having lunch at Chez Papa, a French Bistro at Potrero Hill. Our guest Mark was handed a wine list which he briefly perused, and he then looked at me. “Let’s order a Chinon”, he said, “that is a great lunch wine, don’t you think?” I courteously nodded my approval, and successfully concealed my surprise at his choice. The episode made me think about wine for lunch, if it should happen much, and what’s most appropriate for this occasion.
I am not much of a daytime drinker. My work and other leisure interests do not allow for it. Furthermore, like many others, alcohol at lunch invariably causes me to feel sluggish in the subsequent hours, and lays the remainder of the day to waste. I therefore imbibe infrequently at lunch, and it is usually on holidays and other rare occasions when I have the spare time to luxuriate in the long nap that inevitably follows. On such occasions my preferred lunch wine is invariably a light white, such as Chablis, Albarino, Pinot Grigio (the real Italian stuff, like that from Fruili, not the mass produced American junk), Gavi, or Verdelho.
My choice is predicated upon the special food I enjoy on a lunch leisurely enough to merit wine. It’s always fish or shellfish. In my day to day life I rarely get to enjoy seafood for lunch, since places like hospital cafeterias where I eat don’t serve much of it, and the few that they do is of poor quality. Thus a good seafood lunch is, for me a vacation food, and hence the wine.
I have never thought of a red wine as “lunch wine”. Mark’s choice made me wonder. So last night I polled my wine group on what they considered a good lunch wine. Their answers also hovered around the lighter bodied, lighter alcohol spectrum. Common answers were whites like my choices, roses, and champagne. Larry, the owner of Wine Wizards contended that, “if you were to have red wine for lunch”, Chinon or any Loire Cab Franc would not be a bad choice. Yet implicit in his answer was the rarity of red for lunch.
St. Joseph’s Hospital where I work hosts a Christmas luncheon every year, a fancy affair catered at the University of the Pacific, where wine is served to the doctors. It is well attended, and the wine came along about a decade ago upon request from retired doctors who are regular attendees. It surprises me to see many active physicians also sipping a bit on this special occasion, despite the prospect of returning to their practices afterwards. I have never partaken in this. In any case, when I asked George Heron of Fine Wines, a St. Jo’s physician who owns the wine shop and supplies wine for this occasion, what exacly is consumed, he told me that it is 2/3 white, 1/3 red. There you have it.
As for Chez Papa’s, Mark ordered a Croque Madame (grilled ham & cheese with a fried egg on top), and I ordered mussels Bretton style (with a butter & leek based sauce). Our wives had salads. The Chinon, of which I drank very little, went surprisingly well with my mussels, proving the oversimplicity of the old adage of “white with seafood”. On such occasions the wine selection needs to be based on the sauce, and my Bretton was perfect with it. Afterwards I did not fall asleep, and managed to accompany our guests through several more tastings as the remaining day unfolded. Still, I doubt that I will order Chinon, or any red as lunch wines again.