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(The Sterling was so Bordeaux-style, in fact, says Osterland, that “if somebody had said, ‘This is a 21-year-old Napa cabernet,’ I would have said, ‘I don’t think so.’ I was totally fooled. And of course, wine can fool you.” As evidence, he recounts a story from about 20 years ago. He and a bunch of other celebrated wine judges were brought in by the National Restaurant Association for a major tasting in Chicago – complete with lab coats and seats for spectators. The first round of wines arrived, identified as cabernet. Osterland and his fellow judges did their bit. “We didn’t think they were all that great, but we made our notes and sent them back.” Then, before the next flight arrived, the host made an announcement Osterland would not soon forget: “There’s been an error. I apologize. The first flight of wines were Baco Noir” – a hybrid grape from New York State. “Not one of us questioned anything. I said to myself, Okay, this is a tough game.”)

Osterland’s take on the power vs. elegance question is a charming one – and also deeply practical. “Those big, high-alcohol, high-extract wines…take no prisoners. They beat up food.” It’s not that it’s wrong to like those wines; it’s that they don’t do their job at table. “It’s the same thing as enjoying fish with lemon juice; the acidity amplifies the flavors in the fish. If a wine doesn’t have the requisite acidity, it has trouble doing anything for the food.” That is, if you’re actually using it as a seasoning. “I see people eat three or four bites of swordfish, grab a glass, and drink down their wine. I say, ‘Imagine if you were eating your swordfish and you realized you forgot to put the lemon juice on and so you picked up the lemon and squeezed it into your mouth.’ That’s precisely the way I see the average American consuming food and wine. I tell people, ‘You put salt and pepper on your food, don’t you? Why don’t you try having the food in your mouth and drizzling just a little bit of wine in there?’ Everybody gets it, and it works very well.”

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