The Williamsons make and share some very fine wine in lovely Healdsburg, California.
Plus, Bill Williamson knows more about the inside of my mouth than my dentist or I do. This is both disturbing and a real shame. However, as a result of a ridiculously informative, hilarious, and occasionally out-of-control tutorial on the landscape of my taste buddies, I am rapidly catching up.
What I learned from Bill:
1. Wine changes stuff.
Of course, I already knew this, but in a more limited sense. For example, I already knew that wine can change a Canaan wedding from another unmemorable event to "Honey, bring that empty wine skin! Vinny just uncorked the GOOD stuff!" It can change how good I sound when I sing, or my ability (and desire) to count calories. It can transform a train ride from just a way to get from east to west, to a life-long memory of drinking champagne out of paper cups.
Wine changes the flavors you can find in food. Honestly, there is bliss for your taste buds in Irish cheddar you never even knew existed. I'm not going to explain it all here, mostly because Bill is downright effusive in his generosity.
He says at the outset of the pairing experience, "If you want more of anything, just ask." And darn it, as the time ticks by, you realize he means exactly what he says. Having a great time? Really enjoying that particular wine and want just one more chance to try it with the truffle oil salt against the Parmesan cheese? If you have that look on your face and your glass is empty... Poof! A lovely winery elf, Mrs. Williamson, appears with extra splashes for all. They made me feel like I was a dear old friend over for dinner after a few years absence. They also made me feel like I should just surrender to the moment and not worry about taking notes.
And this is why I won't try to explain how Bill made Williamson chocolate give up a more serious hit of cocoa than you would believe possible: the Lovely Winery Elf visited our table frequently, and I can't remember much that Bill said, except for Number 2 below.
2. There is no such thing as the right wine for the right food. Every wine is distinct. Therefore, each wine will bring a slightly different something to any food you put in your mouth at the same time. The only thing required of you is to close your eyes and chew. Do this with Bill's magnificent Cabernet Sauvignon, and you end up awash in a delicious existential understanding that there's not one thing more important you need to be doing right now. Of course, as I have learned in cooking, this "pairing freedom" still leaves a wide open window to the possibility of putting two very good ideas in isolation into a very bad relationship, like the honey-and-mustard sandwiches my sister made as a kid, for instance.
So there are a couple of rules, after all.
Bill made it easy. He explained in simple terms how to think about wine varietals with families of food flavors, and then gave ample samples of both so you get the point. I won't illuminate further. See #1 above.
Maybe the final thing Bill taught me was the most important, and better caught than taught. You’ll just have to go see for yourself.
3. It's possible to do what you love.