Pairing wine is a tricky business at the best of times. But when it comes to representing the blood of Christ, the casual disregard among church leadership for any of the major schools of thought is shocking!
There are a number of established approaches when considering which wine would go best with one’s meal, and I would like to draw on them here to suggest which wine might best suit your church’s celebration of the Eucharist.
Here’s a quick intro to the three major wine pairing schools of thought.
Regional: Select a wine from the same region as the food you are preparing, e.g. Chianti and spaghetti bolognese. This often works very well with ‘old world’ wines (France, Italy, Spain etc.) as in these countries food and drink have developed concurrently and in relationship to one another over many hundreds of years.
Complementary: Choose a wine that shares some of the properties of the food i.e. Bold, spicy, herbal, delicate, sweet. Cabernet Sauvignon and Steak is a great example of this.
Contrasting: Pick a wine with characteristics that offset the predominant flavours of the food i.e. Sparkling for sweet, acidic for fatty, sweet for spicy. Sancerre and a soft goat’s cheese is a revelation!
For this endeavor I will interpret Regionality as the theological landscape, recognising that there may be as many Jesus’ as denominations, and each merits his own wine. For good measure I’ve suggested both a complimentary and contrasting pairing.
Within the stalwart bastion of traditional orthodoxy, Catholic Jesus serves a ritualistic, functional and mediatory role.
And this makes it tempting to view him as arcane and irrelevant.
To do so, however, would be to skim the surface of a deep, rich and diverse orthopraxy and to completely ignore the fact that they use wafers, not bread!
I want to avoid this potentially disastrous pitfall by staying away from suggestions like left bank Bordeaux. Although those wines may match Catholic Jesus’ more austere and esoteric demeanor, they are too inflexible to do him justice and would steamroll over the delicate umami of the wafer.
This ancient Italian varietal is enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment in the hands of some particularly caring and creative winemakers (If you’re drawing parallels with the current winds of change emanating from Rome, we’re on the same page). When aged about 5 years, its sometimes tannic structure mellows and begins to express more floral components. Although still big and bold, with plentiful dark berry flavours, its status as both cutting edge and a grape of great pedigree make it a rich base to transubstantiate.
Contrasting: Argentinian (not coincidentally) Pinot Noir
Argentina is known for its Malbec (and its Pope), but some of its Pinot vines date back almost a hundred years. As a wine, Pinot is typically light, delicate and floral/earthy. As a pairing for the wafer, perfect! Its fragility and thin-skinned meekness, however, bring contrast to the robust and forceful weight of the church’s tradition, reminding recipients at that most poignant of moments that a deft and gracious touch was often Jesus’ way.
This Jesus is constantly in a state of self-reflection and reinvention. ‘Semper Reformanda‘ could also be the creed of the grape I have chosen to pair with Lutheran Eucharist celebrations. While Martin himself would today be decried as a racist, sexist, paranoiac with a giant guilt complex, his theological innovations have freed Lutheran Jesus to be responsive and culturally relevant to an extent unknown in either Catholicism or fundamentalist protestant denominations. For this reason I have chosen the grape of many names.
Complementary: Priorat Garnacha/Australian Grenache
In both these regions the vines grow in extreme conditions, struggling against everything from desert like heat and drought to icy cold winds. Whittled and battered by their surroundings the grapes that make it to harvest have been honed and focused. The wines these harsh conditions produce are dense, concentrated and down-to-earth, yet overflowing with the home-spun warmth and welcome generated by a sense of rootedness. This is a craftsman’s wine if ever there was one.
Contrasting: French Grenache/Cannonau
Although all Grenache compliments this Jesus, both Grenache and Cannonau have a niche flair which embodies the church’s more progressive elements. The french incarnation brings a herbal and peppery bite to the table, while Cannonau, exclusive to the small Italian island of Sardinia, is typically the major part of a wine that is blended with other grapes. This versatile and many-flavoured grape should remind recipients of a Jesus willing to meet people where they’re at.
The unbending and ironclad logic that this Jesus employs demands a carefully considered pairing. His fastidious attention to detail and draconian adherence to doctrine make him the exemplar of submission to a higher power, suggesting a wine that is equally bound by natural law.
Made from Nebbiolo, one of the most tannic (astringent) grapes used in wine production, Barolo takes its name from the single village elected to label its wine with this most prestigious of appellations. Almost unpalatable for the first 10 years of its life, Barolo is a wine that must be lived with, persevered, thoughtfully probed, before one can be comfortable drinking it, and even then it is best taken with food. Barolo comes on strong, it is unrelenting, unaccommodating, and must be “given in to” if any joy is expected from it. A wine for true supplicants.
Because stuffy, dogmatic, technicians always need a zazzy counter balance, I recommend Brachetto. Its long history is measured by a sense of fun and lightheartedness noticeably absent from Calvinist theology. Brachetto often comes ‘frizzante’, meaning gently sparkling, is aromatic, packed with strawberry flavours and semi-sweet. At communion it should serve as a reminder of the abundant life and joy available through Christ.
The Emergent Jesus is simultaneously concerned with being recognized as human, Jewish, Middle-Eastern, but also universal, symbolic and probably largely fictional. Jesus emerges from a specific location in history as ‘the golden rule’, to be applied situationally in any current milieu. In this tradition, communion is a celebration of togetherness in community and a pledge to enact that golden rule.
Complementary: Israeli Red Blend
The current fascination among ’emergents’ with exploring Christianity’s Jewish faith heritage is perfectly matched by a kosher offering from Galilee such as Yarden’s ‘Ela’. A savoury, herbaceous and well structured wine, this may have been the style Jesus ACTUALLY drank! Meditate on that.
Contrasting: Cabernet Franc from Chinon
In contrast to the flexible and socially chameleonic nature of a progressive Jesus, I suggest this wine because of its backbone and shrill, acerbic quality. It is not an easy wine to get along with, it asserts itself and is therefore polarising. This said, Chinon is stunning when paired well, and should attest to the benefits of taking a stand even when it’s unpopular.
Eastern Orthodox Jesus
Orthodox Jesus is a cosmic hippie trying to distance himself from the bizarre and intricate edifice created to venerate him. He is personal yet aloof, immediate yet transcendent.
Complement and contrast dissolve in his all-encompassing being.
The only wine capable of mediating this Jesus is a Biodynamic Rosé. Beyond the already earth-conscious stipulations of the ‘organic’ designation, biodynamism assures that viticulture adheres to Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophic creed, bringing a spiritual and energetic component to the wine making. I recommend the Montinore Estate’s Rosé of Pinot Noir which blends the citrus notes of a white wine and the wild berry flavours of a red into a dry, fruity and succulent wine perfect with anything.