Sriracha, Aioli, Pesto: the holy trinity of corporate cuisine. They’re on almost everything and I would not be shocked to see a Sriracha and Pesto Aioli on a sandwich these days. In most kitchens the main purpose of these sauces are to cover up less than interesting ingredients - culinary sleight of hand. Is simple mayonnaise a thing of the past? After our palates are dulled with such an onslaught of flavors it is no wonder we can’t actually taste wines with delicate, elegant flavors.
Don’t get me wrong, individually and with the right dishes each of these sauces are delicious, but each has been co-opted to the point that these superb, classic sauces not only seem cliché, but have become layered on top of each other so garlic or heat alone are the only song a dish sings.
Is there any use of basil more perfect than pasta with pesto in Liguria? Delicate, bright and fresh with just the right touch of garlic? Then there is aïoli garni in Provence, the ultimate dip again with the perfect touch of garlic and fresh, fruity olive oil to dip boiled fresh vegetables, olives, salt cod and whatever you please in to. Then there is sriracha, a Thai sauce. The Huy Foods Sriracha brand (the only one most Americans know) was first introduced to the USA in the 1980s when it was served at virtually all American Pho restaurants. Today it’s in or on everything and at this point I would not be shocked to see sriracha toothpaste.
Americans can not leave well enough alone. We must do something to everything. It’s not enough to have a subtle, beautiful pesto we have to add more-and-more garlic so the basil becomes irrelevant. The same thing happens with aioli and then you end up with the ultimate bastardization a pesto aioli. Simple and elegant is not a characteristic admired by Americans.
American winemaking has also been sucked into this wormhole and winemakers think more about what they can add instead of getting out of the way and letting the grapes and vineyard tell their own story. In the same way some bastardized version of aioli obliterates the other flavors in a sandwich, winemakers here can’t resist aggressive commercial yeasts, new oak and a host of other interventions that are the winemaker’s version of a chef adding too much garlic or hot sauce. Winemaking, like a sauce, should elevate and brighten, not overwhelm.
There can be great complexity in simplicity.