Wednesday, September 3. 2014
Wine and food are intended to go together. When the right food is matched with the right wine, each will taste better than if sampled alone. Wines tasted by themselves are different than when tasted with food. It is a good thing to keep this in mind when buying wine, especially if you plan to lay it down for a while. Many New World wines, with their lush ripeness and bold fruit, tend to taste better than their more austere European counterparts when tasted without food. The reverse is often true when the same wines are matched with food. In the great wine regions of the Old World the wines and the regional cuisine evolved together. It was a natural marriage of tastes.
Why is this so important? Many wines that really impress at tastings do not complement food particularly well, whereas others like astringent reds that seem too tannic, or whites that are too sharply acidic can complement the right dishes beautifully. When we are thinking of wine and food we need to look at the wines a bit differently. Surprisingly, with all the books written about wine there are relatively few that spend much time on wine and food matching. One of the best I have come across has been out of print for years. The author, Derek Cooper, talks about the great wines of France when describing the proper relationship between these wines and food. "The great wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy need food to reveal all their virtues; they are "table wines" in the true sense of the word. It is [also] the addition of wine that raises food to its greatest heights" (Derek Cooper: Wine with Food London, 1986).
Happily, there is a growing trend today to think more seriously about wine and food matching. Modern cuisine is more diverse than in the past. It is influenced by culinary traditions from all over the world. This presents both challenges and opportunities when pairing food with wine. How then to go about the task? Here are a few suggestions:
Go with Tradition: Tradition has its place and you will not go too far wrong in staying with it. Let’s take a hypothetical question: What wine would you drink with duck? Answer: It depends. Is it roasted? Is it in a rich sauce? What wines are available? Where am I? This last question is important because it guides us to a very useful and logical "rule." Go with local tradition - these are proven matches that have been worked out through years of experimentation and have become classics. So if you are in Burgundy, drink what the locals would; if in Australia drink Shiraz with the local lamb - and so on. The same general idea applies to matching each cuisine in restaurants or at home.
When matching wine and food bear in mind that some foods simply don't go with wine at all – vinegary salads, for example, will kill the taste of wine. Others like soups are very difficult to match. The liquid consistency of soup just doesn’t seem to complement most wines. I have found that dry sherry is about as good as anything. If the soup is sweeter, go with a sweeter sherry.
Others matches seem to complement each other brilliantly. Lamb and Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir and roast beef come immediately to mind. With a little thought and bearing in mind some basic principles you can match food and wine successfully and avoid unforgettably horrible combinations.
In general, serve dry wines before sweet wines, light wines before heavy wines and whites before reds. Obviously lighter dishes that complement the lighter wines should precede the bigger wines and bolder flavoured dishes.
Trust your own taste. Drink wines and match them with foods because you like them together. If you find the "rules" work, so much the better, but don't be afraid to experiment. New combinations are being discovered that work well. In the past people would never drink red wine with fish. Today the combination of Pinot Noir and salmon is just one example that has become widely accepted. The combination of tannic wine with oily fish, though, produces a metallic taste that is truly awful.
The growing popularity of oriental cuisine offers the challenge of matching strongly spicy and sweet and sour flavours that would kill the taste of most table wines. German wines that have become less popular because of their residual sweetness do very well with many oriental dishes. Their combination of sweetness and high acidity seems to be just what is needed.