Saturday, December 02, 2017

FESTIVE FARE: Does It Matter? The Pairing of Food and Wine, by Wiggia

The choice of wine to accompany food has been a talking point for ever among those who claim to care about these things. On a personal basis, outside basic taste clashes it does not bother me that much, and like most things these days far too much is Sunday paper blether.

Some wines and food do clash  but not as many as is thought; even the old adage "only white wine with fish" has been debunked to a degree; but some common sense rules do apply.

Where it becomes a problem is when people who only drink red or white have to change when an obvious conflict of tastes comes about. Never is this more so than at Christmas when food not really eaten during the rest of the year is put on the table. In the perfect situation supplying a variety of different wines overcomes most obstacles but not everyone has the knowledge or the pocket to accommodate every eventuality.

I am not going through every foodstuff and suggesting a wine to match just some of the “problem” foods that crop up during the festive season whilst we are still upright and care enough to bother - after the tipping point nothing really matters - but some advice is still worthwhile.

With meats such as roast beef something substantial like Shiraz/Syrah, Malbec, the more robust Pinot Noirs and Bordeaux are the obvious choices; if lamb is on the menu a wine not quite as robust, lighter, such as good Bordeaux, Chianti, Rioja  Brunello de Montalcino are better bets; and roast pork will also suit Chianti and Rioja but because of its fat content  is one red meat that suits white wine - Gewurtztraminer and Pinot Gris work well cutting through the fat content that can overwhelm some wines. Northern Rhone reds, Chianti again because of that edge it has, and Bordeaux - the latter of course goes with more food than any other wine, hence its popularity.

It’s when you get to white meat it gets interesting. This can be broadly separated into two groups, game and other white meats like turkey and chicken. With turkey Chardonnay from the new world as well as Burgundy sit alongside Pinot Noir, and Cabernet blends from the old and new world are pretty good company plus Chateauneuf du Pape. Chicken is not that different except that you can add Pinot Gris from the Alsace and Kabinett level German Rieslings to the list, but overall non-oaked or lightly-oaked Chardonnay is a safe bet.

Goose is like pork because of the fat content, in that Gewurztraminer works well, as do Northern Rhone reds, Cahors reds, the white Viognier and even decent Pinot Grigio and something like Greco de Tufo; basically any lighter wines with that acidity to overpower the fat content.

Ham you can roughly put in a single category: smoked, prosciutto, dry hams; the best all-rounder for these is Beaujolais and un-oaked whites like Chablis.

Game, Pheasant and Partridge plus Guinea fowl are all well suited to lighter red wines like Beaujolais and the satellite areas and other versions of Pinot Noir plus the Gamay grape and Chianti and if you can find a decent Valpolicella it will do well (but not the Amarone versions) and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo can be added to the mix.

The only other meat not normally eaten other than at the festive season is Venison. Southern and Northern Rhones - like Crozes Hermitage, to give one example - have the power to come through what is a strongly-flavored meat;and Shiraz works too.

Fish is not a staple of Christmas apart from the smoked salmon that is popular at this time of the year, and for that again, being a strongly flavored dish, it needs it requires something that does not clash; the new love of Rosés finds a home here, along with white Burgundy, Champagne and sparkling wines.

In the same way, Tapas is always accompanied with Fino or Manzanilla sherries and the same pair go well with a lot of fish. Oloroso is more than a pudding wine: it can be drunk with red meats like pork and game and makes a change from the usual combinations

There are numerous lists out there on wine and food matching but to be honest after reading them all your cellar ! would never have all the ingredients to satisfy those who write these lists. They are subjective, as is the individual's taste in food and wine; there will always be quite rightly someone who will say "try this with that, it really works" and they could well be right.

There are foods that are very difficult to match up. In vegetables, asparagus and brussel sprouts are really not worth making the effort to find something that will go with, despite the efforts of experts to come up with something complimentary.

Cheese is a challenge. The classic Port with Stilton really does work, but others do not naturally lend themselves to be paired up with wine and many of the suggested pairings are a bit hit and miss. In reality strong cheeses like Roquefort and Gorgonzola go better with a sweet wine like Sauternes or Liqueur Muscats, and Sauvignon Blanc from the likes of the Loire works well with Goats Cheeses, but all the others are a bit of a pig in a poke - what works for you, is the answer.

On the home front I noticed that this year there are some amazing bargains in supermarkets with vintage port. If you are a port lover both Tescos and Sainsburys have been selling a single Quinta Grahams vintage port for around £23 discounted, this is a ridiculously low price for such an exceptional wine, and Morrisons had a similar Warres version for £19. If you like port go for it, for the price will never be lower.

With desserts there is an overall winner in the use of Liqueur Muscats, Sauternes , sweeter Rieslings, Oloroso Sherry and Hungarian Tokay plus all the similar sweet wines like Beaumes de Venise.

In among all this do not forget the enemies of wine: anything vinegar based, artichokes, garlic, tomatoes, peppers (all) and chocolate. Chocolate is interesting as many say sweet white wines go with chocolate but just as many say no, better to have your chocolate separately from wine and play safe.

Of course at Christmas by the time you reach the Stilton and port you are past caring anyway so anything goes, but it does make sense to follow the basic rules even if only to please those dining with you who may not have your rather personal taste in wine and food pairings. Never force your choice on anyone else, it's a sure fire way to lose friends; play it safe and the following day with the turkey left overs you can indulge your fantasies.

I am lucky as this year as we shall be on our own so I can raid the wine racks and please myself: my last bottle of Grahams ‘85 vintage port is already in the firing line.

A quick addendum, in my last wine piece I did refer to the cult of “natural wine” and bio-dynamic growing. The former has no real guidelines and most decent quality wines are as near natural as you can get anyway, any added products to stop rot etc are all as far as I am aware natural products themselves, so I just don’t buy into the natural wine cult at all. This piece explains the downsides of natural wine:

As for bio dynamics, there is no harm done if you wish to follow this small trend, if you believe that the phases of the moon dictate grape picking times pruning times and more, fine, but when I asked a vineyard proprietor, and a good one, about the merits of bio dynamic wine production all he did was laugh! It’s a bit like homeopathy: if you believe in it you will champion the merits, but the truth is that as with homeopathy, at best it is a placebo: it doesn’t actually work.

Happy Christmas, everyone!


Anonymous said...

Apart from obviously unsuitable pairings I defer to Lady Littlehampton's advice, 'if it's me it's U'.

James Higham said...

A Rhone with venison - interesting.