Wine and Food
Anyone who has visited wine regions in Europe will have been struck by how well matched the local food and wines tend to be. For instance the simple but full flavoured cuisine of northern Spain is absolutely perfect as a foil to Rioja. And where is Rioja? Northern Spain. Similarly the marriage of fresh seafood and Muscadet, although a terrible cliché, has never been bettered with its light apple fruit and noticeable acidity perfectly complementing the understated, clean, but rich flavours of shellfish.
However in our ever shrinking world, food and wine matching has had to move forward about 200 years in a very short space of time. What we will do here is to take some of the very strong flavours around today and have a look at how best to drink pleasurably at the same time. The truth is that there are no set rules, the aim is simply to find flavours that, mutually, enhance the experience rather than detracting from it.
Rule number one is: drink wine you like. Is this too obvious? Second, try to match the general weight and power of the flavours with the wine. For example, a light Sancerre will make a much better partner for poached fish rather than a big, oaky Australian Chardonnay which would kill all the delicate flavours of the food. However, the same rich, oaky Chardonnay would be ideal with Mexican chicken wings or barbecued poultry.
Specific characters in the food can be considered too. A sweet fruity sauce as served with many North African dishes will affect the flavours of wine so try a similarly fruity wine, perhaps Beaujolais. Similarly the salty savoury characters of, say, crispy duck are complemented by a fruity wine, but perhaps balanced with a touch of sweetness, as in a German Riesling - they can be brilliant value for money and go startlingly well with Chinese.
Earthiness is another thing to consider. Roast meats cooked traditionally need traditional flavours. So perhaps the old world is where to look - Rioja, Burgundy and claret. These wines move from light to full-bodied, in that order, so again you can match them to the weight of the food. Finally, should you look to the new world or old world? Well, in general your Mum's recipes are more likely to match European wines because that sort of food was what was around when these wines were "invented". Similarly, the full, spicy, rich flavours of cuisines from the Americas, Africa or Asia are often complemented by the big, bold, fruit flavours of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Here are a few classic combinations that no section on food and wine would be complete without:
There a few foods which have historically been seen as difficult to match with wine - or even actively made wine unpleasant. In some cases there are remedies, in others not.
- Asparagus, especially if served very plain - this is a toughie. Try a cold Chablis or Sancerre, although neither is ideal. A New World alternative would be an intensely flavoured Aussie Riesling with its rich, limey flavours.
- Eggs: when did you last drink wine with eggs? Try Champagne if it's a breakfast briefing or special occasion.
- Vinegar - there's no cure for this. Either do not use too much vinegar or drink water in between, then match with the other ingredients.
- Hot and spicy food - an interesting distinction here. Mildly spicy food goes well with big rich reds from anywhere and full flavoured Chardonnays, Aussie Rieslings or spicy, minerally Alsace or Rhine whites. However, introduce chilli and everything gets much trickier. You can get away with an off-dry or aromatic white wine if it's Thai, but stick to beer with curry!