River Wissey Lovell Fuller

The Village Pump Guide To Food And Wine Matching

June 2007

Giles takes on a journey of food and wine which makes your mouth water.

Just like love and marriage, horses and carriages and smiles and sunshine, good food and great wine are one those partnerships that make life worthwhile. Done well it can turn sandwich into a banquet, done badly it can turn a banquet into a dog's dinner! Happily learning the tricks of the trade is easy, and with this, our guide to food and wine matching, you'll soon find yourself speaking the language like a native.

Food And Wine Pairing - The Basics.

Skilful food and wine pairing allows you to bring out the best in both the food and wine. So firstly ask yourself what's on the menu? Are you going for a series of complex creations or is simplicity the watchword? Are the dishes light or hearty? Are you hosting a summer lunch or a winter dinner party? Whatever the case, allow the food to be your guide for at the end of the day it's all about complimentary elements. Here are some examples.

White Wines And White Meats. Ever wondered why it's always white with poultry or pork? Well, as you know when cooking such things a squeeze of lemon or a tangy sauce really improves matters. This is because foods like this are naturally low in acidity and need a shot of it to shine. High acidity wines (not to say acidic wines which are no use to man, beast or fowl!) such as Chablis or Sauvignon Blanc provide just such a lift, whilst not being so powerful as to drown the food's flavour.

Red Wines and Red Meats. With red meat your best bet is a red wine, not just as the red and black berry tones marry up perfectly with its drier flavours but also as they possess something that is not found in whites wines, namely 'tannin'. Tannin is a naturally occurring substance (a long string protein if you're that way inclined) that is present in both meat and wine. In wine it comes from the skin of the grape and enters the wine with the colour. You may have noticed after a sip of a good red wine that you've been left with a dry, slightly dusty feeling on your tongue and teeth, that's the tannin. When drunk with red meat it helps breakdown the fibres and makes it much more enjoyable.

Size matters! Often labels talk of a wine being 'big' or 'powerful' and though this does in part refer to the alcohol content that's not the entire story. A wine's 'size' is more about its 'body', its richness and its ability to stand up to 'powerful' foods such as cheese or pate. When food and wine pairing, think of the style of your food. A wine the size of a South American city will all too easily smother the delicate tones of say monkfish or pork and so should be avoided, but will be an ideal accompaniment for a hotpot or the Sunday roast. Remember the best partnerships are partnerships of equals.

Tips Of The Trade

So you've considered your menu, raided the wine rack and have the best wines for the job on hand, so what's next? Well now's the time to think about serving the wine. There is some nonsense talked about this, but again there are a few golden rules that will ensure your best laid plans don't go to waste.

Temperature. Serving wine at the right temperature is important. How many times have you taken a much-anticipated white from the fridge only to find it disappointing? Wines, like people, hate being too cold. In people it can make them grumpy and uncomfortable and it's much the same with wine. If it's over chilled you'll invariably miss much of what you love, as when you taste it your poor palate will be stunned into silence. Whites, including fizz, should be served chilled but not so cold that they give you frost bite when you handle them! Half an hour in the fridge is usually plenty, or if it's been in there longer then let it sit on the side whilst it warms up.

Reds are just as susceptible to damage. Too cold and they seem harsh, too warm and they can seem syrupy and dull. Tradition has it that reds are to be served at room temperature, but this was based on Georgian room temperatures which were a good deal cooler than the centrally heated rooms we enjoy today. Ideally they should be served at around seventeen degrees, or warm enough so that when you hold them in your hand you feel nothing. A good way to get them warmed through is to stand them in a little warm water or even place them in the microwave (foil off, cork in - that's cost me in the past!) for a few seconds.

Breathing - Both reds and whites benefit from opening in advance. In doing so you let air in which will help it to develop. Decanting is best, but if you don't have a decanter then try pouring it into a measuring jug and pouring it back into the bottle before serving. You can just leave it in the bottle but this takes longer, so a good tip is to pour a glass out first. This will give the wine left inside more exposure to the air and give you a chance to have a cheeky glass before any one else does. As for how long you should leave them open, an hour or two is usually plenty, though younger wines do need longer.

Order - In a phrase, build up. As you wouldn't follow stuffed jalapeno peppers with grilled Dover sole, its important to start with the less intense wines first. An elegant Pinot Gris is going to struggle to shine if following a huge Rioja. Similarly, if you are lucky enough to be serving older wines, then start with them first and move on to younger, more exuberant ones.

Giles Luckett

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