Wines To Pair With Food
We all know wine tastes better with food, which is why Adam Lechmere has rounded up some surprising matches you may not have tried before
It’s interesting to see how often I write the worlds ‘frood-friendly’ in my tasting notes. Why should I remark such an attribute when surely all wine should be good to drink with food? Indeed, any serious winemaker will only make wine to go with food. French baker Lionel Poilâne once told me that a meal should be a perfect trinity on the table: the main course, the bread and the wine. In the winemaking regions of the world, from Bordeaux and Burgundy to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, wine has evolved alongside food. In Rioja, sheep are raised on the same scrubby hillsides as the vines.
Whether by coincidence or design, you’ll never find a better match than spring lamb and rioja. In France, of course, wine and food matching was an instinct that was elevated to a science and an art, but in Britain the flood of easy-drinking New World wines in the Eighties and Nineties cemented the idea that wine could be a standalone drink. A bottle of Yellow Tail shiraz, or a sweet Californian blush zinfandel have no need of food because they have very low acidity and so don’t prompt salivation. Such wines are simply not doing their job. A good wine should have acidity, which stimulates salivation and your gastric juices, and it should be fresh enough to rinse your palate, leaving it cleansed and ready for the next mouthful. Thankfully, the trend now is for freshness and acidity rather than fruit and sugar, so wines go much better with food.
As for what goes with what, there are some basic rules of thumb. First of all, go regional. If you’re eating grilled sardines in San Sebastián, drink a txakoli (Marks & Spencer’s gorgeous Alaia) or a steely albariño or godello (I love Bibendum’s Adega A Coroa from Valdeorras). If you’re in Tuscany eating wild boar, it has to be a sangiovese – Brunello di Montalcino, for preference. But once you’re in the region, as it were, you can extrapolate. Simple fish dishes (ones that need a squeeze of lemon, for example) want a wine that’s higher in acidity. Strong-flavoured red meat dishes call for dramatic, full-bodied reds. How about a racy Romanian white with sardines, or a muscular south Australian grenache blend with boar? The sweet fat of lighter meat dishes needs tannin to soak up the fatty molecules, but it might be overwhelmed by the biggest reds. That’s why rack of lamb tastes great with wines like rioja or bordeaux – or the piercing Domaine de Majas carignan-grenache listed below.
The famous rule of having white with fish and red with meat has a sound basis, but don’t follow it slavishly. Firm-fleshed monkfish, for example, goes well with the light reds pinot noir or Beaujolais. It’s also useful to remember that although opposites attract; two of a kind can make a beautiful pair. So while a fatty, sweetish dish like mozzarella with tomatoes calls for acidic, dry, fresh Italian white, a hearty beef stroganoff demands a similarly mighty red, and sweet, oozing tarte tatin loves to be paired with luscious wines like Sauternes and tokaj. These are not so much rules as guidelines. If a wine is good enough, it will go with many more dishes than you’d think. It’s time to experiment.
Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2010, £31.95
Among the finest English sparkling wines. Lovely intensity and tart, chalky acidity setting off flavours of sweet hay, lime and honey. Perfect with smoked salmon.
Domaine de Majas, Côtes Catalanes 2014, France, £13.49
Bright, red cherry nose, red fruit on the palate, piercing acidity and dry, persistent tannins. Works perfectly with a rack of spring lamb.
Sainsbury’s La Patrie Cahors Malbec, France 2014, £7
Lifted fruit on the nose with savoury notes, then damson on the palate with silky tannins. Clean and robust enough for steak or stew.
Extra Special Chilean Pinot Noir Aconcagua Valley 2015, £5
Lots of red fruit – cherries and raspberries – offset by a hint of salinity and brisk tannins. A well-structured wine. Good with barbecued monkfish.
Avincis Feteasca Regala Pinot Gris, Romania, £13.50
Feteasca Regala is an aromatic white grape with tannic skin, producing a perfumed, food-friendly wine. Excellent with grilled fish.
Available at:Theatre of Wine