First appeared in the Irish Mail on Sunday
Wine and food matching is the holy grail and it’s a subject that exercises a lot of people but, curiously enough, not many wine writers. Two exceptions are my old friend John Wilson (we go back to TCD days) and my newer friend Fiona Beckett whose detailed notes and remarkable memory fuels her website matchingfoodandwine.com which I heartily commend.
I am yet to be convinced that there are more than maybe a dozen or so wine and food matches of a celestial nature (and this week I’ve suggested six of them with specific wines here) but there are certainly some useful rules of thumb.
Oysters are very, very rich and that’s why they go best with very acidic white wines such as Chablis and Muscadet. Equally, oily fish will go well with them and their ilk: dry Rieslings, Sauvignons, Chenins and so forth.
Red meats respond well to big red wines with tannin and, if you like it, oak. But these are broad brushstrokes.
Some foods are almost impossible with wine. The only wine I’ve ever tasted that is not murdered by globe artichokes is Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé. And I discovered only recently that Jerusalem artichokes can be restrained from assaulting most white wines by adding a bit of lemon.
You can of course drink red wines with fish but you need to make sure they are light, crisp and very low on tannin. Beaujolais would do, but I never bother to be honest.
Remember: the best wine and food match is often what’s left in the fridge and the bottle you forgot about. Don’t fret.
Exquisite Collection Gavi 2015
An amazing price for such a classic expression of Gavi, the ultra-fashionable white wine that everyone in Milan seems to drink on a daily basis. This is the Cortese grape, so not one of the usual suspects and very fresh, clean and crisp it is too. It was Fiona Beckett of The Guardian who suggested this to me as a match for spaghetti carbonara, in which the melted fat, Parmesan and egg yolks really do need something quite tart. In fact, the dish made the wine taste even more intensely of itself!
Michel Leon Gewurztraminer 2015
This Alsace white wine comes from the house of Arthur Metz which is a good sign and the quality to price ratio is very refreshing. It has everything we need from a Gewurztraminer when matching with, odd as it my seem, mature Gouda and it is indeed one of those magical matches that make both wine and cheese taste better. Rose petals, lychees, exotic spices on the nose, dry but not too dry on the palate and certainly not tart. The gentle acidity shouldn’t work with cheese, but it does.
Tesco Finest Tingleup Riesling 2015
This is my pick for a Thai green curry and the reason is simple. Oz Riesling (and this is a relatively cool climate Western Australia wine) has a citrus, lime zest character that emphasises this element in the curry but many of them are a bit too dry and get overwhelmed by the chilli. Tingleup is a much overlooked wine, possibly because it has a slightly sweet edge, but it’s a glorious match for anything involving spice, lime and fresh ginger. It also has that classic Riesling whiff of petrol.
Tesco Finest 10 Year Old Tawny Port
Tawny port – any port but basic ruby, really – works well with two very different flavours and textures: dark chocolate and blue cheese. This is a very impressive wine (from the Symington empire that also makes the likes of Dow and Graham’s) and is relatively (I stress relatively) dry. With a chunk of 70% cocoa solids chocolate it’s magnificent; with a chocolate tart, not too sweet, it’s pretty good; but with Roquefort or, ideally, our own Crozier from the Cashel Blue people, it’s simply magnificent. A really stinky Stilton can be a bit much for it.
Domaine Masson-Blondelet Pouilly-Fumé 2015
€23.20, WinesDirect.ie, Arnott’s
Fresh goat’s cheese, snow white and deliciously tangy, is a perfect partner for pretty well any decent Sauvignon Blanc but some of the Kiwi versions are somewhat overwhelming and mask the true goatiness. The answer of course is to look where crottins are made and here’s a cracker. I always tend towards Pouilly-Fumé rather than its – let’s face it – very similar neighbour. This is because I’m just awkward but I really do believe that there’s more minerality, a bit of gun flint, along with the green gooseberries and blackcurrant leaf.
Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva 2012
I tasted this last week – in fact I swallowed it – and was swept away on a wave of nostalgia. It reminded me of discovering Rioja for the first time and being seduced by that combination of strawberry fruit and vanilla oak. The American oak is beautifully integrated, the colour is deep, the length seriously impressive and the tannins round and dignified. This is exactly what I want with a rare t-bone steak served with some skinny chips and a Béarnaise sauce. Plenty of red wines would do, but this is perfect.