Wine: The perils of pairing

07 June 2019

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I HAVE a certain amount of sympathy for those who have to create the back labels for supermarket wines. They have to give not just a picture of what is in the bottle, but, often, also what food it will best go with. Last week, I had a bottle of Chilean wine, whose flavour, I was told, was reminiscent of pomegranates. This is a flavour outside my spectrum and I am fairly sure that I would not recognise the taste of a pomegranate if I came across it again.

With regard to accompanying food, the range is generally very restricted. For red wines, the copy-writer tends to limit him- or herself to terms such as “hearty stews”, “grills”, “roasts”, or “barbecues”, while for whites it may be “chicken”, “fish”, “white meat”, or “salads”. This is an advance on the historic advertisement for Blue Nun Liebfraumilch, which was the ideal accompaniment to either a tournedos or a Dover sole. Of course, the aristocrats of wines do not deign to have an explanatory back label; they assume that if you can afford to buy a bottle of their wine, you will know what is what.

But how important is wine pairing? As far as most of us are concerned, myself included, we are happy to drink a bottle of a wine that we know that we like, with food that we like. Of course, there are some dishes that fit ill with wines. If you are in a Balti house, I think you are always better off with a beer. I find, with smoked salmon, for example, many dry white wines take on an unpleasant metallic taste; so I will have a fuller wine such as a Pinot Gris or a Gewürztraminer. If you are in a (good) restaurant and you have doubts about what to choose, ask the sommelier.

There is now a strong body of opinion, however, which says that wine pairing is all wrong. Apparently, research has shown that individual palates are so different that what suits one person is anathema to the next. This comes as a great relief to me; now I can have the food and wine I enjoy without worrying about it.

With summer now upon us, we have arrived at the best time of the year to drink wine for wine’s sake: forget the food, and open a bottle. Here are some suggestions for balcony drinking as you watch the sun go down. My favourite wine for this is a light German wine from the Mosel and its tributaries such as Dr Hermann Erdener Treppchen Kabinett Riesling 2015, which has no more than 7.5% (Majestic, £9.32, if part of a mix-six purchase); or Dr Loosen Slate Hill Riesling 2018 (Majestic, £9.99, mix-six). Alternatives might be the Portuguese Tapada de Villar Vinho Verde (Marks & Spencer, £7) or, from across the River Minho, the Spanish Rías Baixas Palacio de Fefiñanes Albariño 2017 (Waitrose £15.99).

Of course, this is the time of the year when we should drink rosé wines such as our own English Lyme Bay Pinot Noir (Great Western Wines, £19.95); the Provençal Domaine La Chautarde 2017 Coteaux Varois (M&S, £9); or the rare Saint Pourçain Domaine de Chinière (Yapp Bros, £11.15) from the centre of France.

From not too far from there come two Gamay red wines that taste wonderful when chilled: Cave Saint-Désirat Collines Rhodaniennes 2017 (Yapp Bros, £10.15); and Cave Saint Verny Puy de Dôme 2017 (Yapp Bros, £8.95).

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