When the gastronomic map of the world was divided by much sharper boundaries than it is today and the viticultural map was much more limited, there were some very simple rules that could be applied more or less usefully to the matching of wine to food. But culinary exchange and interplay and a greatly expanded and altered wine scene mean that there are new -- more exciting -- ways of approaching the subject.
Rules & How to Break Them
If this book were about ethereal wine and food marriages, it would be very short indeed -- just one paragraph. There are a few famous partnerships where food and wine seem magically to enhance each other (see list below), but, in general, matching wine and food is not about divining perfect and exclusive pairings. Most of the time it is about choosing food and wine that are happy together -- each made more enjoyable, in part, simply by the presence of the other -- and most of the time several different types of wine will cheerfully accompany any one dish.
In the past there were rules: white wine with fish and white meat, red wine with red meat and appropriate local wines with regional food. It is easy to denounce these today, for being sweeping, narrow-minded and limited in application, but in their context they made more sense. Cooking styles throughout the world were more strictly defined and self-contained. You didn't mix a little French haute cuisine with a little German, a touch of Thai with a tad of southern Italian, or a little Mexican with a hint of north Indian. Indeed, in English-speaking countries food was notable -- even celebrated -- for its plainness. And the wines people drank with it were either local or one of a handful of European classics; the New World didn't figure at all.
Against this background of greater simplicity, certain things stood out. It was very clear -- and still is -- that red wine quite often clashes with fish, the fish making the wine taste metallic or bitter (although cooking fish in red wine is a very useful way of ensuring that you can drink red wines -- Pinot Noir-based wines are good to choose for this). And, because the tannin in the wine is the main cause of the clash, red wine with fish was presumably a more hazardous exercise in the past when red wines were generally more tannic than they are today (see The Changing Face of Wine, page 51). As the one thing that successfully subdues the taste of tannin is the heavy, chewy texture of meat, especially beef steak, it was a short step to the red wine with red meat rule.
Equally, fish and white meats such as chicken are, overall, lighter in weight than red meats and game. And since they are lighter, they are more likely to be cooked by the sort of gentle method that reinforces their delicacy and is rarely appropriate to the heavier meats -- poaching and steaming, for example. As there are more light white wines than light red wines and, conversely, more very full-bodied red wines than blockbuster whites, it was the same short step to generalize that white wine should be drunk with fish and white meat.
There is in fact no reason why you should not still use the colour of the protein on the plate as a starting point for choosing wine: when plainly cooked and served, lamb, beef and game are better with red wine than with white -- but so, also, are the pale-fleshed pork and turkey; the majority of fish are easier to match with white wines -- as are egg dishes; and lentils and dried beans are generally better with reds.
MARRIAGES MADE IN HEAVEN
OYSTERS with blanc de blancs champagne or premier cru Chablis
PLATEAU DE FRUITS DE MER with Muscadet sur lie
CHARCUTERIE with cru Beaujolais (or very good villages)
ROAST LAMB with Médoc, especially Pauillac and St-Julien
ROQUEFORT with Sauternes
STILTON with vintage port
GOAT'S CHEESE with Sancerre
White wines, meanwhile, are more successful than reds with the flavours of most vegetables. There are even some particular, but not exclusive, grape flavour affinities -- lamb with Cabernet Sauvignon, game with Syrah and Pinot Noir, goat's cheese with Sauvignon Blanc.
But, if you use colour to set you off on the track, you must be prepared to override it when you start taking other elements into account.
The WEIGHT of the dish is the most important consideration -- whether or not you have preconceptions based on colour -- and this depends as much on the way the ingredients are cooked as on the flavours of the ingredients themselves: tuna is never lightweight, but it is certainly lighter when it is simply poached than when it is stewed Basque style with tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic and potatoes; a steamed chicken breast with a hint of lemon grass is worlds away from a rich, dark coq au vin.
In most cases you should be aiming to balance the weight of the food with that of the wine, so that neither overwhelms the other -- rich, robust food with rich, robust wine (game casserole with Barossa Shiraz, for example); medium-weight food with medium-bodied wine (roast chicken with a red Bergerac or a white St-Veran); light food with light-weight wine (poached shellfish with Pinot Bianco or Muscadet). As a guide, but not an infallible indication, full-bodied wines are usually high in alcohol (roughly speaking over 12.5%) and light-bodied wines are low in alcohol (below 11%).
INTENSITY of flavour provides the main exception to the matching of weight rule: fatty, rich foods can be partnered with light-bodied wines, the principle being to provide a sharp contrast -- crisp, light wine cutting through the food. But it does not work with just any old light wine. It has to be a wine which, though light, is intensely flavoured -- usually with fruit aromas and flavours coupled with brisk acidity and an element of sweetness.
The archetypal example is fine quality German Spötlese or Auslese, especially Riesling, with fatty meats such as roast goose, duck and wild boar (see Riesling, page 58, and Germany, page 106, for further details). Another is traditional Christmas plum pudding partnered by fresh, feather-light, frothing, sweet Asti.
If it is important to recognize the difference between the weight of a wine and the intensity of its aromas and flavours, it is no less important to distinguish between these two aspects in any food. A dish can be light, but powerfully flavoured. This may be the intrinsic flavour of one item, as in asparagus, or the result of combining ingredients and cooking them in a particular way: Thai food, for example, is often pungently flavoured, but it is very rarely heavy; the same goes for many Japanese dishes. These dishes and others are looked at in more detail under Tricky Ingredients (pages 16-21) and World Classic Combinations (pages 74-141). Suffice it to say here that an accompanying wine usually needs to be broadly similar in character -- correspondingly assertive in flavour but not heavy -- and it also usually needs to have a directness and freshness of flavour, rather than too much complexity. Young wines made from fairly aromatic grape varieties, such as Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, fit the profile (see Grapes and Wines, pages 48-73).
Having gauged the weight and intensity of the dish, you need to look at the roles of some other other key components which can distort and influence flavour. These include acid and sweetness, in relation to both food and wine; salt, and to a lesser extent pepper, in food; the effect of tannin in wine; and the impact of the texture of some foods.
ACIDITY in a dish -- in the form of citrus juice or fruits, other fruits, vinegar or the reduced white wine of a sauce -- is very simple in its demands: it needs to be equalled, or echoed, by acid in the wine being drunk alongside it, otherwise the wine will taste flat and dull. This means that duck with orange will need a wine with discernible acidity, whereas duck with olives will not necessarily. A bonus of acidity in a white wine is that it can heighten the flavours of a subtle or simple dish, in the same way as a squeeze of lemon might do.
As a rule, acid levels are higher in white wines and in cooler climates. With white wines this steers you towards Europe's more northerly vineyards (rather than the hot Mediterranean ones) and to the New World's more limited number of cool climate regions (New Zealand, Casablanca, Constantia, Tasmania, Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills and Long Island, for example). It steers you towards young wines (acid softens with age), to wines that have not been significantly oak-aged (oak maturation softens acidity) and towards such high acid varieties as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling (whether dry, medium or very sweet), Silvaner, Aligoté, Muscadet, Gros Plant and Chenin Blanc (the spectrum from dry to very sweet). With the exception of Chablis, the new breed of unoaked Australian Chardonnays, some New Zealand Chardonnays and the relatively light north Italian Chardonnays, the search for acidity generally directs you away from Chardonnay, above all in its full-bodied, ripe, buttery, oaky New World styles.
The range of suitable red wines is much more restricted. Not only do red wines lack acidity, but acid in food is liable to clash with tannin in the wine. The reds that do have some appetising acidity tend to be young, low in tannin, light-bodied and, inevitably, from cool climates. They are also the kind of red wines that can be served cool or lightly chilled -- Loire reds (whether made from Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir or Gamay), Beaujolais, Barbera and its much rarer Piedmontese compatriot Grignolino, Bardolino, proper dry red Lambrusco (such as Lambrusco di Sorbara or Lambrusco Reggiano which bear no relation to the cheap, vapid versions produced for export), and the even more rarely exported astringent red Vinho Verde (lack of export here is not such a loss: red Vinho Verde is very much an acquired taste -- acquired on holiday and rapidly lost back home).
Rosés, even when they taste fresh and lively, have a habit of being a touch too soft for very high-acid food, but Sancerre rosé has a notably refreshing bite.
Little attention is paid to the effect of SALT and pepper on wine -- except to warn that eating salt makes you drink more. But salt, in particular, can have a great impact -- and looking at the way salty foods are partnered with other foods is illuminating. The classic combination is salt and sweet, as in prosciutto with figs or melon, or even gammon with pineapple (that stalwart of dire, old-fashioned steak-and-chips restaurant chains in Britain). And the salt-sweet harmony has long been recognized in the famous matches of salty blue cheese with sweet wines (Roquefort and Stilton with Sauternes and vintage port, respectively). Similarly Gewürztraminer, which has a voluptuous spicy-sweet aroma and a flavour that can seem sweet until it finishes dry, is often partnered with smoked salmon. Personally, I prefer a slightly less overbearing wine with smoked salmon (see Tricky Ingredients, page 19), but I can appreciate the principle.
Another significant and often overlooked point about salt is its unhappy effect on tannin. Tannin is the dry, bitter, furrily mouth-coating substance that comes from grapeskins, pips and stems -- and to a lesser extent oak barrels -- and is found in young red wines which are intended to be aged (it is largely imperceptible in white wines -- but all too perceptible in stewed, cold tea and the skins of unripe grapes, should you wish to experiment). Salt, which so capably enhances all sorts of flavours in food, does exactly the same, unfortunately, for the bitterness of tannin and it is noticeable that anyone who habitually takes a lot of salt with his or her food is likely to favour white wines and low tannin reds, such as Beaujolais. And bearing in mind the salt-sweet affinity and the tannin clash, it is not surprising to find that wines with a generous, sweet fruit character -- whether red or white -- are the kind that go with salty (but not the most salty) foods. In white and rosé wines acidity is also an advantage, with the result that Germany's medium-dry and medium-sweet Rieslings and Scheurebes often come to the rescue. Red wines need to be low in tannin, or have the type of soft, ripe tannins that come from warm climates or benign summers in cool climates.
With typically salty foods served with apertifs, champagne and other dry sparkling wines in a similar mould go conveniently well, but so, also, do fino and manzanilla sherries. Not only do these pale dry sherries have a unique echoing salty flavour, but they are the only wines that go really well with the saltiness of olives and tapenade. (In cooked savoury dishes, the pungency of olives, like that of salted anchovies, should be sufficiently subdued by other ingredients to allow a fruity, not overly tannic wine to shine.)
Freshly ground pepper doesn't have salt's potential for bringing out the worst, but if you ever drink very old, fine, complex wine, you should exercise some restraint with the pepper grinder, as pepper is likely to obscure some of the wine's intriguing nuances and complexities. On the other hand, if you are drinking a rather simple, light, humdrum wine, you may find that a grinding of fresh pepper brings it alive and makes it seem bigger and more flavoursome -- peps it up, in fact.
SWEETNESS in food, like acidity, needs to be matched in the wine. It sounds simple enough -- and in the case of puddings and sweetmeats it is: the rule of thumb is that the wine must be at least as sweet as the food, and can be sweeter. If the food is sweeter, the wine will taste thin and tart. As with savoury food, balancing the weight of wine and food is critical, although it doesn't usually require quite such fine tuning because relative sweetness is the overriding consideration.
As a guide, the sweetest, heaviest wines are Australian liqueur Muscats and European fortified wines such as Malaga, PX sherry and various Moscatels, followed by Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise and other Muscats from the south of France (Rivesaltes, for example). The liqueur Muscats and fortified wines are the kind of wines to try with the richest of chocolate, toffee or fudge elaborations, the heavyweight traditional Christmas pudding (if you decide against fizzy Moscato), and ice-cream. Botrytised and Late Harvest New World wines, especially Semillons, Rieslings and Chenin Blancs, tend to be heavier and sweeter than their European counterparts -- Sauternes and Barsac, Austrian sweet wines, German Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein and the great sweet wines of the Loire (Coteaux du Layon, Quarts de Chaume, Vouvray etc). Sémillon-based wines such as Sauternes are fatter and more opulent than the Loire's Chenin Blanc wines and German sweet wines and are good with creamdressed and cream-based puddings such as crème brûlée. Sweet Loire wines and German sweet wines have more marked acidity, which makes them particularly useful with fruit-based puddings. With the exception of Asti and other fizzy Moscatos, German sweet wines are the lightest-bodied; Austrian wines, though very broadly Germanic, are fuller-bodied.
Sweetness in savoury food is altogether more challenging, although a key point to have at the back of your mind is that, while dry wines are nasty with sweet food, there are sweet and medium wines that will go with savoury food. And it is not just with the famous marriages -- Sauternes with foie gras, Sauternes with Roquefort -- that it works. The more delicately flavoured types of shellfish, such as scallops, and white fish in creamy sauces can be served with German Spätlese, demi-sec Vouvray, Montlouis or Jurançon and demi-sec champagne, but the quality of these must be exemplary; cheap versions are not worth bothering with. Medium-sweet German Rieslings can also be set against the richness of goose and duck, pork and wild boar, above all when they are served with the sort of sweet fruit sauce or garnish which would desecrate a dry wine.
Sweet sauces, jellies and relishes are, as a whole, best matched by the combination of sweetness and acidity in good, estate-bottled German Spätleses and Ausleses. The snag is that these are not the sort of wines that go well with red meat and game, and even with many poultry and fish dishes, and anyway it is far more appropriate to match the wine to the main ingredients than the peripheral accompaniments. If the accompaniment can't or won't be sacrificed, if the sauce is an integral part of the dish, or if red wine is absolutely de rigueur, the answer is to choose a wine that has 'sweet' fruit flavours derived from very ripe grapes. Full-bodied, ripe, berry-flavoured red Zinfandel from California is the arch exponent, followed closely by Australian Shiraz and by New World reds in general. In the Old World, aim for warmly fruity Mediterranean wines, often blends including some Grenache (or Garnacha), Syrah or Tempranillo. If you stray in to the classic cooler areas, try to choose wines from the better (warmer, riper) vintages and make sure you avoid tannic wines.
With white wines (other than German), ripe fruit is again crucial, but marked acidity is just as essential as ripeness, if the sauce is, as they so often are, both sharp and sweet. The easiest way to ensure at least a modicum of fresh-tasting acidity is to choose young wine and to steer clear of the bottom rung, especially in blended whites and particularly those from the New World. It is also best to steer clear of heavily oaked wines, and wines, especially Chardonnays, with a rich, buttery flavour (this is acquired when the wine is allowed by the winemaker to undergo a secondary acidsoftening fermentation called the malolactic). Neither oak not buttery flavours, particularly when they are in tandem, suit sweet, sharp fruit sauces and relishes. That a wine is oak-aged is very often mentioned on the label (often as 'élevé en fûts de chêne'), although quite how oaky it will taste you don't know. Malolactic is rarely referred to: as a loose guide, it is favoured in Burgundy and therefore by aspiring producers in the New World (see Chardonnay, page 52).
So far, TANNIN has been cast largely as the villain of the piece. It turns nasty with fish and bitter with salt and equally nasty with eggs (see Tricky Ingredients, page 18) and with many cheeses (see Cheese, page 22). But, like acidity in white wines, tannin is essential to red wines, especially to those which are going to improve with age; it is fundamental to their structure, giving a characteristic firmness, and contributes to their complexity. While winemakers can manipulate tannins to meet market demands and the trend is to make red wines less tannic nowadays, there are some grapes which are inherently more tannic than Ir others -- Syrah, Cabernet, Nebbiolo, Brunello and Tannat among them -- while some, like Gamay, the grape of Beaujolais, and Dolcetto are naturally low in tannin.
It can't really be said that any foods positively need very tannic wines, but meat is tannin's major ally: rare steak and other red meats with a substantial, chewy texture partner tannic wines very well, because they moderate our perception of tannin. Equally, many top quality red wines, particularly from Bordeaux (ie clarets), which taste rather dry and austere on their own, only need food (especially meat) to render them supple, full of charm and tantalizingly complex in flavour.
As well as being a help -- in me case of tannic wines -- the texture of food occasionally presents itself as the unexpected banana skin. A few foods, principally eggs, chocolate and some cheeses, have a gluey, mouth-coating texture which blocks the tastebuds and generally interferes with the ability to taste wine. These foods are dealt with under Tricky Ingredients (page 16) and Cheese (page 22).
If weight and intensity yield the vital outlines and acid, sugar, salt, pepper and tannin provide the broad brushstrokes, filling in the details is a matter of looking at individual food flavours or textures, above all those which have the potential to modify, amplify and occasionally greatly to distort accompanying wines. Mercifully, clashes of entirely unpalatable proportions are rare. The foodstuffs and flavours listed here are simply those which you should be alert to when looking at recipes and menus -- together with a few that ring false alarms. You will find many of them discussed in other sections of the book, but this is a checklist, with suggestions for the most suitable wines and, where possible, ways to mute offending flavours or textures. And one final word -- remember that texture, though it is a less frequent problem, is not one to underestimate when it does arise: its impact can be very powerful and no less unpleasant.
VEGETABLES & FUNGHI
ARTICHOKES (GLOBE) Globe artichokes make most wines taste either metallic/bitter or strangely sweet. Squeezing lemon over the artichoke is good remedial treatment for this, as is serving the artichoke with vinaigrette, although the latter has its own potential for creating problems (see page 19). Young, moderately assertive white wines with highish acidity go well, for example Sauvignon Blancs from the crisper end of the New World spectrum (eg New Zealand), and young, crisp, medium-full Chardonnay works well with artichoke with a lemony hollandaise. But the best partner I have found is modern Greek white wine made from indigenous Greek or Cretan varieties which have a naturally sharp, lemon-and-pine character.
ASPARAGUS The powerful flavour of asparagus battles with many wines, but goes very well with a few, including those in which its distinctive flavour finds a companionable echo -- namely Sauvignon Blanc wines (especially from New Zealand, Chile and the best from France's Bergerac and Cðtes de Duras) and the cool climate Cabernet Francs of the Loire Valley (Chinon, Bourgueil, Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil and Saumur-Champigny). Rounded but young Chardonnay (including burgundy and Chablis) is especially successful when the asparagus is served with melted butter.
FENNEL Fennel doesn't usually clash noisily with wine, but it doesn't positively go with many wines either. It is better with white wines (but if the rest of the plate demands red, go with that) and Sauvignon is its closest ally. The new wave, moderately aromatic, medium-full, dry white blends from the south of France work well and, when fennel is braised in butter, the herby, savoury and delicately buttery character of Chardonnay from Saint-Véran is good.
OLIVES See Fruit, page 21.
SPINACH Fortunately spinach is not often the centrepiece of a dish, as it can bring out a bitter or metallic taste in wine, particularly in reds. Modestly priced Italian reds and New Zealand Pinot Noir cope quite well, but the best policy with spinach is often to stir in cream, butter or parmesan to soften its flavour; or, if you are serving white wine, to squeeze lemon juice over it and then choose a fresh, young, not too aggressive white.
TOMATOES See Fruit, page 21.
TRUFFLES Finding the perfect match for truffles, both black and white, is difficult (and depends what they are shaved over), but youth and vivid fruit are certainly the wrong route. There is an affinity with the Nebbiolo grape, but Barolo is often too heavy; Barbaresco is a better match. There is also a musky affinity with Viognier, but you need a rich, creamy risotto, plenty of truffle and a top quality oak-fermented Viognier with a couple of years' age for the combination to work. Mature red burgundy, Saint-Emilion, top-notch Merlot and Rioja can be good; oddly, so can mature oak-fermented Chardonnay. And the Champenois drink mature vintage champagne.
CHOCOLATE Death by chocolate is a common form of wine extermination. Chocolate is also one of the instances where an echoing flavour in a wine does not make an automatic marriage. Most of the wines which have a chocolatey flavour are dry, full-bodied reds, especially those made from Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Nebbiolo. Very occasionally you can get away with a lush, ripe California Cabernet or Merlot with a chocolate pudding, but it's a risky business. These are all the kind of wines, however, which go with savoury stews and casseroles enriched with a little dark chocolate (a feature of some Mexican, Spanish and Italian dishes).
The difficulty with sweet chocolate dishes is twofold: extreme sweetness and heavy, tastebud-smothering texture. Accompanying wines must be at least as sweet and they usually need to be full-bodied and high in alcohol, although the latter can vary according to the dish. There is a huge difference between the richest, densest dark chocolate truffle cakes and the lightest, frothiest mousses: Asti with a featherweight chocolate mousse is a triumph.
Muscat (the grape of Asti) is in fact the key with chocolate. While young, vigorous, top quality Sauternes will survive an encounter with many chocolate puddings (but not the heaviest) and ten-year-old tawny port will handle most of the heavier ones, there is a greater affinity with sweet Muscat. And, conveniently, there is a scale of sweetness/heaviness in Muscat wines which corresponds neatly to that of accompanying chocolate puddings, cakes and so on: Australian liqueur Muscats and Malaga are the heaviest and sweetest and so should be served with the very richest chocolate concoctions. Next clown the scale are Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, Muscat de Rivesaltes, other Muscat vins doux naturels from Languedoc-Roussillon and many Moscatels de Valencia (the latter do vary in sweetness, though). Then come California Orange Muscat (especially good when there is orange in with the chocolate) and California Black Muscat; then other unfortified Muscats; and finally Asti. (Note that Moscato spumante and Clairette de Die are usually insufficiently sweet to be able to stand up to most forms of chocolate, and Portuguese Setúbal and Moscatel de Setubal, though heavy, are not as sweet as other fortified Muscat-based wines and not usually sweet enough for chocolate either.)
ICE-CREAM The numbing effect of ice-cream is sufficient to wipe out the flavours of most sweet wines, but nothing wipes out Australian liqueur Muscat. It is best with chocolate, coffee, vanilla, rum and raisin, nut, praline, prune and ginger ice-creams and less good with fresh fruit based ones. Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise and the ultra-sweet Spanish PX sherry are second choices.
RUM The powerful flavour of rum-flavoured puddings -- babas, ice-cream, chocolate mousses- is best met by Muscat wines. Match the weight of the wine to the dish as usual (see Chocolate, above).
SWEET & SOUR SAUCE See China, page 136.
DAIRY & EGGS
CHEESE Matching cheese and wine is fraught with confrontations, but there are also many harmonious partnerships and a few heaven-made ones. See Cheese chapter, page 22.
EGGS Egg yolk coats the mouth in a very determined way. The crumbly dryness of completely hard-boiled yolk is difficult, but the texture of runny yolk is worse. Even so it is not an insuperable problem (although I wouldn't drink a precious bottle with eggs). What is needed is some kind of contrasting sauce or other main ingredient which the accompanying wine can latch on to, as in the classic Burgundian dish of Oeufs en Meurette (poached eggs in a red wine sauce), with which a Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains or other relatively modest red burgundy goes well. With most other egg dishes, particularly those involving cream, butter or cheese, white wines are better: in particular, not too oaky Chardonnays, Alsace Pinot Blancs and other medium- to full bodied Pinot Blancs (or Weissburgunders) that have a complementary echoing flavour. With the egg-based sauces hollandaise and mayonnaise, Chardonnay is usually the best bet, but Sauvignon Blanc is good with those which are markedly lemony. Soufflés and quiches should not be a problem either: again Chardonnay, including good burgundy, is usually a safe choice, although the ultimate decision will take account of other ingredients (cheese, onions, smoked salmon, bacon etc). Quail's eggs, with their finer texture, are delicious with blanc de blancs champagne.
MAYONNAISE See eggs.
YOGHURT Yoghurt is not a friend of wine, although cooked dishes with spicy yoghurty sauces are not impossible (see India, page 134). Dishes like Indian raita and Greek tzatziki are far more problematic, but, as they are seldom served alone, it is best to choose wines according to the other dishes and avoid sipping directly after a mouthful of the yoghurt dip or salad.
HERRING, KIPPERS, MACKEREL See Oily Fish, Smoked Fish and Vinegar.
OILY FISH Finding wines to serve with oily fish -- sardines, to a slightly lesser extent herrings, and above all mackerel -- is a question of making the best of a bad job. Unless you are drinking red Vinho Verde (in which case, commiserations) with sardines in Portugal, the wines have to be white, high in acid (to cut through the oil) and more neutral than fruity or flavoursome, because the fishy taste distorts the wine flavours. It is safer not even to consider New World wines. With mackerel the best bet is a Muscadet, or a Muscadet sur lie; Gros Plant provides an even sharper, more neutral (and cheaper) backdrop; and Gaillac (based on the acid Mauzac grape) and Mauzac vins de pays go with all three fish. Slightly softer options are Beaujolais Blanc, Soave Classico and other young Italian whites made from the ubiquitous Trebbiano (if there is no grape variety on the label the wine is likely to be Trebbiano-based). The rare Italian Timorasso grape, which is like a restrained and elegant Sauvignon, is particularly good with herrings. White Vinho Verde is good with oily fish, provided it is one of the bone dry, estate bottled wines and not one of the cheaper, sweetened ones. It is also worth bearing in mind that mustard helps counteract the oil in these fish, so, slashing a mackerel and filling the slashes with mustard, breadcrumbs and continental parsley before baking or barbecuing can expand the wine horizons.
SMOKED FISH The impact of smoked fish on wine varies enormously. Kippers really are best left for breakfast or a pungent Islay malt whisky, although fino and manzanilla sherries make acceptable partners. Smoked mackerel can be nearly as bad, although a light coating of cracked black peppercorns transforms it: fine quality Mosel and Saar Kabinett, dry Australian Riesling (Clare or Eden valley), bone dry Vinho Verde and aromatic Ribeiro from northeast Spain (but not the more aromatic Albariño) all go well. Smoked salmon is much more accommodating: champagne, especially vintage blanc de blancs is very good, as is Chablis (as expensive as you like), other white burgundies and high quality, lightly oaked New World Chardonnays; and some people swear by the more aromatic dry wines of Alsace. With the gentler flavour of smoked trout, stick with champagne or Chablis, or try a South African Sauvignon (they are usually less assertive than New Zealand's or the Loire's).
VINEGARS, PICKLES & SAUCES
CAPERS Even with top quality caper berries (larger and milder than capers), it is the vinegar, rather than the capers, which is the major force -- and assassin -- here, so see Vinegar.
SALSAS Whether red or green, Mexican-type hot chilli salsas are best with Sauvignon Blanc, but should you be matching the wine to the main ingredient instead? (See also Sauces, page 37.)
CHUTNEY Chutney is sweet, sharp and vicious. If you can't resist it, make sure you have palate-clearing bread, rice or other stodge, or cheese, pate or plenty of water to insert between wine and chutney and then choose wine according to the main items, not the chutney. (For the record, late-bottled vintage port and high quality German Kabinett of various grape varieties survive better than most wines.)
CRANBERRY SAUCE Cranberry sauce is less punishing than chutney, but it still has a concentrated sweet-sharp character that does no favours to any wine and kills many, including fine, mature red Bordeaux. Top quality German Riesling Kabinett and Spätlese are best able to handle it, but if these don't go with the meat, fall back on the fruity character of a full-bodied Australian Shiraz or Mourvèdre (Mataro) or a California Zinfandel or Mourvèdre -- and don't be too lavish with the sauce. (See also Riesling, page 35, and Sauces, page 36.)
MINT SAUCE See Herbs, Spices & Seasonings, page 20.
TARTARE SAUCE Sauvignon Blanc is best, but see Sauces, page 36.
VINEGAR, VINAIGRETTE & PICKLES Vinegar is a real danger zone for wine -- even young white wine -- and pickled anything is a problem. Acidity has to be matched to acidity and some sweetness is a help: German Riesling Kabinett is therefore usually more successful than bone dry Sauvignon Blanc, but, be warned, success is a relative word with pickled vegetables and fish (see Japan, page 140). With vinaigrette dressing you are on safer ground -- or at least you can be if you make it with plenty of oil (perhaps five parts oil to one of vinegar). Using one of the more mellow vinegars -- balsamic, sherry or Cabernet Sauvignon -- also helps a great deal, as does substituting wine (but with less oil) and especially if you want to drink red wine; this is a trick employed in the kitchens of top red wine producers. If you are drinking Chardonnay, walnut oil will pick out and echo its nutty character.
HERBS, SPICES & SEASONINGS
CHILLI Surprisingly, chilli doesn't actually alter the taste of wine, but it numbs tastebuds and even burns them, with the result that it deprives you of some of your tasting capability: it is therefore daft to waste fine or venerable old wine on a chilli-laden dish. There isn't a specific type of wine that goes with chilli, but it needs to be fairly expressive to hold iive word with pickled vegetables and fish (see Japan, page 140). With vinaigrette dressing you are on safer ground -- or at least you can be if you make it with plenty of oil (perhaps five parts oil to one of vinegar). Using one of the more mellow vinegars -- balsamic, sherry or Cabernet Sauvignon -- also helps a great deal, as does substituting wine (but with less oil) and especially if you want to drink red wine; this is a trick employed in the kitchens of top red wine producers. If you are drinking Chardonnay, walnut oil will pick out and echo its nutty character.
HERBS, SPICES & SEASONINGS
CHILLI Surprisingly, chilli doesn't actually alter the taste of wine, but it numbs tastebuds and even burns them, with the result that it deprives you of some of your tasting capability: it is therefore daft to waste fine or venerable old wine on a chilli-laden dish. There isn't a specific type of wine that goes with chilli, but it needs to be fairly expressive to hold its own. Chilled, young white wines have the advantage of seeming to cool and refresh the palate. At the same time, it makes sense not to overload chilli-assaulted tastebuds with an obstacle course of heavily tannic red wines. See also India and Thai cuisines, pages 134 and 138.
CURRY See Chilli (above), Spices (opposite page), India, page 134, and Thai, page 138.
GARLIC When incorporated in cooked dishes, garlic is no problem at all, but a lot of raw garlic in a dish rather bullies the tastebuds. It's not a major hitch, but something to remember if you are thinking of serving a great wine; it is also worth bearing in mind that the dry, herby whites and roses of the southern Rhêne, Provence and Languedoc suit it well.
GINGER Ginger is not the saboteur that you might expect from its hot, insistent flavour, but it does need aromatic wines to stand up to it. Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Grigio, Muscat, Sauvignon and Viognier are all possibilities, depending on the dish: see India, Thai and Chinese cuisines (pages 134, 136 and 138 respectively). With ginger-flavoured sweet dishes, the most successful wines are sweet Muscats (choose the type according to the weight of the pudding -- see Chocolate, page 17), botrytised Rieslings and botrytised New World Semillon.
HERBS Herbs are generally rather good news: they not only enhance food flavours but some enhance wine too. On their own the majority are more at home with white wines-rosemary and thyme are two important exceptions -- but you should rarely let the herbs alone influence the choice of wine. Note that sage can be rather domineering, so use it judiciously. See also Mint and Sorrel (below), and Thai food, page 138.
HORSERADISH Horseradish is hard on wine, sapping it of fruit and flavour. Unfortunately, the wine that stands up to it best, full-bodied Condrieu or California Viognier, does not go with beef (whether hot or cold) and is too powerful for smoked fish. If you cannot go without horseradish sauce, be generous with the cream and mean with the vinegar or lemon and try serving a Dolcetto or a Beaujolais cru with beef and a Chablis premier, or even grand, cru with smoked trout. Wasabi, Japanese green horseradish, is even more pungent and nose-tingling. When served with the raw fish dishes sashimi and sushi, try assertive Sauvignon from, say, New Zealand (and cross your fingers). See also Japan, page 140.
MINT & MINT SAUCE Mint is very happy with wine, including the Cabernet Sauvignons (especially Australian) in which there is a minty echo. But mint sauce and mint jelly, with their sugar and vinegar, ruin wine, especially red, and it is hard to temper them in any way.
MUSTARD Very hot, very vinegary and any rather sweet mustards should be treated with extreme caution, but Dijon mustard goes surprisingly well with both white and red wines and copes admirably with tannin. Whites need to be either round and full in the Chardonnay mould or have the concentrated acid-sweet balance of a good German Riesling (especially Mosel Kabinett). Reds should be medium- to full-bodied, and tannic if you wish, but spare very old and fragile wine. If you want to drink red wine with cold roast meat, where white might be better (see page 35), add mustard. It will cut through 'the cold fat and subdue tannin
SORREL The sharp lemony flavour of sorrel has to be matched by a wine with high acidity. The punchy Sauvignons of the Loire, New Zealand and Chile are ideal, as is Savennières, a bone dry Loire white made from Chenin.
SOY SAUCE The saltiness of soy sauce demands white wine with marked acidity and, optionally, some sweetness. Fortunately, that is also the profile for wines that suit the broad range of Chinese and Japanese dishes (see China, page 136, and Japan, page 140). Where something such as a steak is dressed with soy sauce, remember the possibility of a tannin-salt clash and choose a full-bodied, fruity red wine (see Salt, page 13).
SPICES Chilli is dealt with opposite and the blend of spices in Indian cooking is discussed on page 134. Generally, spices are not a problem for wines, whether in sweet or savoury dishes. Most have a preference for whites, and you find echoes of their flavours in grapes such as Gewürztraminer, Pinot Grigio, Muscat, Viognier, Grüner Veltliner and Furmint, but you should concentrate on matching wine to the main ingredients and to the final effect of the dish.
GRAPEFRUIT Try the tartest white wine you can find (Gros Plant, Pouilly-Fumé, bone dry Vinho Verde). Or abandon the grapefruit.
LEMON/LIME Australian Verdelho and Hungarian Furmint have affinities with lime and Riesling has an affinity with both lemon and lime, but in savoury dishes the priority is to match the acidity of the citrus fruits with that of the wine (see Acidity, page 12). With lemon and lime puddings, botrytised New World Rieslings work well, as do Semillons, including Sauternes, especially when cream is served or incorporated.
OLIVES The saltiness of neat olives, whether green, black or purple, is best met by fino and manzanilla sherries. In cooked dishes, such as rich daubes, simply go with the main ingredients, or, if the olive taste is pronounced, choose a full-bodied, fruity and preferably herby red (from Provence, for example). In salads, crisp, dry whites and rosés, suit olives well, but you have to take account of other ingredients.
ORANGE Orange, like other citrus fruits, needs its acidity matched, whether the dish is savoury or sweet. Quite a wide range of sweet wines suit orange puddings and cakes, but it is well worth seeking out the complementary flavour of an aptly named sweet orange Muscat from California or Australia. Failing that, other Muscat wines are good. Match the weight of the wine to that of the food as usual (see also Chocolate): for example, drink sparkling Asti with an orange jelly or orange fruit salad and a liqueur Muscat with a very rich, dark orange-flavoured chocolate mousse. With a dense but not too sweet orange and almond cake, the marmaladey flavour of Setúbal Moscatel from Portugal is good. Botrytised Sémillons, including the wines of Sauternes, Chenin Blancs from the Loire Valley and Bouviers from Austria all work well, too.
The sweetness and acidity of an orange sauce with savoury food doesn't do wine any favours. If you are in charge of the cooking and want to drink dry wine, whether red or white, you will need to exercise restraint with the orange (juice and zest) and go easy on the sugar. Alternatively, with the classic duck dish, you can serve a German Spätlese or Auslese (Riesling, Scheurebe or Rieslaner), depending on the sweetness and the region from which the wine comes (Pfalz wines taste bigger and sweeter than those from the Mosel). You can even serve more opulent sweet wines, such as those from Sauternes and Austria, but for some people that is overkill.
TOMATO Beware the acidity of tomato. Sauvignon Blanc is by far the best all-rounder and there is a usefully large field to choose from. Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne is a cheaper alternative. If you want a red wine, try an Italian Barbera or other young Italian reds (because of their tendency to astringency). The smoky intensity of sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil needs to be matched by equally intense white wines: the sweetness of a Spätlese Riesling from the Pfalz or the ripeness coupled with acidity of a New Zealand Chardonnay.
Copyright © Reed International Books Limited 1996
Text copyright © Joanna Simon 1996
Photography copyright © Reed International Books Limited 1996