I think the majority of us can imagine the scenario. You’re stood looking at the wine shelves in the Supermarket, our trolley filled with all the food we need for Saturday night three course extravaganza and you just don’t know what wine to pick. What goes with what food?
In most Supermarkets there are not usually people who can advise on these matters. We end up making choices based upon things we enjoy, things we know and feel familiar with, or things that are on the best offers. If you enjoy say Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc or Malbec from Argentina irrespective of what you’re cooking, you will enjoy that experience. I would always suggest that if you are planning a special meal, you might choose an independent wine shop as they will be more than happy to recommend something for you.
However. When you get the pairing just right you will see just how much the wine can enhance your meal and the meal can enhance your wine. Many years ago when I was living in Edinburgh I was lucky enough to meet an Austrian winemaker called Marcus Huber. He was hosting a wine dinner at an excellent Thai restaurant. One of the courses was Pad Thai he paired it with his aged Riesling. It was the first time I truly experienced how wine and food can take each component to a new level.
With that in mind we have put together some basic ideas of what you might want to consider when pairing wines and foods.
Beef – Beef comes in so many different cuts that picking wine depends entirely on what cut you pick as to which wine you choose. Most steaks for example lend themselves well to Malbec from Argentina. The rich, dense and powerful flavours stand up to the richness of the meat. Whilst fillet is the top cut, Ribeye with its marbled fat gives the meat a juicier flavour and I think its the perfect cut with Malbec.
Your Sunday roast beef has always had a traditional companion, the wines from Bordeaux. The blend of Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot with the other varietals used create a more subtle red wine but with hidden depths. It is with Bordeaux wines and red meat that science plays a part. One of the things that Bordeaux reds are known for is tannin. Tannin is found in grape skins and whilst integral to the structure and ageing potential of the wine can be quite dry for many people. Beef is rich in proteins. When you combine the two something noticeable happens. The proteins in the beef bind to the tannins in the wine and suddenly that dryness begins to dissipate. The fruit character of the wine comes to the fore and the secondary fruit flavours are more subtle and the tannin is suddenly much less intense.
Lamb – The key to pairing wines with lamb is to thing about the fat. Lamb is a naturally fatty meat and cuts like shoulder and leg need lots of long slow cooking, (I usually use this as an excuse to open the wine early..). Lamb likes rustic flavoured wines, and my default has always tended to be wines from Rioja. The intense rich fruits and heavy use of oak mean that it can cut through the fattiness of the lamb and let the fruit character of the wine burst on your palate and taste the complexity of the flavour of lamb.
Mince and cheaper cuts – If you imagine cooking a simple one pot stew or maybe using the slow cooker you can create some truly wonderful flavours. One of the classics to make is Shepherd’s Pie. Traditionally with minced lamb it is a wonderfully rich and simple meal that rewards good quality, fruit lead wines. Our Three Cocked Hat red wine is a great match for this. Brimming with bright cherry fruits and notes of red berries its the perfect pair to this classic meal.
There are lots of different game dishes but for the purposes of this section I am going to focus on two that are generally very more available. Venison and Duck.
Venison – It is one of the leanest cuts of meat that you can get and is packed with flavour. The haunch and the loin are two of the most readily available cuts and both can make a fantastic centrepiece for your meal. The haunch as incredible depth of flavour and usually demands something hearty. I would think about the Rhone Valley. I prefer wines from the lesser-known regions such as Gigondas, Rasteau or St Joseph. These wines are more Syrah dominant and as a result have a lovely, perfumed note on the nose but have a depth of flavour with plum, cassis and berry flavours.
The loin is a much more elegant cut. It again is packed with flavour and because its so lean is very good for you. I have cooked loin before using juniper berries and rosemary as it provides a lovely aromatic flavour to the meat. I find that Pinot Noir is a great match. I would however tend to pick a new world Pinot Noir from a country such as New Zealand or Chile. They have the elegance that we expect from Pinot Noir but are richer in flavour than European Pinot Noir.
Both chicken and beef are the most consumed meat in the UK. Chicken is becoming more popular due to it being easier to prepare and often cheaper. Chicken is also hugely versatile. Its often the classic roast on a Sunday or is widely used in dishes like stir fry, curry and kebabs.
When we cook a chicken on a Sunday the key is to keep it moist. Usually, butter helps maybe under the skin as it cooks. Choosing a herb such as thyme or rosemary can take it to a new level. Picking a wine for this classic dish is one of the easier matches. If you went European, I might choose something such as an Albarino from Galicia in Spain or maybe a Gavi from Italy. The clean, crisp and refreshing qualities of these wines and the acidity, (we will talk more about acidity in part 2) makes it bold enough to stand up to the flavours you are using. Our Chalk Hill white is a great match for chicken. It has the bright, lemony and citrus fruit flavours on the palate but has a lovely creaminess which lends itself really well to this Sunday favourite.
In the second part of this blog, we will talk about two of our nations favourites. Fish & Curry.