The perfect food and wine match is illusive
Maybe I’m getting impatient or maybe I’m just too bored with wading through all the literature on the intricacies of matching food and wine — a minor portion of which, I confess, I have contributed over the years in several books and many articles. But I no longer give a damn about the wine’s colour as long as there is a bottle of it on the table at dinner.
I have given up fussing over which wine will go best with boeuf bourgogne (even if the answer is in the name) or with Caesar salad (Sauvignon Blanc) or with gravad lax (iced vodka is amazing).
I have decided to take a leaf out of the Italian songbook and drink red with everything. Well, almost everything. I recall a visit to Château de Fargues in Sauternes a few years ago where they served their sweet wine at lunch with oysters! (Not as heretical as you might think.) And even further back, in the early 1980s when I was a neophyte wine writer still wet behind the palate, I visited Serego Aligheri in Veneto. My host, Count Pieralvise di Serego Aligheri poured a glass of his Amarone in his living room and then passed around a bowl of After Eight chocolate mints.
I thought it was a test and that if I knew anything about wine I was meant to refuse it. But he insisted. And yes, his 15.5% alcohol Amarone went shoulder to shoulder with the chocolate mint with no ill effects to either party.
But back to my nightly dining preferences. It’s not that I don’t like white wine but — with apologies to Montrachet and Pouilly-Fumé — I have always thought of white wine as foreplay and red as the main event. Maybe I’m addicted to tannin.
For the past forty years or so, the license plate on my car has been CLARET — what the British call red Bordeaux, a wine I was brought up on in England when I first discovered the glories of the fermented grape. But sadly, I have had to retire it as I have just bought a hybrid car and you can’t, it seems, get a vanity plate in green yet.
The Italians, although they produce some great white wines from Friuli to Sicily, are basically red wine drinkers, as I mentioned — even serving it with grilled fish. In 1989, my American wine writer colleagues, David Rosengarten and Joshua Wesson — who sound like a law firm — co-authored a book that challenged our preconceived notions about wine prohibitions. The title said it all: Red Wine with Fish.
Rosengarten and Wesson argued that it wasn’t the colour of the wine that mattered when it came to matching with fish but the amount of acidity in the wine — that cool climate red wines like Burgundy and Valpolicella had enough acidity to cut through the oiliness of fish, especially when served chilled to accentuate the perception of the acid.
In the final analysis there is one wine that goes perfectly with everything, from soup to nuts or just by itself; if I were to win the lottery I would stock it by the case. And that is Champagne: Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs and blends. Preferably in magnums.
I once asked Alain de Vogüé, the former Chairman of Veuve Clicquot-Ponardin, when was the best time to drink Champagne. His reply: “Before, during and after.”
The final word on the subject I leave to the British thriller writer, Gavin Lyall, who had this advice on serving wine in a bed-sitter: “Always match the drinks to the colour of the carpet.”