Wine with Food & Underrated Grapes, too

By / Magazine / December 29th, 2010 / 1

Do some wines really taste better with food?

The only thing worse than some self-proclaimed wine geek (and real wine geeks are the only ones who refer to themselves as that) suggesting your bottle of vino “needs food” is when… they’re right. Now, even though a meal match isn’t a promise that comes with every bottle, many old school styles of grape-based liquids are what they are because they work well with particular solids.

Over in Europe (where the history of booze began around the time the Earth was cooling) winemaking evolved in harmony with regional cuisine and vice versa. Heck, over there, a few centuries ago, it was safer to drink liquor than water when you put on the old feedbag. While I’ve no problem plunking myself down in front of the TV with a glass of Spanish, Italian, French or Portuguese wine — I admit, most come across more balanced and accessible when married to some good grub. (Preferably a dish of something that has roots planted close to where the grapes grew up.)

As true as that is, I’m fully aware that many of you are too busy updating your Facebook accounts and twittering (follow me @TheRealWineGuy) to cook a decent meal, which is why on-their-own, palate-pounding wines full of more alcohol than a boatload of pirates have become so popular. You’d better get your culinary groove on though; the trend in wine this decade (led by Argentina) is definitely food-friendly.

What do you think are the most underrated grape varietals?

It’s not that easy being a grape. Sure, when it comes to love ’em and leave ’em tipples, beer and those sugary ready-to-drink alcopops see a lot more turnover, but when a berry falls out of favour it’s a long, long climb back into the mouths of the ever-fickle public.

For a grape it can be crushing, especially when you realize that none are immune to a lack of consumer respect. Chardonnay and Merlot have been under siege for a while now. Chard the focus of a just plain nasty grassroots campaign called ABC (as in Anything But Chardonnay) led by people who obviously live in their parents’ basements; while six years on, Merlot’s thin skin is still stinging from that hater hissy fit Paul Giamatti had at its expense early on in the flick Sideways.

That said; big gun grapes like that can survive without my help. It’s the small, lesser-known fruit that could use the support.

In whites I say Riesling needs your love. While it may squeeze out some pretty highfalutin liquid in Germany, it’s still acres away being the major player it was in the ’70s and early ’80s. And what’s not to like? Depending on where it’s grown it can pour dry, medium or sweet; plus it’s a good mate for just about anything you can slop on a plate. The typically dry to off-dry Chenin Blanc is another “so last century” white. Though its ground zero may be France and South Africa, the grape oozes some unique juice if people would only get their head out of a glass of Sauvignon Blanc long enough and give it a taste.

On the red side the ever-versatile Gamay rules the kingdom of the ignored. Is it Beaujolais Nouveau’s fault? Maybe. I’m of the opinion that its delicate berry fruit got steamrolled by the new world of better, stronger, faster reds. And while Argentinian Malbec is today’s flavour of the month, Bonarda — its softer, fruitier South American sister — grows quietly in its shadow. It’s as red meat ready as Malbec, folks! What are you waiting for?


Fresh, funny and down-to-earth, Peter Rockwell is the everyman's wine writer. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia he's worked in the liquor industry for over 30 years and has written about wine, spirits & beer since graduating from the School of Journalism at the University of King's College in 1986. His reviews and feature articles have been published in Tidings, Vines, Occasions, Where and on to name a few; he has been a weekly on-air wine feature columnist for both CBC-TV and Global Television and his wine column 'Liquid Assets' appeared weekly in two of Nova Scotia's daily newspapers, 'The Halifax Daily News' and 'The Cape Breton Post.' Today Peter's irreverent answer man column 'Bon Vivant' appears each month in Tidings Magazine and his weekly 'Liquid Assets' column is published across Canada in editions of the METRO newspaper. When not drinking at home, and at work, Peter travels the globe looking for something to fill his glass and put into words.

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