Thursday 23 October 2014

When wine just isn't right...

I’ve made my feelings clear in the past about the notion of everyday wine. (“Everyday wine? You don’t get people selling everyday meat...”) I retain, in the face of  growing evidence, a notion that wine is somehow special, and not just a commodity. And so surely, if you have any modicum of respect for wine, there are some meals from which you should excuse its presence?

I suppose you could argue that last Friday’s was not, in fact, an everyday meal. That it was significantly below that benchmark. If fish fingers and baked beans was actually my everyday meal, I suspect I would be suffering the unwelcome largesse of one of Jamie Oliver’s training courses. No, this was not so much an everyday meal as a desperate meal, an end-of-week, last-minute, empty fridge meal. Unfortunately, Casa K appears to lack the “larder” of the Nigels and Nigellas of this world, whose kitchen cupboard doors seem to open into a neighbouring delicatessen.

And the issue is, when you’re reduced to such basic sustenance as fish fingers and baked beans, is it right to open a bottle of wine to go with it?

This is not like pairing wine with fresh cod. I suppose somewhere there may be gourmet fish fingers, or bâtonnets de poisson, no doubt, which do taste of cod and not of shredded paper. Similarly, there will be people out there who bake their own beans. But we are talking here about frozen fish fingers, and baked beanz from tinz. Would a glass of wine improve, or even numb, this sorry experience? 

Out of interest, I looked at the suggestions of Fiona Beckett, a very reliable recommender of both wine and restaurants, on, “the most comprehensive food and drink pairing resource on the web.” And her suggestion was… Krug. Yes, that’s the Champagne, Krug, the one which Tesco list, in what I assume is not an accounting error, for £129.99 a bottle, with an admonishment to “Bring out the oysters with this one.” Not, I note, the fish fingers. 

Not that I have got a bottle of Krug in my cellar; but even if I came up the stairs with an ‘ordinary’ bottle of Champagne, I don’t know what Mrs K would think. I can, however, imagine the scorn which would ensue when it emerged that this was my proposed accompaniment and, no, we had not won the lottery.

I don’t believe that a decent wine could possibly be enhanced by fish fingers, or for that matter baked beans, or particularly by the dollop of vinegary HP sauce which is a required accompaniment to the two. The food could only detract from the pleasure I might have got from the wine itself.

And there is surely even less point in heaping some rubbish wine upon my rubbish food, in a kind of dual assault on my palate. I’m sure that down there, in the three-for-£10 category, there will be a wine that can counter the blandness of the fingers and the sugariness of the beans, with the acidity to compete with the HP sauce. And perhaps after we’ve eaten, we could use the rest to remove Mrs K’s nail polish. 

No thanks. I decided to pair this meal with…water. 

I know, I know, I’ve seen it in a dozen old Italian restaurants; “A day without wine is a day without sunshine”, an aphorism which seems particularly fatuous after dark. I prefer the observation by Adam Gopnik that “A meal with water is a meal for prisoners”. Which seemed particularly appropriate for the basic rations last Friday here in Cell Block K.

But we all eat rubbish meals on occasion. Don’t tell me that at your place it’s always seared this and a tagine of that and Ottolenghi recipes as long as your loo-roll. And when you’re eating fish fingers, or baked beans, or pizza straight from its cardboard box, surely drinking wine with it is as ridiculous as laying the white table linen and silverware. Some of us don’t want wine to become a commodity, like salt or paper napkins, an unremarked accompaniment to each and every meal whatever it might be. And perhaps the solution to that is to forgo it once in a while, on those rare occasions when the food doesn’t actually deserve wine. 

Plus, you appreciate it more on the following night. Abstinence does make the heart grow fonder.



  1. The biggest problem to match a wine with fish fingers and baked beans is the fish and the tomato sauce. Tomatoes are notoriously hard to pair with wine, but Italian wines are a good place to go (as their cuisine has a lot of tomatoes [and fish for that matter] in it).

    If you would like a white wine then a Greco di Tufo or a Roero Arneis or perhaps a Pecorino will work. If you'd prefer a red, then a lighter red with not too much tannin will do, something like a Bardolino or Valpolicella, (Allegrini does a good Bardolino that isn't expensive, say in the 6-8 pound range IIRC).

    I'm afraid I can't recommend a 3 for 10 job as a) I'm currently in the Middle East, b) I wouldn't do that to myself anyway, life's too short for shoddy wine; c) bugger Tesco et al, their range is limiting and I swear it all tastes the same regardless of what you buy, and besides they're unmentionable *&^%$£" if you'll pardon the swearing.

    Good luck with finding the right match :)

    1. "The biggest problem to match a wine with fish fingers and baked beans is the fish and the tomato sauce." Well, yes...

      But let's not forget the HP sauce, "a sauce of manliness" as I see they now describe themselves, with ingredients ranging from malt vinegar and dates to tamarind.

      Pair that!

  2. Now you mention the HP sauce ;-p Right, challenge accepted- I'll stand by the Bardolino, fish fingers aren't _that_ fishy so you can get away with a red wine in this case. A bit left-field perhaps, but a fino sherry might work. It has a savoury-ness that may stand up to the sweetness of the tomato and HP sauce (and will definitely do well with the fish fingers). It might be a touch too dry though.

    HP sauce a sauce of manliness?! Good grief that's crass (it's bad enough with Yorkie bars). Gendered food. Urgh.

  3. A chenin blanc might work, as it seems to work with corned beef and cabbage. Otherwise, beer.


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