Thursday 3 December 2015

Why pairing's a prickly subject

I do get a bit fed up with all this food and wine pairing business, suggesting dishes I could never cook, or which were last served in Downton Abbey. And it reaches a frenzy around this time of year. What goes with turkey? What goes with turkey and  cranberry sauce? And stuffing? And parmesan sprouts? And penury?

What of the comment by one wine writer this Christmas, that Kanonkop Kadette 2013 “likes to be drunk with spice-rubbed lamb.” Oh does it, indeed? Heaven forbid I might serve it with something else, and upset the wine

In the States, they have now run out of sensible foodstuffs for their legions of wine writers to write pairing articles about. As a consequence,  they have reached the absurd level of proposing wines to pair with sweets. It beggars belief that anyone old enough to drink wine would be childish enough to go around “trick or treating” for “Halloween candy”, but there we are. Out of interest, they suggest a Twix is best suited to either a bold red, or a dessert wine, which sounds like really covering your options. And next time you want to open a fine bottle of claret, you might like to know that they suggest pairing cabernet sauvignon with M&Ms.

But all of these start from the premise that the important thing is to match wine to food. Surely there are other issues which are just important in matching wine to a particular gathering?

Take, for example, the décor. Surely a wine has to pair with the table on which it will sit? Think, for example, of a dinner table like my father-in-law’s, with its mahogany polished like a mirror, and candlelight flickering in the crystal glasses. To stand in those silver bottle coasters, a wine needs drypoint images on the label, and serif typefaces. Heaven forfend a screwcap. And as for one of those colourful modern labels? Well, why not just have done with it, forgo the silver cellars, and put the Saxa salt drum on the table?

Although of course, there may be circumstances in which a dose of such loud garishness may be just the thing to pair with your evening. Perhaps you have a bunch of students coming round? Or Timmy Mallett

Yes, do consider the personality of the guests. There may be some people who are immensely entertained by “humorous” wine labels, and whose merry laughter compensates for the taste of shoddy wine. However, such people are not in my own social circle, and the sound I imagine hearing is of choking rather than chuckling. Such wines do not match with my guests, or indeed me, and I must stress that, however well it might go with the food, I would not be remotely amused by anyone bringing to my house a bottle of Old Git.

Consider also the nationality of one’s companions. Mrs K and I recently went to an excellent dinner party with a French host. It seemed to me that it would be vulgar to take a French wine. Shouldn’t you suggest that someone knows more about their own, indigenous product than you possibly can? As, in fact, it turned out.

Of course, no matter how well it paired with the food, the height of rudeness would presumably have been to take a French host a New World wine. Our own French host served his own French wine, and tactfully explained that, sadly, he was given a headache by any wines from places which began and ended with the letter A – Australia, Argentina, America…

But if you are matching wines to events, there are some occasions when a New World wine is absolutely correct. For instance, it is surely not done to pair Old World wines with a barbeque. The Old World is still thrilling to its invention of the indoor oven. Outdoor cooking events pair well with wines from the New World, where such occasions are enjoyed, as presumably they are still short of indoor cooking facilities.

Perhaps we have put the cart before the horse on this one. If we are serious about good wines for special occasions, then surely the wine is more important than the course it accompanies? Let’s face it, it may well cost more. So why don’t we choose our wine first, to match all the characteristics of the occasion, and then choose a food which shows it off at its best?

And no, I don’t need a wine pairing for cheval.


Don't miss our feature in the new issue of Decanter magazine (January 2016): The Perils of a Wine-lover's Christmas

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't agree more. At the risk of offending my Sicilian wife, I have stocked up on Barolo and Barbaresco for Christmas. Now I need to decide what to serve to show it off to its best. Trying not to offend the wine's sensibilities would be going a bit far, admittedly, but there's no doubt that the star of the show is likely to be emerging from the bottle rather than my oven...


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.