“A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine” – so wrote Jean Brillat-Savarin, famous French epicure and gastronome and it is hard to disagree with that sentiment. Wine enhances any meal, not only with its capacity for social lubrication but it can also physically enhance the flavour of the food, just as food can enhance the flavours of a particular wine. But sadly, food and wine matching is surely one of the fields of human endeavour that has elicited the greatest amount of hogwash spouted by people who either don’t really know what they are doing, or who are so prescriptive and pompous as to make people think that matching food and wine is all a load of nonsense. In the end, a lot of people just throw their hands up and drink the one red and one white that they like, regardless of the food.
The problem, of course, is that we seldom get the opportunity to try two different wines with the same dish – but recently I attended an event that sought to eliminate this flawed bit of research. The event took place at Four to Eight, a relatively new Italian restaurant Soho and was hosted by Unearthed®, one of my favourite foodie companies in the UK whose mission is to keep discovering unusual, regional or artisanal foods and to share them with customers by adding them to the Unearthed range. The lovely and enthusiastic team at Unearthed® put together an evening of food and wine (mis)matching, which aimed both to showcase their products and to allow us to try two different wines with each dish to illustrate the difference between a good and a bad match.As any foodie knows, wine can play an integral role in the enjoyment of a meal, where the wine enhances the food and vice versa – but the reverse is often also true. Choose the wrong wine with your food and you may find it to be inexplicably acidic or even tasteless – so although it is true that you should drink what you like, choosing the right wine to match a dish will definitely provide a more satisfying experience.
But how much of your knowledge of food and wine matching is received wisdom, or information handed down from other people rather than based on any sort of personal experiments? “They say” you should always drink red wine with meat; or “they say” you should only drink port with cheese – who are “they” and how do you know you can trust their opinion? So the purpose of our evening with Unearthed was to conduct a few taste experiments of our own using both foods from the Unearthed range and from the Four to Eight menu. To guide us, we had the able assistance of the restaurant’s sommelier, Patrick Niddrie-Webb, who started off with some broad do’s and don’ts.
WINE MATCHING DOs
- Do match the wine to the dominant flavour of the food (e.g. a lemony Chardonnay with a lemon butter sole)
- Do match the weight of the wine to the richness of the dish (heavy wines work best with heavy dishes)
- Do pair acidic foods (e.g. tomatoes) with wines with a high acid content – for some reason the double dose of acidity mellows the overall flavours.
- Do pair sweet foods with wines that have a high sugar level (meaning that traditionally dry Champagne is actually not a great match for dessert)
- Do match food from a particular region with wine from the same region – they developed in parallel and should work well together.
WINE MATCHING DON’Ts
- Don’t pair full-bodied wines with delicate, light foods as the wine will overwhelm the flavours of the food.
- Don’t pair oily or salty foods with high tannin wines – the food will only serve to accentuate the tannins.
- Don’t pair hot or spicy foods with oaked, high alcohol or high tannin wines (the spice will accentuate the alcohol, tannin or oak flavours).
- Don’t pair fried foods with low-acid wines – crisp, acidic wines are needed to cut through the fattiness.
- Don’t forget to break the rules once in a while!
Basic guidelines out of the way, we got down to the serious business of trying various foods with two different wines to compare the success of the matches. First up was Unearthed® pimento olives with Gouda cheese and cumin (one of my favourite products!). The 2010 Selvanova Vignantica Aglianico was a delicious full-bodied red, but the tannins were strongly emphasised by the salty, oily olives. A far better match was the 2013 Marco Felluga Pinot Grigio with its crisp acidity providing the perfect foil for the olives. Next came a wonderful plate of charcuterie consisting of Unearthed® soppresata piccante; mini chorizo with manchego cheese; and Milanese salami. We first tried these with a 2010 Caroline Morey Saint Aubin les Combes Chardonnay from Burgundy (a gorgeous, well-balanced wine with notes of toast and tropical fruit). But after the spicy soppresata and chorizo, the oakiness of the wine overpowered all its other more subtle flavours. Far better in terms of a match was the 2012 Birgit Eichinger Gruner Veltliner from the Lamm region of Austria with it fabulous gold colour and litchi nose. Its good acidity served to freshen the palate between bites of the charcuterie board and it had no problem standing up to the robust, spicy flavours of the meat.
The next dish was a rather wonderful, fluffy Unearthed® Spanish omelette made with spinach, potatoes and free-range eggs. Eggs can be hard to match because of their unique texture and mouthfeel, and our first attempt was the 2010 Palari Rosso del Soprano from Sicily (a deliciously rich and full-bodied wine with a nose like wild honey and red berries). Although fabulous on its own, the wine completely dominated the delicate flavours of the food. A far better match was found in the 2013 Birichino Californian rosé which was subtle and fruity but with almost no tannins. The simplicity of the wine did not compete with the flavours of the food and the two worked very well together. One of my favourite Unearthed® lines, the ridiculously decadent goose rillettes, was deemed quite rich (!) and therefore our first attempted match was with a Spanish 2012 Bodega Vinessens El Scandalo Manastrell. Although the fattiness of the rillettes needed a fairly robust wine to match them, they also emphasised the peppery notes in the wine to an unpleasant degree. We had better luck with our second attempted match: a 2009 Domaine Jean-Marc & Thomas Bouley Volnay Clos de la Cave from Burgundy – a lighter wine packed with cherry flavours that did not compete with, but rather complemented, the food – proving once again that food and wine from the same region are usually a good match.
I have had a few arancini in my time, ranging from the satisfyingly cheesy to the disappointingly dry and stodgy – but the arancini that we had next from the Four to Eight menu were reassuringly on the cheesy end of the spectrum and truly fabulous, served with a piquillo pepper ketchup. The first potential wine match was a 2011 Domaine Montirious Vacqueyras Le Clos, a lovely spicy red full of dark berry flavours. Although it made for a deliciously smooth drinking wine, it lacked sufficient acidity to cut through the rather fatty, cheesy arancini. By contrast, the second wine was a 2012 Greywacke Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, packed with lovely fruit basket flavours, yet retaining enough acidity to cleanse the palate in between arancini. Next, we tried Unearthed’s garlic prawns and the chilli lemon prawns, served neatly on a skewer. We were given two wines to try with this: the 2012 Spanish Bodega Godeval Cepas Velhas was a lovely subtle white packed with delicate melon flavours and a good minerality, and it paired beautifully with the garlic prawns. The 2013 German Von Winning Riesling was probably my favourite wine of the night, with its gorgeous apricot and honey notes, and this lushness paired absolutely perfectly with the lemon and chilli prawns.
One of the new items in the Unearthed® range was served next: the lightly smoked semi-dried tomatoes. These little flavour bombs are lightly dehydrated and then smoked over oak chips in Sussex using traditional British smoking techniques. They were a revelation – retaining the lovely acidity of a fresh tomato, but with a subtle smoky flavour plus the yielding texture and intense flavour of a tomato that has been slow-roasted. We tried them with a 2012 Cloakilla Hilltops Shiraz from Australia, but its spices and dark fruit were masked by the smoke tomatoes, emphasising instead its alcohol and tannins. A far better match was found in the 2013 Grosset Riesling Alea from Australia, a peachy, citrusy wine with lovely notes of lime, where the natural fruity acidity of the wine paired well with the acidity of the tomatoes and enhanced the smokiness.
And just to soak up all that delicious wine, we also each got to choose a pasta dish off the Four to Eight menu. My neighbours tried the spaghetti with lamb heart ragu and the incredibly fluffy gnocchi with pumpkin Gorgonzola and crispy sage leaves (I am *so* going back to order this!). I chose the seafood tagliatelle – a lovely and relatively light dish, packed with the flavours of clams and garlic. And of course, you cannot visit an Italian restaurant without a sneaky glass of Prosecco… even more so when they are serving Nino Franco Rustico! It was with full bellies and fresh wine matching ideas that we made our way home later that night, ready to feast on our Unearthed goodie bags and experiment bravely with wine matches!
For another impression of the evening, please see Rosana’s blog. Unearthed products can be purchased from Waitrose or Ocado.
DISCLOSURE: I attended this event as a guest of Unearthed but received no further remuneration to write this post. I was not required to write a positive post and all opinions are my own.
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