for fine wine
OK. Youíve got a special
bottle that youíve been saving for some time. You want to drink it
with a meal. But what do you cook? Or youíve come into some money
and you can actually afford to venture into the northern reaches of
the winelist at an upmarket restaurant (despite the punishing mark-ups
that mean for a wine on the list for £90 the restaurants profit will
usually be in excess of £60): what do you choose off the menu?
Choosing food to match with fine
wines is a challenge, whether it is at home or in a restaurant. Here
are some of my thoughts.
First, fine wines are usually
complex. Especially when they are aged. They donít shout about how
good they are, but whisper their glories. You have to make sure that
what you serve with them isnít going to overpower them, and
doesnít contain any flavours likely to clash. This rules out a good
deal of modern cooking. Chefs like to show their inventiveness
(sometimes forgetting that thereís a difference between novelty and
innovation), and are quite keen on combining strong pairings of
flavours, or using ingredients that clash with wine. Fusion cuisine,
for example, is not really for fine old wines.
I like modern cooking, but often
it calls for robust young wines that have the power of flavour to
equal strong flavours in food. For fine wines my preference is for
good quality, pure ingredients Ė such as a rare fillet steak, game,
or very fresh fish Ė simply prepared without any flashy
embellishment. It sounds boring to advocate it, but traditional French
cooking acts as a good backdrop for fine wine.
Hereís another potentially
controversial statement. Fine wine is sensitive to the environment it
is served in. If the conditions arenít right it suffers. Restaurants
that are noisy, smelly, overly dark or too warm donít work very
well. You need somewhere where a degree of quiet contemplation is
possible Ė just a little will do, but subtle, complex wines deserve
a bit of thought. This might sound overly fussy, but it really is a
waste of money if you are drinking wine in an environment where even a
hardened professional would have difficulty telling the difference
between a Montrachet and a Chilean Chardonnay. Such conditions do
Itís barmy how some people
serve fine Sauternes and other complex sweet wines with desserts. They
may be known as dessert wines, but unless the dessert is very well
mannered and preferably fruit based (e.g. fruit tart, tarte tatin),
then itís going to mask the subtleties and complexities of the sweet
wine. Serve complex sweet wines and decent Ports on their own.
Preferably, before everyone is solidly drunk.
As for the exact match between a
particular wine and a dish, I would be less worried. I think the food
needs to be wine friendly, but it doesnít have to be perfectly
aligned. Yes, the odd fantastic synergy does occur at times, but this
is rare and probably happens more by chance than careful planning.
Instead, itís good to concentrate on eliminating flavours that will
cause problems for wine appreciation, and then begin thinking about
possible alliances between the wine and food.
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