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We all love a good dinner party: convivial company, several delicious food courses and of course, the wine. But when thinking about what food to serve up and what wine to go with it, are there really rules that must be obeyed? Is it a social faux pas to serve oysters with anything other than blanc de blancs champagne or premier cru Chablis? Must the roast lamb be paired with a good Pauillac or St-Julien? And is serving the stilton with anything other than Vintage Port likely to cause quiet outrage amongst your guests?

Well, not according to Tim Hanni MW, who has recently dismissed the concept of food and wine pairing as ‘bullshit’. Speaking at the International Sauvignon Blanc celebration in Marlborough at the end of January, Hanni said “A perfect wine pairing doesn’t exist. We’re doing a lot of damage the way we’re matching wine and categorising it. We need to start a campaign to stop wine and food pairing as we’ve created a lot of bullshit around the idea… We need to celebrate the diversity of consumers, not make them feel stupid. You can serve Sauvignon Blanc with steak – why not?”

When Hanni’s comments were reported in an article in The Drinks Business, they unsurprisingly provoked many responses and much debate on the subject. Another Master of Wine, David Bird, agreed with Hanni’s comments, stating ‘it’s all about personal taste. I am doing some lectures for a sommeliers’ association and they spend hours on this subject, as if there is only one possible right combination. They were shocked when I told them I drink Sancerre with roast lamb! It’s perfect!’

Some of those responding to Hanni’s comments disagreed, whilst others agreed to a certain extent, but to me, the sensible standpoint seems to be that whilst tastes are, of course, subjective, and there may be some people who like nothing better than to wash down their fish and chips with a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, there do exist some food and wine combinations that are generally found to complement one another well and make the experience of both the food and the wine more enjoyable. There are undoubtedly also combinations that are less successful. Whilst I wouldn’t object at all to quaffing a Sancerre with my roast lamb, I’d personally try to finish my glass (or two) before making a start on my sticky toffee pudding dessert.

So whilst I don’t believe there are any hard and fast rules that always need to be adhered to or that there is only one possible perfect wine match for any dish, there is certainly some advice that can be followed to help you find wines and foods that have a good chance of complementing each other on the palates of the majority of your dinner party guests.

As a starting point, the website ‘Wine Folly’ provides these 9 handy tips:

  1. The wine should be more acidic than the food.
  2. The wine should be sweeter than the food.
  3. The wine should have the same flavour intensity as the food.
  4. Red wines pair best with bold flavoured meats (e.g. red meat).
  5. White wines pair best with light-intensity meats (e.g. fish or chicken).
  6. Bitter wines (e.g. red wines) are best balanced with fat.
  7. It is better to match the wine with the sauce than with the meat.
  8. More often than not, White, Sparkling and Rosé wines create contrasting pairings.
  9. More often than not, Red wines will create congruent pairings.

There’s clearly a lot to think about in terms of trying to create successful pairings but I do agree with Tim Hanni that we shouldn’t be too prescriptive or get too bogged down in searching for the perfect match. A lot of fun can be had in creating interesting food and wine combinations which hopefully enhance the experience of consuming both, but one person’s ‘match made in heaven’ isn’t necessarily another’s.

Puligny-Montrachet and Beef and Tomato Pot Noodle, anyone?

See you tomorrow,

Brigitte. x

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