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Wine: perfect partnerships

25 July 2014
Wine: perfect partnerships

It's important to get the balance right when matching food with wine, says Roger Jones of the Harrow at Little Bedwyn

Getting the correct balance with food and wine matching is a huge asset to a business. But often there can be friction between a chef trying to highlight their food and a sommelier seeking to showcase their prized wine list.

I work with wineries all over the world, promoting a balance between highlighting great wines and matching them with food that will thrill but not overpower. What we are seeking is a perfect harmony. The ideal is a combination of food that helps the wine to shine, or wine that makes the food more seductive.

Getting too similar a taste in both cases does not enhance the experience; it tends to overpower it. For example, serving a peppery Barossa Valley Shiraz with steak au poivre is too much, as both the wine and steak become too spicy in the mouth.

Equally, when considering what to pair with spicy Asian or Indian dishes, it is important not to jump on the Gewürztraminer or Riesling bandwagon.

Good matching = more sales
Getting it right is far more important than one might imagine. Besides giving the consumer a better experience and a greater appreciation of what you are offering, it can also encourage more wine sales, especially by the glass.

It is also important and potentially lucrative to offer these in smaller measures - from 100ml. This allows the consumer to experiment more and affords the operator the change to charge more per measure.

An experiment we conducted with the New Zealand Winegrowers some years back involved taking 12 styles of wines, ranging from Riesling to Pinot Noir, and trying to record which wine we thought would best suit a traditional Indian meal, before actually trying them again with the food. The final results were very surprising, with Chardonnay the best match, whilst a beautiful aromatic GewÁ¼rztraminer and refreshing Riesling were both spoilt with the food, becoming over floral and over sweet. This showed that the oak of the Chardonnay could envelop the spices and complement the dish as well as shining in its own right. Though be warned - unoaked Chardonnay would not have worked in the same way.

Here are some other suggestions for less obvious but equally impressive food and wine matches…

Asparagus with wine
If you are going to use asparagus, either serve it raw, plain grilled with olive oil and salt, or plunged in boiling water for just 10 seconds - this way it will not give off a pungent aroma, which hits against most wines. Look for wine with great body, such as South African Chenin Blanc, especially with a touch of barrel age. This will allow the wine to shine as well as giving a lovely balance to the crisp, fresh asparagus.

Rosé Champagne It is amazing how mistakes can be made when matching rosé Champagne or English sparkling rosé. Ideally, these should be matched with meaty dishes such as lamb or turbot and not with desserts. These sparkling wines are full of fresh, bright flavours with a touch of fruity strawberry sweetness that needs succulent lamb or turbot to help the wine shine and not to become over sweet, which tends to happen when they're paired with puddings.

Getting it right with Riesling
Here we have matched a German Riesling with a tasting of Kelmscott pork, (using cheek, belly, fillet, black pudding and cured ham offset with delicate purées of rhubarb, carrot and pea) keeping the dish clean and precise. The precision of the German Riesling goes well with the deep intensity of the cheek and black pudding, while the minerality and sweet citrus flavours cut through the fatty pork belly.

Rieslings, especially the multi-layered wines of Germany, have great fruit character and go with a whole range of dishes. They are of course very diverse wines and their styles and often country of origin dictate the best match. Australian Rieslings with bone-dry minerality and lime freshness match Japanese and raw fish dishes, while off dry New Zealand Rieslings are better with terrines, and Alsace Rieslings - especially those with age - that exhibit toasty brioche characters tend to go well with foie gras and game dishes.

Spice matching
At the Harrow at Little Bedwyn we serve tempura lobster with Halen Môn spiced sea salt matched with a traditional Western Australian Chardonnay. The richness and creamy overtones of the Chardonnay are well balanced by the dry intense spices from the heavily (Indian) spiced sea salt. The Chardonnay also has some lovely bright stone fruit with fresh acidity, which goes well with the richness of the lobster, especially as it has been deep-fried, and gives a clean fresh mouth feel in the palate afterwards.

Pairing with Pinot Noir Matching food with Pinot Noir can cause problems as there are clearly defined styles to this wine. There is the bright, fresh berry-driven style with hints of perfume (feminine) and the elegant forest floor dark seductive fruit with mushroom and truffles style (masculine).

So in terms of food matching we need to look for more elegant fish-inspired dishes for feminine Pinots, such as turbot with cep cream, where the bright fruit will not challenge the earthy mushrooms. Meanwhile, a light game dish, such as venison roe with pomegranate, will be well balanced by the darker, more brooding masculine Pinot.

Wines with cheese
Cheese and wine offers a fascinating chance to experiment with a range of great matches. Here are some great examples of British cheeses matched with different wines. Why not offer a miniature flight of wines in 50ml measures?

Dorstone Goats Cheese - English sparkling wine
Finn Chablis
Tunworth White Rhone
Burwash Rose Alsace Riesling
Baronet White Burgundy such as Meursault
Hafod New World Chardonnay
Golden Cenarth White Bordeaux
Stinking Bishop Calvados
Barkham Blue Tawny port

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