Friday, June 10, 2011

Wine transformed

I sometimes write about wine and food pairing, quite simply as I am fascinated by the subject. It's true that there is a lot of snobbery associated with this subject, and quite rightly so. Some of the old fashioned, traditional views just don't stack up, such as drinking red wine with fish, which can be perfectly acceptable given the right combination..... And thereby lies the secret.... the right combination.

There is no doubt that some of the old rules do still apply, and using them simply as a general guideline can sometimes help steer you towards finding new food and wine matches - it's just a matter of trial and error, and believe me there will be a lot of errors along the way!

Some combinations just don't work, and can clash very badly, but the most important thing to remember is that it is actually your perception of the wine that will be modified, and doesn't necessarily mean that the wine by itself is poor. I read only a day or so ago about a serious taster who assessed some wines at a tasting, marked them down as being pretty mediocre, but then had to amend his score when he enjoyed the very same wines with food - the wines had been transformed.

I can quote a very good example of my own from many years ago. I was lucky enough to be eating at the Restaurant Beaugraviere in Mondragon, near Orange at the southern end of the Rhone Valley. It's a restaurant that specialises in truffles, and in those days was not quite as expensive as it is now (the dining room, shown in my picture has also been upgraded quite a lot). We selected one of their speciality dishes of scrambled egg with truffle, and had pretty much given up on the idea of finding a suitable wine - eggs as we know are notoriously difficult to match. The sommelier however, suggested that we try an old white Chateauneuf-du-Pape (from my fading memory I think it might have been a Chateau Rayas Blanc 1983, but I could be wrong). When we were invited to sample the wine before serving, it came out of the bottle as a heavily coloured rather tired looking wine, that was seriously starting to lose it's fruit. We were not really impressed, but opted to persevere - and boy, what a transformation! With the eggs the wine was just sensational, which obviously explains why this experience has been etched into my memory.

Just to finish, I once had the very opposite experience with a beef dish, that I decided to enjoy with a good Red Burgundy. The beef was served with a jus, a reduction of the beef stock made with a drop of red wine, giving it a very strong umami flavour. In theory it should have worked - so why was I getting such a harsh, bitter, metallic sensation in my mouth? When I made a few enquiries I finally discovered that the pureed potatoes had been made with a touch of horseradish sauce! Once again my wine had been transformed, but this time not in a good way.

We live and learn.

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