Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Buy Smarter and Drink Better Wines

The main thing to think about when choosing a bottle of wine is whether it's going to be drunk on its own or with food. Imbibing without eating broadens the choice though fruitier red wines low in tannin and dry white wines not searingly high in acidity are more pleasingly drinkable on their own than other styles. New World wines often fall into these categories as they are usually made from riper grapes than those from the Old World. And some sweet, vanillary, American oak makes them even more appealing as drinks in their own right.

At the end of the day though most wines, especially European unless very low in alcohol, are improved by food; and much food, unless inordinately spicy, is improved by wine.

It's important to aim at a balance in relative 'weight' in wine and food as a big, alcoholic, super ripe Australian shiraz can all too easily swamp a delicate rabbit dish and a light, fruity Beaujolais will be overwhelmed by a gamey venison stew.
Balancing tannins in red wines and acidity in white wines is crucial too; tannic reds become rounder and richer when paired with roast red meat and acidic, neutral whites become more mineral and interesting with shellfish. In fact, the colour of the wine is often less important than its structure so that a red low in tannin but fresh in acidity (like many a Pinot Noir) can happily partner fish like salmon or tuna and a full white with moderate acidity but plenty of flavour (like a white Rhône) can partner roast pork or veal.
Tannic reds also help make a rich stew or fatty meat like lamb more palatable and acidic whites are good with salty, hard cheese.
Sometimes flavours echo each other in wine and food so a mature red Burgundy which has developed earthy, gamey flavours will go well with well-hung game birds and young Sauternes positively reeks of crème brûlée.
So, when reaching for that bottle in the rack, or choosing something off a wine list, think about the food it's going with. In European wine-producing countries most wine is made with food in mind and, if not, at least as a prelude to food or to sip afterwards. Sometimes it makes sense to think local so good combinations include sauvignon with goat's cheese (as in Sancerre and the locally made Crottin de Chavignol), dry mineral whites with shellfish (such as Muscadet and locally harvested oysters), roast lamb and claret (as in salt meadow lamb and Pauillac, or baby lamb and Rioja), white truffle risotto and Barolo, spag bol and Lambrusco, Munster cheese and Gewürztraminer, olives and Manzanilla, taramasalata and Retsina, Bouillabaisse and Provence rosé, coq au vin and red Burgundy, and so on.
But whatever you do don't eat salted peanuts or flavoured crisps with any wine and if faced with something very salty, or fishy, or sour and strongly flavoured, or all of these, try Fino Sherry, the world's most underrated, versatile, value wine, great on its own but miles better with food.


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