Wine and food matching nonsense

Like most people who think themselves humorous, I have a very low tolerance for other people making jokes. I commented in an earlier post about the silly suggestions about wine matching on the Oddbins website. I said they sounded like the idea had come from a by a gang of facetious students. On reflection I can see that I was wrong. I now see that they’re satirising the modern fetish for over-specific wine and food pairing suggestions. Is it anymore ridiculous to suggest matching a wine with music by Bob Marley than ‘barely-seared albacore with green zebra tomato salsa’?

This ‘absurdly specific’ recommendation was noted by Eric Asimov in his thoughtful book, How to Love Wine. It comes from Wine & Spirit magazine and the suggested wine is a Swanson Pinot Grigio 2008 from California. The 07 won’t do as it is best served alongside grilled unagi (whatever that might be.)

The old buffers at the Sediment blog have a similar experience in their Wining & Dining ebook:

“I once encountered a wine whose producer ‘recommends drinking with braised pork belly with seared scallops and a white bean mousse’ – an unbelievable proposal, not unlike a car manufacturer saying, ‘the maker recommends this car for driving along the A406, turning left on to the Finchley Road.'”

Wine and food matching is all the rage in the wine world at the moment. I put it down to the growing influence of sommeliers. They have a vested interest in making the business of putting wine and food together as complicated as possible. If it was simple, they’d be out of a job. Nowadays wine writers don’t only try wines but attend dinners put together by chefs and sommeliers where dishes are ‘paired’ with specific wines. This leads to a whole new level of embarrassment for amateurs like me as not only are you expected to comment on the wines but also how they go with the food.  This happened recently at a recent dinner where I was on a table with expert Lucy Bridgers – she leant over and asked me just this. I didn’t know what to say, I liked the food, I liked the wine, and they seemed happy if not ecstatic together. Rather like my parents.

There are of course some classic matches, port and stilton, bloody meat with tannic reds, albariño and clams, but the problem with many recommendations is that they are really only of interest to sommeliers and experts such as Lucy Bridgers. We should not forget that food and wine matching is a very recent thing. Enthusiasts of yore would have paid no attention to our rule of dry wines with main courses and sweet wines with pudding. The truth is that most dry wines will go with most savoury dishes and the old rule about white wine with fish and red with meat isn’t such a bad one. This is especially good advice when eating out because everyone will order differently so forget matching just order a delicious bottle of red and one of white and I bet you’ll be happy. A heavier Beaujolais cru and a decent Macon will cover almost any eventuality, you are as unlikely to get a major clash as you are to score a sauternes and Roquefort style perfect match. If you’re eating on the continent, life is simple as you can just order the local wine and it’ll probably work.

Look, I’m not a total anachronist.  I don’t want to go back to sack with everything. I’m glad that someone worked out that Burgundy goes with game birds. And it’s nice that at this very moment there are sommeliers in Brooklyn working out the right wine to go with octopus vol au vents. I’m just saying please don’t make wine any more complicated that it is already. I’ll leave the last word to Mr Asimov:

“. . . just as with tasting notes, overly specific instructions for matching wines and foods are mystifying and intimating for novices and useless for experienced drinker.”

I should add that the Sediment ebook is well worth reading and only costs £1.99 from your friendly local online retailer. It goes particularly well with a 2005 Bandol from Pradeaux served with my aunt’s Armenian lamb stew. 

About Henry

I’m a drinks writer. My day job is features editor at the Master of Malt blog. I also contribute to BBC Good Food, the Spectator and others. You can read some of my work here. I’ve done a bit of radio, given some talks and written a couple of books (Empire of Booze, The Home Bar and the forthcoming Cocktail Dictionary).
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13 Responses to Wine and food matching nonsense

  1. John Melhuish says:

    If I were to recommend listening to the aforementioned Bob Marley whilst driving a red convertible, on a warm summer’s evening on the road to St Ives, would you be daft enough to think that was the ONLY way to listen to Bob Marley?
    Most specific pairings are surely only examples of what is possible and some are tongue-in-cheek (and why not!)
    Tongue in cheek goes particularly well with cold turkey!

  2. Happy new year Henry! I’m very much with John Melhuish here. It’s all about the spirit in which the reco is taken. Have always loathed the term “pairing” as it sounds so mimsy and prescriptive. But if someone is going to suggest an utterly delicious recipe to try with a wine then I might just let them do my thinking for me and feel inspired to cook. It just adds layers of possibility & atmosphere. Nothing is more reductive, flat or joyless than the phrase, “Good with fish or chicken.” Have never understand why wine people get so uptight about food + wine chat, that’s all it is. Chat. Not rules.

  3. theframeblog says:

    Too specific pairings are mad & irritating (a nice pinot noir is brilliant with roast chicken) – they’re only helpful when you have tricky things like Chinese food, and need to know about gewurtztraminer, &c….

  4. says:

    “old buffers”? “old buffers”??? Pah!

    Mind you, “sack with everything” does sound rather appealing…

  5. Henry says:

    Thanks for the comments Victoria and Mr Melhuish. Happy 2013. As an anecdotal blog post, I probably didn’t make my point very well. I agree with you about ‘goes well with fish.’ Blandly general suggestions are as unhelpful as overly specific ones. My point is that worrying about the perfect ‘match’ can make you enjoy both the food and the wine less.

  6. Sally says:

    ‘…and they seemed happy if not ecstatic together. Rather like my parents.’ Priceless. Good common sense here….and yes, unless you are at a wine dinner where each course is matched with a different wine, most people will order a bottle of white and a bottle of red. Good to know the classic matches but otherwise it can make people stressy. Happy New Year Henry.

  7. Jonathan L says:

    I need a wine pairing for vegan food and an irrationally young date.

  8. Henry says:

    My recommendation would be an older date, a bloody steak and a nice bottle of Taurasi.

  9. Henry says:

    Here’s a funny video of a French chef cheerfully ignoring his sommelier and insisting that Bordeaux goes with everything

  10. Pingback: Wine and Food Pairing Made Easy | Enjoy Food

  11. Pingback: We are all Hilary Mantel | Henry's World of Booze

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