Food and wine are natural companions and have been so throughout history. However it is the French we have to thank for elevating both the preparation of food and the making of wine into an art form. Beautiful dishes and fine wine are among the hallmarks of civilization. It is always pleasant to try them out and blissful when the combination of food wine and company is in perfect harmony. The matching and pairing of food and wine is always a challenge. As a start let me define four potential approaches. The aim should be to complement the finest cooking with the finest wine. Secondly when faced with cuisine of the highest order rich yet delicate and complex yet subtle you might decide to choose relatively straightforward wines as a respectfully muted complementto the food. Thirdly and conversely when faced with an array of magnificent and perhaps rare wines it might be better for the food to be lowkeyed and unobtrusive.
Finally you could abandon all rules and just eat and drink copiously. This last approach should be ruled out of course. Although it is occasionally good to be hungry it is not sensible to drink to excess too much alcohol and consequent acidity is bad for you your head and your liver. Speaking personally my approach differs according to circumstance.
At home when I plan to serve a range of really interesting wines especially some old and rare ones the meal is planned so that the food will accompany but not distract or detract from the wines. These must be the main focus of attention so in relation to the wine the food should be like a muted piano accompaniment to a lieder singer. If on the other hand I am in some temple of gastronomy the roles are reversed. Here the central pleasure is the level of cooking. This can be as rare as the rarest wine and thus requires concentration to fully savour its delicacy and delight. Therefore the wine should be appropriately lowkeyed good enough to do justice to the meal but not dominant enough to steal the limelight.
Wine selection and approachNo matter what the price range certain basic principles should be followed when selecting wine to proceed accompany and follow a meal. The wines should not only be appropriate for the occasion the menu and for the guests they should not step on each others toes. In other words they should progress in the same logical way as Rhone an Hermitage blanc or the rarer and more expensive Condrieu and Chateau Grillet. I find the last varies in style from vintage to vintage.
With soup it all depends on personal taste. With fish soup a dry fino sherry is excellent with meatier soup amontillado sherry or dryish madeira; but no soup goes with white wine. With all meat or game pates red wine is best. The richer and more countrified the pate the heavier the wine. A hefty terrine can be accompanied by a Cote Rhone for instance though not if more delicate reds are to follow. The only exception is the smoothest creamiest richest path de foie gras for which the perfect accompanimcnt is Sauternes preferably of a lighter vintage. This however makes the next wine difficult to plan.
Asparagus artichokes and avocados in whatever guise are extremely difficult to match with wine. Do not sacrifice a fine white Burgundy but if you must drink wine with them choose a flavoury and somewhat acidic wine. I discovered only recently that a dryish sherry with a good flavour such as La Ina goes well with asparagus
Chicken poulty and vealLighter poultry dishes and veal go well with almost any dry to medium dry white wine or a light red. My specific choices would be a white Burgundy white Rhone an Alsace Rieslingor a Gewuztraminer though the unusual lightly spicy style of the latter is an acquired taste. If you favour the exotic try an Alsace Muscat it has a grapy aroma and flavour but is often surprisingly dry. Foremost among the light reds is a youngish not too grand claret such as a 1976 Chateau de Sales. A good quality Beaujolais Villages would also fill the bill though too many I fear are pale pink and a trifle tinny. If you are looking for originality trya Loire red a Chinon or Bourgueil though unless the vintage is a good one these can be very tart.
Here the greatest range of wines particularly fine wines come into their own the combinations being almost limitim. If you decide to play safe claret the English term for red Bordeaux is the most versatile. Fine claret is the perfect accompaniment for many reasons: it has variety subtlety is hearteningly renble in quality and above all possesses the perfect weight and balance to accompany food. For me the perfect accompaniment for a fine claret is a lightly grilled very pink lamb cutlet.
The richer the sauces and the heavier the meat the bigger the wine. With beef select one of the bigger Bordeaux vintages or a good Burgundy from the Cbte de Beaune or Cote de Nuits. Burgundy is easy to drink but hard to choose. At the lower end of the price scale the softer slightly sweeter often smoother style can be immediately agreeable. However a true Burgundy a fine wine with purepinot grape character and style is completely different. Romanee Conti and La Tache are among the best particularly when fully mature. The best of the older vintages are 1952 1953 1955 1959 1962 and 1966. Of the more recent vintages the 1971 and 1972 are good the 1976 hard and the 1978 excellent but still too young.
Other good red Burgundies include the domaines of ClairDau DrouhinLaroze the Nuits St Georges of Henri Gouges the Chambertins of Rousseau (but avoid the 1977s) the Domaine Dujac and perhaps the greatest the Musigny and Bonnes Mares of de Vogue. Of the shippers and merchants I personally recommend Joseph Drouhin Louis Latour Jadot and the domaines owned by Bouchard Perre. Really rich and heavy meat dishes such as oxtail and heavier game can be accompanied by big rich Burgundies but above all by fine classic Rhone wines. The reds of the Rhone tend to be taken for granted and even the finest are not overpriced. It is strangely difficult to find a really good ChateauneufduPape; the best I have ever come across has been from the estate of Chateau Rayas. The outstanding shipper of Hermitage and Cote Rotie is Paul Jaboulet Aine. It is difficult to obtain old vintages but they are worth looking out for.
Sweets and puddingsThis is the most difficult of all food and wine relationships. With tarts flans and sweet dishes the French tend to serve Champagne. It certainly freshens the palate but I personally think it spoils the Champagne. If you really want a fizzy wine try an ice cold Asti Spumante. Its grapiness semisweetness and sparkling uplift can provide a surprisingly attractive match. The most common choice is not unnaturally a Sauternes. The sweetness of the wine offsets the sugar element of the food but the result is that the desserts sweetness tends to dominate turning a lovely rich wine into something which then appears dry and rather acidic. Oddly enough meringues tend to go well with these sweet wines. Ano
In my opinion the great German sweet wines should be drunk on their own as should Sauternes. Instead try pairing off the dessert with Tokay AszuEscencia or Coteaux du Layon.
CheesesIn theory port goes with Stilton and red wine with all other cheeses. In practice however the richer riper and runnier French cheeses will overpower many red wines and totally destroy the finest Burgundy. Claret and Burgundy are well suited to the more austere English cheeses the most perfect combination being a fun mature farmhouse cheddar with a fairly robust but fine claret such as a Montrose 1970. With Brie and Camembert I prefer a tougher young Rhone wine such as a 1979 Cote Rotie. just occasionally a really ripe brie and an overripe old claret go well together. A great white Burgundy suits a ripe Camembert while as an alternative to port try a lateharvest Zinfandel from the Napa Valley. The final problem is whether to serve the cheese before or after the dessert. If you intend to serve a dessert wine have the cheese and red wine first. If you are serving
Dessert winesOld tawny port and nuts brazils and cob nuts make a perfect combination. Genuine old tawnies once undervalued and underpriced are now coming into their own. These are either described as old tawny or 10 and 20yearold. One of the finest but difficult to find is Sandemans 20yearold. Delaforce.
The aperitifIt is common knowledge that hard liquor dulls both palate and brain. If the airn is to enjoy a serious meal with fine wine and food then gin whisky vodka and their mix ers should be kept out ofsight. For myself I have no doubt that the most perfect of all predinner drinks is Champagne the real thing not a napkinshrouded gold foil necked lesser version. In my drinking career I have never come across a bottle of sparkling wine with the true character finesse and length of flavour of a genuine Champagne.
There are basically three choices of Champagne nonvintage vintage and de luxe. For my money I prefer an 8 to I 2yearold true vintage as a general drink though an old Champagne a 1955 1959 or 1961 say is even better. Champagne of this age is turning a golden colour developing a honeyed bouquet and losing its ag gressive young bubbles; it is becoming more ofa wine but with an uplift an the palate given to it by a more subtle sparkle. My favourite vintage marques are Bollinger Pol Roger Roederer and Krug.
Nonvintage Champagnes particularly those with a year or so oflanding age can be extremely good. You can give Champagne this landing age yourself by simply keeping it in your own cewr. Bollinger and Roederer are always reliably good. As far as & luxe Champagnes are concerned the first thing to realize is that whatever the marque they will be expensive. I think de luxe Champagnes with their fancy bottles and fancy prices are mainly for the conspicuously wealthy or for those who wish to appear so. The brand leader is undoubtedly Dom P@rignon though I personally find its style too hard and austere. My favourite is Cristal Brut though the vintages do vary. For me the 1966 Cristal epitomizes Champagne at its most elegant and sublime
Of the champagnestyle wines which are not true Champagnes I think the best are produced in the Loire. Schramsberg the Krug of the Napa Valley in California is also excellent as it should be for the price but it is rarely given time to age. As far as the rest of the worlds vast outpouring of sparkling wine is concerned I think they are best served mixed with orange juice as a poor mans Bucks Fizz. This incidental ly is another of my favourite aperitifs.
The other classic aperitif is sherry. This should be dry and of high quality. Because of overproduction and severe competition the quality of sherry as a whole has in my opinion deteriorated but paradoxically the net result of this is that the best sherry has never been better value for money. The oldestablished family firms have scarcely wavered in quality so my choice would be the two familiar names Tio Pepe and La Ina. In common with otherfino sherties these should be bought when need ed not cellared or given bottle age. That fresh tangy smell and taste is vital. Serve them chilled. White wines also make excellent aperitifs especially on warm summer evenings.
Almost any dry or dryish white wine served chilled can fulfil this function though personally I think wines with a fat flavour and body a great white Burgundy say or a fine Californian Chardonnay are best with a meal. Light whites wines low in alcohol and fight in style with refreshing acidity are the best choice. Vinho Verde from northern Portugal is lightOtiilant and inex pensive but for ffie somewhat thin and lacking in savour. A young Moselle would probably be my favourite. German quality wines usually have a touch of residual sugar to balance their refreshing acidity and a low alcohol content. They are excellent value. However the reauy cheap sugarandwater German wines should be avoided. Vintages are imponant; keep an eye out for the lovely 1976s. Other alternatives are Muscadet Chablis and those twins from the upper Loire S
In the absence of Champagne or the finest dry sherry however my favourite aperitif before a nottooslrious meal is a Kir or vin blanc cassis. The essential ingre dients are a good quality fresh Cassis from Burgundy and a young dry acidic white wine such as Bourgogne Aligot@ or a lessff Chablis. For a drink with a litde more of an uplift try a Kir royale in which Champagne is substituted for the white wine. Per sonally though for the latter I would &nly use a decent sparkling wine. But most essmtially serve it very cold.
First course and fishThere is no doubt that the old conventional notions are safe and reliable white wine with fish red wine with meat. However there are exceptions and great fun can be had by trying some exotic mixtures.
With shellfish of all types select a bone dry white wine. The c"ics are Muscadet usually very reliable if unexciting and Chablis. Do not neglect the fruity tangy acidic Sancerre and Pouifly Blanc Fun*#. Smoked salmon though is incredibly dif ficult to match since if the wine is too fight its flavour is overpowered. Possibly a wellchilled Gewiirztraminer stands up to this the best though as with other smoked fish I think it a good idea to break rules and drink an icecold Dutch gin or Swedish schnapps if the meal is not a great gourmet occasion.
With the lighter types of fish try a dry white wine with perhaps a little more body and less obvious acidity. A good white Burgundy immediately springs to mind the choice ranging from the light dry wines of the Miconnais PouillyFuiss Pouilly Vinzelles and SaintV@ran to the littleknown but good and not too expensive Montagny and Givry. C6te de Beaune whites especially the classic Puligny Montrachets and Meursaults are at the top end of the scale. As alternatives drink a good Alsace Riesling a Grand Cru Chablis or for a completely different contrast try sherry.
With the heavier types of fishsuch as turbot I suggest a mature whitegood quality Burgundy the 1978 vintage is one to look out for or perhaps a good white