Monday, 23 November 2009

Perfect Partners

Last night I counted five open bottles of wine at various states of consumption in my kitchen, which is fairly typical Chez Read.  They numbered a Fino Sherry, an aromatic white (Alsace Pinot Gris Grand Cru), a dry steely white (Chablis), an elegant red Burgundy and a sturdy Argentinean Malbec.  Why so many bottles you might ask?  Why not just one red and one white?  And if you’ve opened a bottle, why not just finish it off?  Woof!  Well, lots of reasons really.

Firstly there’s the issue of how much we want to drink.  Being consumers of wine more in the Mediterranean style (which is the epicentre of wine culture after all), my wife and I drink every night, but very little – we barely manage to get through half a bottle of wine between us.  A couple of small glasses each.  And when I say a glass I don’t mean those absurd things they call a glass in a pub, which is more akin to drinking lager than wine.  Even the ‘small’ glasses are over-sized and over-filled.  I’m talking about 85ml or so, filling up less than half of a wine glass, going no further than the widest point.  This allows you to both savour the wine and to enjoy the nose, which often gives as much pleasure as the taste.

The second reason is the real cultural difference; like our vinous friends the Italians we don’t drink wine without food at all.  At the joyous moment when the kids are asleep (around 7:30) we will have some antipasti; say olives, almonds, anchovies, salami, a bit of hard cheese, which we naturally have a glass of something with.  Sherry and Madeira are fantastic with these kinds of snacks as are a whole host of white wines.  Just avoid big, oaky whites that need to be partnered with something more substantial.  We might then have a starter, like sea-food tossed up in harissa paste on a few dressed leaves.  This calls for an aromatic or racy white.  I’ve found an Alsace Pinot Gris is the perfect accompaniment to this kind of dish.  Then on to the main course.  If we’re having some chicken number, like Coq au Vin, then we’ll have a red that is elegant and not overpowering, say a Burgundy, which will perfectly balance the bird.  However, if we’re having a fat bloody steak then we’ll have something equally full blooded to match; perhaps that open bottle of Argentinean Malbec.  Fish pie?  Time for that big oaked white Burgundy.  Yum.  Having pudding?  Pudding wine of course!

The common theme here is that it is totally unthinkable for me to have dinner without wine.  We might have just a bowl of pasta and half a glass of Valpolicella, but it always transforms both the dinner and the wine.  It is the perfect example of the old cliché the sum is greater than the parts.

Having finished the meal, we are left with two or maybe three bottles of wine that are probably still a good two-thirds full.  Not a problem; just pump them up with a Vacuvin or similar product.  This will keep the wine good for a week or so and allows you to pick different wines the next evening.

So do yourself a favour and try drinking wine more often with dinner but have less of it. The culture of food and wine that is so intrinsic to the way Mediterranean societies live is a far better way to drink than the English model, which is normally based around the puritanical none at all or the loutish finish it all off.

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