Difficult Wine Matches

Some of the more unusually created dishes with full on notes of (say) chocolate, game birds, globe artichokes avocado pear, carob and maybe even brassica often inadvertently might become the enemy of wine ! How is this and what alternatives might suit a smart match sometimes other than wine?

Beer works really well with some difficult food choices with its acid/fruit/malty notes shuffling around the palate. One of the very great English rural dishes is the humble Ploughman’s Lunch. Generally made with Farmhouse Cheddar (hopefully), pickle, pickled onion and a chunk of good bread. Lovely sweet and lactic notes permeate onto the palate, demanding some sort of beverage to help it along the way. Beer and Cider have always been the mainstay of a classic Ploughman’s Lunch swishing down the powerful flavours at a stroke. Wine would be a little overwhelmed by these strong “roof of the mouth” tangs of loveliness and could often become a “dog's breakfast” in the harmony stakes.  The reason is simple : the density of the Cheddar fills the entire palate with lactics, rich with salts and acids, in short it would be a huge clash with red wine. White wine can often shuffle into this arena but not generally with Cheddar.

SBarrett Ploughman's Lunch.jpg

Have a go at matching a great Sancerre (or good Sauvignon Blanc) with a delicate grilled goats’ cheese on crostini perhaps with a seasonal salad or as a starter.  The zingy notes of the white wine are a harmonious match that will not cloy or even dull the palate - give it a try?

Blessed with great fish from our local ports there is no excuse to go find a match for your weekly selection. As the weather changes so does the fish, which in turn should point the way to a wine that might be something new to you.

Take a freshly cut fillet of lemon sole, prepared by your local fishmonger. Simple cooking is essential to preserve its texture and flavour. My favourite is a sauté in good butter, finished with a squeeze of lemon or orange plus a few fresh herbs tossed in for good measure. Served with a large green salad and some simple steamed potatoes. Little more is needed , except a cool glass of white wine to match the sweetness of the fish and the tangy citrus notes of the lemon or orange. Without getting too haughty about it, many styles if white wine will do but which is my best match ?

My choice would be a Mediterranean Viognier perhaps with a smidgen of oak in the make. Too much oak will overpower the delicate fish so try to experience this match. Staying closer to home, search out a Sharpham Madeleine Angvine - a great white wine full of texture, fruit and class. Again an oak influence is present but not a dominating one.

Rose wine comes in many guises, now made on the dryer side they are great food wines and can tackle richer, funkier flavours with ease. Looking for the grape variety it is made from will offer the taster a better chance of finding a great match. Rose from Rioja is a great food wine with its defined notes of spicy red fruit. Garnacha and Tempranillo are the main stays of this style of wine and are a great match for Tapas. More and more restaurants are choosing Rioja Rose, so no excuses when dining out.

Red wine and (Westcountry) beef and a match made in heaven! My favourite is a cut from the centre of the sirloin, fully trimmed, dry-rubbed with gentle spices, after which it is wrapped in smoked streaky bacon before being roasted in the centre of a hot oven for just 40 minutes. Rested and served warm with hasselback potatoes and a scoop of three root veg mash, you have a feast. Cabernet Sauvignon, the king of red wines might just come a knocking and I for one would welcome it! Having tasted many different styles over the years, I am re-appraising Coonawarra Cab Sav as a great Aussie wine worth searching out. Mineral-rich Terra Rossa soil, oodles of sunshine and often vines that have been producing quality grapes for over 30 years would be my quarry. The use of oak is normal in Coonawarra, so don't be afraid to try a sample especially with the spiced beef!

So my intrepid Wine Hunters take my tips and carefully match great dishes with equally great and harmonious wine. It'll be worth it!

Stephen Barrett is a Wine, Food and Travel Writer based in Plymouth.