Custom, too, dictates the order of service of wines, and their place on the menu. This is explored in the Wine and Food chapter. The conventions are: white wine before red, young before old, light before heavy, dry before sweet, minor before fine or rare. White wines accompany the first courses in a meal, red ones the main or later courses.
Do not serve assertive, aromatic wines such as Gewurztraminer and expect a delicate burgundy to show at its best just afterwards. Powerful young wines can overwhelm fading old ones.
Wines from very different wine-making traditions can clash, even if the conventions of order are followed. Think of the weight and character of the wine, and reflect that neighbours make good partners: a Sancerre followed by a Chinon; a white Graves, then a Medoc. Grape variety pairings often work well, contrasting wines from the same grape but from different regions, even different continents.
All these "principles" seem no more than practical common sense — and so they are. However, what is rarely appreciated is how ephemeral they are. They change over time, and from country to country.
Only 60 years ago, a revolutionary change came over the menus of the Oxford and Cambridge colleges: red wines began to be served with food. Until the 1930s, dinner for the Fellows at Christ's College, Cambridge, involved no fewer than nine courses — all washed down with white wine. After dinner the dons settled down with the vintage port, and with a classed-growth claret.
The pattern was an international one: Andre Simon, the French-born writer and gastronome and founder of the International Wine and Food Society, gave a dinner in 1907, the 14 courses of which included lamb and pheasant. The wines were sherry, Mosel and — with the game — champagne. Then port to finish.
This tradition went back a century, in England at least, with hock and champagne the wines to go with food, and not a red to be seen until the cheese course at earliest, with port and claret to follow. How will the next century regard our food and wine conventions?