Wine On The Menu

Choosing wines to match a menu - or a dish to complement a special wine - offers scope for some exciting discoveries. When a particular glass of wine meets a certain dish in perfect harmony, a magic spell is woven - both food and wine are improved by the partnership, each revealing new and sometimes unexpected levels of flavour in the other. Such felicitous food and wine marriages are not confined to the highest of haute cuisine and the grandest of crus. A rich dish of slightly sweet lobster in butter sauce merits its match with an intense, rare, ten-year-old dry white wines, from tangy fino sherry to bone-dry Loire whites such as Muscadet and Pouilly-Fume or a fresh New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Many classic combinations were "discovered" in the early 19th century, when French chefs were in great demand through out Europe: caviar with champagne, sole with white burgundy, game with red burgundy. Certain "rules" became established: white wine goes with fish, red wine with meat. However, these rules have always been challenged - by meats such as chicken or pork, by different sauces and by the place of meat in the menu. Wine cannot be matched to food by colour alone; many other factors- the wine's weight and acidity, the grapes flavours - also come into play. There is also its importance: a great wine, worth serious attention, demands a simple dish. While the upper classes of the 19th century had access to a wide range of food and wine, the less well-off drank whatever was available locally. This brings another guideline: regional specialities are often best accompanied by the wine of that region; after all, they evolved together. There are few better partners to the salted cabbage, or choucroute, of north-eastern France than an aromatic dry white Alsace Riesling or Pinot Gris. The almost "meaty" character of Loire salmon is highlighted by the lively local red wines of Chinon and Bourgueil (red wines that certainly go with fish). Italy's array of red wines, from austere Barolo to the lightest Bardolino, partner an equally varied repertoire of dishes. Tastes change with every generation; today people travel far, experiencing new foods, new wines. Our idea of what makes a classic combination may alter; it will certainly expand.

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