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Fun is key to perfection

© Cape Times Friday 15th February 2011
Whenever I go out for a meal, one of my hardest dilemmas is when people hand me the wine list and want me to order the wine. I say ‘dilemma’ because, although I dearly want to have a hand in the choice and ensure that we don’t order something over-priced, over-rated or over the hill, I am also aware that people are expecting me to be able to match the wine with everybody’s different foods to produce a series of perfect pairings. And, of course, that would be absolutely impossible.

Food and wine matching really isn’t that difficult – all it requires is a few taste-buds and a little thought. This was the message I was trying to put across to some of South Africa’s keenest foodies at the Food &Wine Bloggers Indaba 2011 last weekend, organised by blogger and businesswoman Colleen Grove. Ably partnered by Villiera Wines (who’ve got a great range of different tastes and flavours), and with food prepared by one of Cape Town’s top food bloggers, Nina Timm, we tried to discover what works and what doesn’t and – if possible – why.

The biggest problem about trying to match food to wine is that everyone has completely different views about what goes with what. Over the years, I’ve seen people stoutly defend their pairing of Petit Verdot with salmon sashimi, turn up their noses at classic combos like goats’ cheese and sauvignon and doggedly drink the same wine with six different courses and claim it goes with everything, so I know that there are no definitive answers to this conundrum.

But heck, it’s always a lot of fun trying and that was what we did last weekend. In my view, there are three guidelines for matching food and wine successfully, so if you want to have a go yourself, here are some of the things you need to think about.

  1. The ‘weight’ of your food and wine. No, not as in 250g of steak! This refers to the density and texture of the food – is it a heavy, rich, wintery type of dish or a light, summery, salad-y sort of meal? Similarly with the wine – is it powerful, intense, concentrated or delicate, aromatic and soft? You need to partner like-weights together or one element will overwhelm the other.
  2. Complement or contrast? If you look at the food you’ve prepared, there may well be flavours which can also be found in wine. Depending on your tastes, you could either match them up (a Cape Malay Curry with apricots or peaches with an aromatic, peachy Viognier for example) or contrast them and find flavours which work in real life but aren’t present in the dish (such as a fillet steak with a peppery, spicy Shiraz instead of a pepper sauce). Only time will tell if you’re a complement-er or a contrast-er!
  3. Drink outside the box. Nearly all of us stick to the traditional Sauvs, Chards, Cabs and Merlots if we’re choosing something to drink, but when it comes to matching the wine to food, there are many more options to try. Look at more unusual European varietals such as Gewurztraminer, Tempranillo, Sangiovese and think about the food which comes from their native areas, because this is often a great way to find tried and tested matches. And don’t forget different styles of wine such as fizz, sherry or port, all of which can be wonderful if paired with the right foods.

So there are a few guidelines, but the most important thing of all is to enjoy yourselves! There is nothing more certain to put a damper on a good evening than somebody over-analysing, over-complicating and insisting on a ceaseless search for the perfect match. Food and wine matching has no hard and fast rules and not everyone will agree with all the conclusions, but as long as you’re having fun and trying something new, then perfection – or a close enough version of it – will come in the end.

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