For The Glass: Winter Warmer
As we approach the winter months my thoughts always turn to red wines. Even in Queensland, it is cold enough at night to rug up and feel the warming embrace of red grapes. Unfortunately, I don’t think it gets cold enough to justify preparing mulled wine (gluhwein), but if you live in an alpine zone where it snows I recommend sitting by the fire and sipping some wine warmed and flavoured with cinnamon, cloves, orange juice and sugar. There is something appealingly decadent about gluhwein, and after a day spent in the cold, it can warm the whole body.
I have now moved from drinking mostly white wine to opening a bottle of red instead, and I drink my red wine with whatever I happen to be eating. The purists will insist on matching wines with foods according to particular nuances and flavours in the dish being served. However, sometimes this would mean opening 3 or 4 bottles through entrée, main and dessert. I, like many Australian’s, have an eclectic palate for food and can enjoy foods from all over the world, so the matches for wine can be difficult, especially with food from a region that doesn’t have a tradition of wine making and consuming.
Let’s consider Asian cuisine, for example. Quite often one sees Sauvignon Blanc (SB) recommended for spicy Asian dishes. This presents a problem for me since I detest SB and find myself unable to drink it, so it is not an option for me to match it with any meals. To be fair to some SB winemakers, there are some really good examples of SB made, e.g. Shaw and Smith make a delightful SB, mainly because the grassy, herbaceous characteristics are subdued, and it tastes more like the best Sancerre rather than the overpowering New Zealand varieties. But generally most SB’s are fit only for using as drain cleaner, in my humble opinion.
So what to match with spicy Asian foods? Well, Riesling is always a good match, and for those of you who don’t mind a sweeter style of wine a Gewürztraminer is excellent. It is not my taste, but I can understand and appreciate those who like well-made Gewürztraminer. I also find that a delicate, lightly oaked Chardonnay is often the best wine to transition from pre-prandial drinks to entrée.
The golden rule is white wine for seafood and red wine with red meat, but I have in winter served red wine with seafood, and it has been perfect. The only exception is when the salad has a vinaigrette dressing, because this tends to make the red wine tart, so white wine is recommended for that match, or you can do what I do and ban vinaigrette, which works perfectly. I serve a light red lightly chilled, such as Pinot Noir with seafood and it is always popular. Many people have been brought up on the golden rule above and have never tried reds with seafood. They don’t know what they are missing. Other red varieties also work well, but big, blousy, heavy reds should be avoided. But then the big alcoholic monsters currently in vogue are not made as food wines and demand to be consumed unaccompanied.
The wine should not only be something with which to wash down the mouth, it should enhance and complement the food being eaten, and vice versa. Happily, this is what happens most times in my experience, and it makes me think about those unfortunate people who live their whole lives without knowing the joy of mixing good food and good wine. My grandparents, to my knowledge, never had wine with their meals, and until very late in their lives neither did my parents. Whereas, my children were all aware of wine at meals in our home, and are now wine drinkers themselves. I’m sure I am not alone in this, as many boomer families would have had the same experience.
The above comments are just the tip of the iceberg for food and wine matching. The point I am trying (very poorly) to make is that you should not slavishly follow the dictates of the “experts”, but rather experiment for yourself and find out what works for you. After all, wine is a very individual experience and what other people like is not necessarily what you may like. Many people love SB, something I struggle to understand, but that is their taste, and sadly they are in the majority. Until next month, in vino veritas.