December 1, 2018 – Published in Design & Decor Winter 2018 issue
Conclusion: Enjoying wine
Words Albert Cilia-Vincenti
Wine is the perfect accompaniment to food. Genuine wine lovers tend to drink some wine with both lunch and dinner. They will try and match the wine with the food. There are whole books about wine and food matching but, the claimed complexity of the exercise, in my view, is grossly over-emphasised.
The one important principle to keep in mind is that robust, dark, red wines should accompany strongly flavoured food while dishes with subtle flavours are best matched with paler, gentler tasting reds. Robust reds tend to come from warmer regions, while the gentler reds usually come from cooler wine regions.
The classic match for fish and seafood dishes is white wine. Rosè wine can also be a good match with fish and white meat dishes, and has become popular particularly at summer lunches. Some claim they prefer red wine with fish – I’ve never seen the gustatory wisdom in that.
Probably the main problem with food and wine matching is a strongly flavoured vegetable in the dish. Such an awkward ingredient can not only clash with most wines but may also drown the flavours of all the other more delicate ingredients in the dish – not a rare culinary mistake.
Many assume that dry red wine is the perfect match with cheese. Blue cheeses tend to be very salty and ruin the palate for dry red wine. Sweet wines (white or red) are a better bet with cheese, as in the classic match of Port with Stilton.
Wine serving temperature can be a hotly debated topic. One should be very careful not to over-cool quality wines, especially if they are also aged – their enjoyment can easily be ruined by over-cooling. The pleasure of wine is in its aroma and flavours – they are both dampened by very low refrigerator temperatures. Perhaps not too many wine drinkers bother to linger on the wine bouquet – this is the initial indication of what the wine is going to be all about, either great or a boring liquid – in the latter case, hopefully, one hasn’t paid much for it.
Cooling red wines has become a bit of a fad. Over-cooling of quality red wine is the danger. Quality reds are best enjoyed at around 20˚C or slightly less, so in our summer temperatures some careful cooling is appropriate. Cooling quality reds to an 8˚C refrigerator temperature is definitely wrong. Cool cheap reds for barbecues down to such temperatures if you so wish, but not quality reds – their aromas and flavours can be destroyed at very low temperatures.
The same cooling comments apply to white wine. Very low refrigerator temperatures for cheap whites is okay, but quality whites – particularly if aged – need to be treated gently – too low a temperature will dampen the aromas and flavours you were supposed to have paid your money for. You will notice that as a quality white wine warms up in the glass, its bouquet and flavours emerge more prominently.
The conventional wisdom for Champagne and sparkling wine service is for very low refrigerator type temperatures, although I have always found that the bouquet and flavours of a good Champagne really emerge when it warms up in the glass. Some English sparkling wines are now of top Champagne quality – a few Italian Franciacorta sparkling wines also approach good Champagne quality. Mind you, some Champagnes are quite unremarkable and, as with other wines, you’ll need to judge for yourself the quality that appeals to you.
Many wine drinkers assume that all white wines are at their best very young. This usually applies to inexpensive whites, but quality ones may well improve considerably with some bottle age. The high quality Chardonnay wines of Burgundy and quality Riesling wines are renowned for their longevity (10 to 20 years) and improved bouquet and palate with ageing. I have also found some New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs still perfect at 10 years. Wine storage conditions need to be appropriate though – dark and relatively constant cool temperature.
Finally, there are two points often overlooked for wine enjoyment. Glasses need to be clean – the appreciation of a good wine can be ruined by a glass smelling of a musty cupboard or of a dirty dish-cloth. Also, after-shaves and ladies’ perfumes will interfere with wine bouquet appreciation – wine aficionados will avoid these.
Albert Cilia-Vincenti is a founder committee member of “Il-Qatra”, a 20-year-old wine blind-tasting and dining club. He is also a council member of the local Chaine des Rotisseurs, and has locally represented London’s Berry Bros & Rudd Ltd (the world’s oldest wine merchant).