We all know a good wine is absolutely delicious to drink but as well as pouring yourself a nice fruity red or crisp white what else can we use wine for?
Many wines, such as a soft plummy Merlot or celebratory Champagne are great on their own but pretty much every wine will be even better if paired with the right food. So what do you need to know?
A couple of good rules of thumb are:
- Pick a wine that goes best with the key component of the dish you’re serving it with. The wine can almost act as a ‘seasoning’ for example a nice cherryish Chianti has a lively nip of acidity making it a refreshing match to the tomatoes in a spaghetti Bolognese
- When considering food and wine matching, you can either try to match the flavours and taste sensations in both components such as having a crisp, herbal Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand with a plate of freshly griddled asparagus or smoked salmon with a gravadlax coating. Conversely you can look to contrast the different taste profiles. For example a savoury and spicy Thai Green curry is magic with the fruity lychee flavours of a Gewurztraminer or the citric lime blast of a Riesling. Try both these approaches out and find your favourite.
To illustrate this, I just shared the brilliant Cremant de Jura with my family and it was a winner on its own but also lifted some delicate cheese and chicken filled pastry bites to new heights – sublime. For main we had the Exquisite Collection Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie. In short that means it’s from a top notch area and aged on its lees which basically equally more texture and flavour. You must try this with a plate of steamed king prawns in garlic butter; we did and I have just peeled myself off the ceiling. I’d like to try and describe how the sweet yet savoury prawns were lifted by the herb and lemon zap of the Muscadet but you really do need to try it for yourself.
As well as washing down your favourite foods, wine can be instrumental to a dish in enhancing its taste. This obviously applies to a Coq au Vin or Beef Bourgignon for which I would use a simple Cotes du Rhone or French Pinot Noir (the Vignobles Rousellet is ace) respectively.
Where recipes ask for a full bottle this can seem a bit extreme so feel free to use half wine and half decent stock in the sauce. You then have more wine to enjoy with the dish later on! This brings me to the point that you should always use a wine you’d be happy to drink in your cooking as a poor one could spoil the dish and drinking the same wine as the one in your sauce means it’ll go really well with the finished dish (see point 1 above).
Finally where recipes ask for a dash of red or white wine, for example to deglaze the pan for a steak sauce or as a risotto base, I often use a fortified wine. This means I don’t have to open a new bottle if I don’t want to and as fortified wines keep well once opened I can use the same bottle over and over (within reason, a few months should be fine though). Extra Dry Vermouth is great for risotto and a splash of Port for deglazing the pan after cooking duck or steak forms the basis of a fabulous rich sauce finished with butter and seasoning.
I had to rack my brains for this next one. Apparently there are times when wine can be leftover at the end of an evening (I know, me neither). If this does happen to you a wine with the cork firmly pushed back in or screwcap replaced will usually keep somewhere cool and dark for a good three days without spoiling. If this happens at the beginning of dry January or something, pop the wine into an ice cube tray and use for the aforementioned cooking uses. Et voila – no wasted wine.
And finally if cocktails are your thing, here are a few rippers. I think fizz works best in this area but experiment – you just might invent a new classic:
A nice neutral but classic white wine such as Chablis or a cheaper white Burgundy with a dash of Crème de Cassis. This adds a grown up fruity hint and is excellent well chilled on a summer’s day. Ideally in Paris but my back garden in Bristol works well enough for me. If you fancy taking this up a notch repeat the formula replacing the Burgundy with Champagne or the superb Cremant de Jura for a more affordable version.
Take some white peaches, peel, stone and blitz to a puree then sieve and add one third of this to two thirds Prosecco. Dear God it’s heavenly and worth the effort. If you’re short of time you can use a dash of peach liqueur or some peach juice but you deserve the real thing don’t you?
Classic Champagne Cocktail
This is decadence in a glass. Take a sugar cube and soak with a few drops of Angostura bitters, cover with Cognac then top up with Champagne. Make sure the Champers is ice cold as it will fizz everywhere especially if it’s not. This is a nod to utter decadence so don’t substitute any of the ingredients for cheap alternatives and you can revel in the party in your mouth you’ve just made. Oh yes, if you’re having more than one of these it’s probably best if you have nothing planned for the following morning.