Food2Wine – an explanation

What is this about? Classical wine/food pairings are built around the premise that having prepared the food certain wines may compliment the dish. Food2Wine is the antithesis of this concept: a wine is selected and then, based on its characteristics, a food dish is prepared which will compliment and, especially, enhance its flavours and textures.

What is the difference in approach you may ask?

Firstly, Food2Wine (my name for it) prioritises the wine over the food - this makes sense particularly since a bottle of wine may cost more than the food you are eating. Second, instead of asking what flavours in the food may lead to a good pairing in the wine, it turns this around and questions the texture and flavour of the wine and how this may be complimented and enhanced by a particular recipe.

The purpose of these articles is not so much to provide advice on possible pairings but rather to stimulate you into considering the options. Imagine several scenarios. You regularly eat at home your favourite dishes, for example: roast chicken, pasta in various incarnations, steak or perhaps something more elaborate. Generally, these may be prepared with seasonal vegetables to accompany them. It may be that you frequently enjoy the same wine or change the wines depending on your inclination. However, you control the plate of food, its condiments and seasoning. You have the experience of knowing how these dishes taste generally, and therefore the wine/food combination is fairly assured even if not totally accurate. What would happen if you considered the wine first and then the food you wished to create to accompany the bottle? We are all creatures of habit and this is not the normal way we set about our meal arrangements.

You decide to visit a restaurant... Let's just assume that it is not one you know well. They probably have a menu of about 10-30 dishes spread across the normal courses. As soon as you arrive you are offered the menu and you make your choice. At some point a sommelier passes and offers you a wine list. You may or may not know the wines. They may be grouped by country, sometimes by price and will include, or should, vintage selection. So, having made your choice of food you prepare to select a wine. Mostly, a good bottle will cost you far in excess of the menu price. Yet, your choice of wine is secondary. In any case, let us assume you choose a plate of something you may know - a simple roast chicken. The fact is you don't really know how it is cooked (basted, seasoned), you have no idea about any gravy or jus, there is a passing acknowledgement of some stuffing perhaps (how does it taste?), but no reference to any special sauce which might have been prepared and how or what it really contains. You may know which vegetables are to accompany the dish but their 'cuisson' etc is a blur and probably not rationalised into your choice of wine. So, how could you be expected to choose a wine which would accompany this dish? Do you really know what is the distinction of the vintage information on the wine list for any particular wine in a particular appellation - even within appellations different vintages can produce different results? A widespread frost can still be very localised. The chances of hitting upon a wine which will accompany this dish is about the same as winning the lottery. Certainly, the dish will not be encouraged by the wine, and the wine will not be promoted by the dish. At best, it will be a marriage of convenience.

Let us say... you walk into a restaurant famous for its wine list. You want to share a bottle of some incomparable Sauternes and so you naturally might think of foie gras (sadly, so politically incorrect these days) but a combination which is universally applauded. However, 'Sauternes' is no less a generic title than 'Champagne'. Within the classification there are the regions of Barsac, Sauternes, Bommes, Fargues and Preignac. Each produces a different wine - that is the joy of terroir - and each château a different expression of its terroir. Each vintage is unique. Mostly, a menu featuring 'foie gras' will not expand overly on its preparation, the heat at which it is served, its condiments, origin, nor the type of torchon. It is simply 'foie gras'. So, if the wine list happens to have a bottle of Chateau Doisy Vedrines 2008, amongst two other sweet wines (one a Sauternes 2006 ) - why not?

Few chefs consider the issue of Food2Wine. Sommeliers make the best job they may of the consequences of this negligence. Some wine lists embrace a range which is more consequent upon the menu than others. But Food2Wine is not a gimmick. One famous chef in Paris (now retired) appreciated a particular white Burgundy from a specific year, which evoked a dish in his mind: a tartare of veal and prawn ('quel horreur!' exclaimed his wife). In any case it all worked like a dream and the combination led out until its main constituent - the wine - was exhausted. Obviously, the dish would now have to be scrapped. Not a bit of it, there was a new vintage, and it brought its subtle differences to the attention of the great chef. But how could it be best complimented? Eh alors... the tartare was simply cut at a different size, the knife chopped over the co-ingredients with a coarser action. It worked! This illustrated another important point. Texture, or that ghastly expression 'mouth-feel', is one of the most important elements of any characteristic of Food2Wine matching, yet is the least discussed.

This is not to say that the two systems may not be appreciated on their own merits. But, there is a world of difference between considering a wine that may match something on a plate, and conceiving a plate which will enhance what is in the glass - and the thought processes behind each decision are quite different.

As it happens, "tonight I fancy a Hamburger. What should I drink with it?" The answer: a wine previously determined to have an exceptional affinity with just such a dish and the specific way you prepare it acknowledging the bun, any toppings (bacon, cheese, salad) and the likely cooking of the burger which will affect its texture and taste - personally I like them medium rare. Now, it's not so easy...

Fabian Cobb

Wines related to this article:

La Fleur Jaune Pouilly-Fuissé 2011 87/100

Food2Wine: Manzanilla Pasada, Pastrana 91/100

Catapult Shiraz McLaren Vale 88/100

Château d’Yquem 2013 93/100

Champagne A R Lenoble Brut Nature NV 91/100

Saint-Aubin Premier Cru, 2013 87/100

Champagne Doyard cuvée Libertine 94/100

Skillogalee Basket Pressed shiraz 93/100

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