One of the problems with choosing wine in a restaurant - especially if you're ordering for a crowd - is that you need to find a bottle that will go with a number of dishes but I find more often than not Italian whites come to the rescue.
This past week has reminded me yet again what a great match Italian whites are for food. Their lack of obvious character means they tend not to stand out in a tasting but they explode into life with a dish.
Like other dishes the perfect wine match for risotto depends on the flavourings for the risotto rather than the rice itself - the lighter the dish, the fresher and crisper the wine. On the whole I prefer dry crisp white wines with seafood and spring vegetable risottos, but it’s more complicated than simply saying if it’s a fish or a vegetable risotto it’s a light dry white.
Tuna’s a versatile summer ingredient that you can use in salads or on the barbecue. Quick and easy to cook, like salmon a conductor of many different flavours. It’s also a meaty fish which adapts just as well to a red and a rosé as to a white.
This is the perfect time of year for buying oranges and lemons but what effect do they have on the recipes you’re making? Quite a marked one, if truth be told. Lemons in particular have a high level of acidity which will make any wine you drink with them taste sweeter. If that’s counterbalanced in the recipe by sugar as in a lemon tart or lemon meringue pie, for example, the result is a dish that’s really quite hard to match.
Fennel is one of the handful of vegetables that can influence a main course pairing - almost always for the better. Its aniseed flavour seems to have a pronounced affinity with many wines, especially whites. Here are some suggested matches with recipes that two British chefs have published this weekend - Gordon Ramsay in the Times and Skye Gyngell in the Independent on Sunday.
Cheese and wine is a notorious minefield but is it any easier when the cheese is cooked? See my suggestions to match Mark Hix's delicious recipes in the Independent today:
Scallops are normally a sure-fire match for chardonnay so it was quite a challenge to think of some alternatives for Skye Gyngell’s inventive recipes in the Independent on Sunday today.
Although not the problem they're generally made out to be tomatoes are one of the vegetables that do have an influence on a wine pairing. Being quite acidic, especially when dressed with a vinaigrette, you want a wine that has a good level of acid too - and not too much, if any, oak.
Artichokes have the reputation of being a wine-killer but as with most of these diktats the problem is over-played. True, artichokes can make even dry whites taste oddly sweet but that doesn’t account for the different ways in which they are cooked and how they are served.
Whenever anyone talks about foods that are difficult to match with wine asparagus always comes up but as I've always felt the problem is overstated. Just like any other ingredient it depends how you cook and serve it and how many other ingredients there are on the plate.
It does of course depend on how you make your spaghetti alle vongole - the classic Italian dish of spaghetti with white wine and clams - but in my book, the answer is simple: a young, unoaked, Italian white wine.
I always think it’s misleading to describe pork as a ‘white meat’. Strictly that's accurate, I suppose, but ‘whiteness’ somehow seems to suggest lack of flavour. Although that’s still true of much mass-produced pork there’s far more rare breed pork around these days which has a great deal of character.