I was writing an article the other day about food and wine matching that required spot-on pairings and found myself specifying the age of the wines I was recommending. It’s not something I tend to do when making generalised recommendations (as opposed to matching a specific wine) but I realised it is as important as giving information about whether a wine is oaked or unoaked, the nature of the vintage or what country, region or producer it comes from.
There is of course the risk that you make the whole process so complicated that your readers just give up in despair. But given that many people who lay down wines have a tendency to hang on to them too long for the food they’re going to eat with them it may act as a useful reminder that youth has its virtues, particularly at this time of year when fresh flavours are at a premium
If you’re enjoying a fresh crab salad for example or the fragrant herby flavours of Vietnamese spring rolls you want a wine whose primary fruit flavours and crisp acidity are intact. The popular pairing of pinot noir and fish such as salmon and tuna depends on the wine being served young, fresh and cool.
With better quality wines which can overpower in their youth it’s a question of finding the right window to drink them and that depends on the food as well as the wine. To return to the pinot and salmon example if you buy a top quality red burgundy and want to drink it at this time of year you should generally be looking at the earlier recommended consumption dates rather than the later ones though wines do vary quite markedly in terms of how long they retain their freshness and purity.
If you serve older vintages with brightly flavoured or spicy summer food you also run the risk of overpowering them. At the Alsace wine matching dinner at Benares I reported the other day for example the superb 8 year old grand cru riesling was knocked sideways by a not over-spicy scallop salad. It would have been more enjoyable if the wine had been a couple of years younger or served with a less demanding dish.
This is not an issue, of course, that you hear much about from sommeliers as the cash flow pressures of most restaurants dictate that they serve the majority of the wines on their list young whether it benefits the food or not. More to follow on this subject in due course . . .