Although I make my living writing about how food can enhance wine - and vice versa - I would never want to be dogmatic about it and freely admit that there are occasions when it matters less than others.
Exactly such an occasion occurred earlier this week at a wine dinner at my son’s restaurant Hawksmoor which featured Charles Smith, of K Vintners (right) who I met a couple of months ago in Walla Walla in Washington State. Beyond saying he’s a rock’n’roll winemaker, a description I suspect he’s heard rather too many times, he’s hard to categorise but his ‘wild man’ appearance and demeanour bely the fact that he’s a serious winemaker* and winelover who produces some really top class wines.
So the times to be relaxed about trying to achieve a perfect match are:
When the wines are great.
When the wine is REALLY good you’ll enjoy it anyway pretty much whatever you drink it with. Use common sense here, obviously. I wouldn’t have fancied one of Charles’s high octane Syrahs” with a piece of seabass or a delicate risotto primavera but there would be no point in agonising whether they’d go better with beef, pork or lamb. What makes this easier is that the wines are superbly well-balanced. As Charles aptly put it “I don’t like wines that are pulled like a freight train across your palate”
* the 2008 Northridge Syrah Wahluke Slope and the 2008 Morrison Lane Syrah from the Walla Walla valley
When the food is simple
The more complicated food gets in the way of sauces and accompaniments the more potential there is for a flavour mismatch. Hawksmoor’s USP is impeccably sourced British ingredients served simply so we were served grilled Dorset Blue Lobster with butter (fantastic with the K Vintners 2009 Viognier) and great platters full of steaks, marrow bones and sides (spot on with both the Syrahs and Charles’s immodestly named Creator - a 60/40 Cabernet/Syrah blend. Infanticide really to drink them at this age but there you go. They were still great).
You could have served the lobster with a good Chardonnay with equal pleasure and the steaks with almost any good full-bodied red (that’s the joy of steak) but if I can chip in with one of my geekier observations the voluptuousness of Charles’s wines certainly helped drive through condiments like ketchup which can knock the stuffing out of less substantial wines. You wouldn't want to do that to a Hermitage.
When the food is shared, family style
This of course has always been the case with many ethnic cuisines and is becoming more and more common in modern British and New American restaurants. The bigger the range of dishes and flavours the harder it is to find a precise match.
There’s something about a big table that’s also quite loud and boisterous and doesn’t make for thoughtful contemplation of the finer nuances of food and wine pairing. What one’s looking for are generous, easy-going bottles that will take you through a meal or a section of a meal.
There are moods to be taken account of with food and wine matching just as there are with food or wine on its own. Sometimes you want to strive for a knock-out effect and sometimes you just want to sit back and enjoy the experience . . .
* Charles Smith was Food & Wine’s Winemaker of the Year in 2009. To see for yourself what I mean by rock'n'roll watch this episode of Wine Library TV.
I attended the dinner as a guest of K Vintners and Bibendum Wines.