Wine and pepper
Like salt, pepper has a pronounced effect on wine, often making reds taste softer and lusher than they otherwise would. Unlike salt though, you also find peppery flavours in wines such as Northern Rhône Syrah and Austrian Grüner Veltliner.
The problem about finding the same flavour in a food and a wine is that the more dominant flavour in the food tends to knock out the same characteristic in the wine. (Other examples are orange Muscat which won’t stand up to an orange-flavoured dessert or an evolved Pinot Noir whose mushroomy notes become barely perceptible if partnered with cooked mushrooms.)
So what do you drink when pepper is the point of the dish? Here are my suggestions, paired with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipes in the Guardian today.
Salt and Pepper Squid
There’s not just black pepper in this dish but Szechuan pepper and chilli as well which makes it hot. Winewise you could go two ways - a zesty unoaked Sauvignon Blanc which would provide a lemony lift to the combination or a crisp, limey Australian Riesling which I think would be my preferred match. (Note the pairing will change if you add a squeeze of lemon. Try the wine first and proceed with caution! ) I’d also like a cold Kölsch or lager with this.
Goats' cheese marinated in seasoned olive oil
Sauvignon Blanc is always the first port of call with goats’ cheese but the flavours in the olive oil - garlic, lemon zest, black and pink peppercorns and chilli again - mean only a super-charged Sauvignon will do. Pick one that has powerful lemon zest notes of its own such as a south Australian Sauvignon Blanc or a Chilean one. (Yes, I know I said don't replicate the flavours of the food in the wine but I just don't think a herbaceous Sauvignon will work here.)
Steak in Green Peppercorn Sauce
Green peppercorns used to be a common basis for steak sauces like this. It also contains cream and brandy, an immensely wine-friendly partnership. I think I’d be looking for a Syrah or Shiraz but one without obvious peppery notes of its own, maybe in combination with its other habitual southern French bedfellows, Grenache and Mourvèdre. So a Languedoc red such as Faugères would be perfect. Or a Western Australian Shiraz. (Note: all this pepper will accentuate the sensation of ‘hotness’ in any accompanying wine so watch the alcohol!)
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