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News and views

Fine Wine and Fast Food

One of the most enjoyable food and wine matches I’ve experienced was also the most serendipitous. The family were away, I was working on a book and staggered down half way through the evening to find the fridge virtually bare except for a half bottle of Krug, a half-empty packet of the kids’ fish fingers and some frozen spinach. Ten minutes later, the spinach well anointed with butter, the fish fingers grilled and the Krug poured I had the perfect supper.

Since then various wine lovers have confessed to me their secret pleasures: bacon and eggs or hamburgers with cru class Bordeaux, kebabs with Cote Rotie, champagne with popcorn and it’s made me question why we generally save our best wines for special occasions. Why pour them for friends who may not appreciate them when you could be tucked up on the sofa with a takeaway and a good DVD and have them all to yourself? Why create unnecessary competition for your best wines in the form of redundant foams and sticky jus? Let the wine be the hero.

In the interests of encouraging you to hang loose with your cellar I conducted a few experiments courtesy of Decanter’s wine cupboard and a selection of local takeaways. Needless to say I’m not encouraging you to head for your local McDonald’s - fast food needn’t be foul food - but if even Robert Parker takes his favourite bottles along to his local Chinese as he once told me when I interviewed him - why shouldn’t you?

Burgers and Bordeaux ****
Why it worked
First stop the local gourmet burger outfit, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and a pukka bottle of Pauillac (Chateau Pontet-Canet 2001). I order their classic, served with salad and relish and a bowl of chunky fries. Apart from struggling to get it into my mouth without covering myself with creamy goo it’s hard to fault the classic meat and potatoes match. Red wine, grilled rare beef, salty potatoes - what’s not to like? The Pontet-Canet even stood up to the raw onion and relish though the match would probably have been marginally better without it and brought some refreshing acidity to the partnership which counteracted the carb overload
What to hold/go easy on
The raw onions and relish. And skip the ketchup
What else to try: A top-notch Californian cab, a Super-Chilean

Champagne and Sushi *****
Why it worked
The sugar in the sushi rice keyed in perfectly with the dosage in the extravagant Jacquart Katarina we paired with it, the bubbles counteracting the oiliness of the raw salmon. The match also held up when I dunked my sushi in soy (umami at work) and, surprisingly, even when I added a modest amount of wasabi and nibbled some pickled ginger. The seaweed in the maki sushi also tied in well. Is there a nicer way to eat sushi?
What to hold/go easy on
Don’t overdo the wasabi
What else to try: Muscadet

Fish, chips and white Graves ****
Why it worked
I was surprised, I confess, how successful this match with a 2004 Clos Floridene blanc from Denis Dubourdieu was. I would have thought pure unoaked sauvignon would have been better (on a similar basis to adding a squeeze of lemon) but this seductively lush white added a fabulous note of luxury to what were admittedly not the crispest most sizzlingly fresh fish and chips I’ve ever eaten. A bit like partnering them with some really good home-made mayonnaise. White graves is an underrated wine
What to hold/go easy on:
Added lemon juice. Brown sauce. Ketchup
What else to try: Sancerre, Pouilly Fume and other top sauvignon blancs. Champagne - though the Katarina was a bit sweet. Champagne almost always goes well with crispy, deep-fried seafood including fish fingers (see above).

Rotisserie chicken and Chardonnay *****
Why it worked
No news to Decanter readers, I’m sure, but just to draw attention to the fact that even a humble rotisserie chicken can be turned into a feast by partnering it with a top class chardonnay like the big lush creamy Voyager Estate 2002 I tried. Don’t even think of removing the skin. That’s what makes the match.
What to hold/go easy on:
Accompanying veg and salad particularly if dressed with a vinaigrette. Just a few roast or fried potatoes will do.
What else to try: White hermitage. Good pinot noir

Crispy duck and Pinot Noir *****
Why it worked
Another timeless classic but how often do you order crispy duck on its own? Or drink it with a wine as good as the silkily sweet 2003 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir? A crispy duck and pinot noir party. What a great way to entertain!
What to hold/go easy on
Don’t overdo the hoisin sauce. Or order everything else on the menu to eat with it especially dishes with black bean sauce
What else to try: Cheaper pinots from Chile. A fruity Italian red like a Dolcetto. Mid-weight merlots should work too.

Pizza and Chianti ***
Why it worked
I’ve had better matches for Chianti Classico admittedly but a bottle of Villa Caffagio 2004 doesn’t half improve a supermarket pizza. The acidity in chianti is always great for tackling cooked cheese. Even at its superior best it has a quaffable quality that makes it a relaxing sip.
What to hold/go easy on:
Too many topping ingredients (very un-Italian). Avoid curried meat pizzas - as I hope you do anyway
What else to try: Most other Tuscan reds, new world sangioveses, Languedoc reds like Faugeres

Curry and Rioja Reserva **
Why it (just) works
I’ve partnered rioja successfully with curry before, most notably rogan josh and the smooth plummy Ondarre Rioja Reserva 2001 just about held its own with a moderately spicy selection of South Indian dishes including a prawn curry, a chicken Chettinad and a potato curry. The key to making it kick in was taking a spoonful of raita with each mouthful which calmed the heat and upped the acidity of the match.
What to hold/go easy on:
The overall heat level. Really hot curries do wine of any kind few favours
What else to try: To be honest a substantial new world red would have been better: with a few years bottle age to tame the tannins. Maybe a Grange 1990? (Only joking)

This article first appeared in the March 2007 issue of Decanter


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