Features & guest posts | How to read a menu and come up with a great wine match

Features & guest posts

How to read a menu and come up with a great wine match

When you have a menu in front of you how do you decide which wine to order? Sure, you can ask the sommelier or waiter but in some restaurants the service is not as helpful or knowledgeable as it might be. But there are plenty of clues in the descriptions of the dishes themselves that point to the key ingredients and the way in which they are handled. Here are a few examples:

Linguine with rocket pesto, green beans and new potato
This twist on a classic Ligurian dish is hearty and rustic. The pesto, with its slight bitterness, is the dominant component and suggests a dry Italian white rather than a red - maybe something like an Arneis from Piedmont, a Gavi or a Vermentino from Sardinia

Risotto al Amarone con prosciutto di Parma
Here the key is Amarone - the powerful, rich porty red wine from the Veneto. That will make this risotto more compatible with a red than a white but an Amarone mibht be too heavy and intense at this stage of the meal. I’d suggest a Valpolicella ripasso instead, a flexible red that will work with other lighter starters.

Pan-fried fillet of cod with coco beans, tomato confit and ham
This dish was translated as ‘facon pays Basque’ which signals cooked tomato, onion and maybe a pinch of piment d'Espelette. Add the ham and the beans and you’ve got a fish dish that could just as easily take a red as a white. I’d suggest a light rustic red like a Côtes du Roussillon Villages or an inexpensive young syrah.

Whole roast poulet de Bresse with foie gras stuffing
Foie gras is often paired with sweet wines like Sauternes but that wouldn’t suit this main course dish. But with the foie gras stuffing it’s going to be richer than an ordinary roast chicken. I’d suggest a full bodied, mature chardonnay such as a Meursault.

Charcoal grilled corn fed chicken with green lemon and rocket
An entirely different type of chicken dish - chargrilled with a zesty lemon twist and some bitter rocket this suggests an altogether sharper white than the chicken dish above: say a Sauvignon Blanc or Semillon

Roast wild duck with celeriac, bacon and chestnuts
Nowadays most game is flash-roasted in restaurants and served quite rare. And you’ve got a robust accompaniment of celeriac (slightly aniseedy), bacon (salty) and chestnuts (sweet), a flavour-packed combination that seems to me to lead more towards the Northern Rhone or other syrahs than the usual duck match of pinot noir. Côte Rôtie would be great if money is no object, otherwise try a Crozes Hermitage.

Roast pork cutlet with caramelised apple, cider and grain mustard sauce
If you’re lucky the drinks list will include an artisanal cider which would echo the appley flavours of this dish and handle the slight bitterness of the mustard. Otherwise I’d go for a full, slightly earthy white such as a white Côtes du Rhône or similar Languedoc blend of Roussanne and Marsanne.

Photo © nicoletaionescu at fotolia.com

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