Monday, August 14, 2017

FOOD AND WINE PAIRING

What sort of food?   The very first and most important step is to decide whether your food is going to be delicate and mild tasting or hearty and flavorful. Is it going to be fatty or lean? Will it be rich, buttery and creamy or will it be thin, sharp and acidic? The wine and the food must balance each other so that a hearty dish will match a hearty wine while a mild flavored food will require a delicate wine. What is important is that neither the wine nor the food should overwhelm the other.

So a delicate Dover Sole for example would go well with a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio but not with a Chardonnay; while a hearty steak-and-kidney pie would complement a Malbec but probably overwhelm a Beaujolais. However, the Beaujolais would go well with a light lunch such as cold ham, charcuterie and salad while the Chardonnay would be the perfect match for a rich chicken in cream sauce.

Traditional Red /meat: White /fish rule:   Some fish, such as cod, haddock and mackerel as well as all shellfish, are high in iodine, which is why red wines don’t do well with them. The iodine content reacts with the tannins in red wine and makes both the fish and the wine taste metallic and nasty. However, red wines like Pinot Noir, Beaujolais or even certain Chiantis that are not high in tannins go very well with fish such as salmon or sea bass. Meats like chicken or pork go very well with full bodied white wines like Chardonnay, Riesling or even Gewürztraminer and rich patés like foie-gras in Perigord are traditionally enjoyed with a late harvest white wine like Monbazillac.

Tannins and Acids:  Tannins not only enhance the complexity of the wine itself but are also very useful for cleansing the palette of fatty foods. Lamb chops for example or a grilled beef steak will both be improved with a Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux or Napa whose astringent tannins will strip away the fatty coating inside your mouth.

Acids perform the same function as tannins in cutting through fat and so a fried chicken or smoked salmon, which would be overwhelmed by the tannins of a Cabernet would respond well to the cleansing acids of a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Acids in wine should also match the acid in food. Pasta with a tomato sauce or indeed any food over which you squeeze lime or lemon juice should be paired with a light acidic wine such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or even Alvarinho. Cream sauces on the other hand will react badly to acid and so should be paired with richer more full bodied whites such as Chardonnay and Viognier.

National pairings and wine:  When in doubt, just match the wine with the nationality of the food. The two have evolved together over generations and – within the obvious rules listed above – will always complement each other. For example a pasta dish will almost always do well with Chianti and a Boeuf Bourguignon will always improve with Pinot Noir from Burgundy.

In my book, the section “Forty wines to try before you die” lists twenty-four different varietals in order of lightness with the more full bodied and heavier wines listed last. However, bear in mind that varietals often vary depending on their origin. For example, a Chardonnay from Chablis which is fairly flinty and austere would go well with snails or a fish simply grilled with butter and garlic but not with a chicken in cream sauce.  Chicken and cream sauce requires a more full bodied Chardonnay from California or Australia.

The following websites have excellent food and wine pairing tables and suggestions:


Saturday, August 5, 2017

NEW WORLD vs OLD WORLD WINES (Part Two)

Marketing: While many European vineyards, especially in Burgundy, remain small family-owned affairs, many of the New World vineyards are owned by large corporations. The recent international increase in wine consumption leading to the dramatic globalization of the wine industry has led to vast economies of scale. In order to secure a contract with Costco or Tesco—who will need to stock the shelves of hundreds of their retailers—the wine producer needs to guarantee the delivery of thousands of bottles of consistently identical and dependable wine. This means that small independent wineries cannot compete with giant corporations. Consequently, especially in the New World, there has been rapid consolidation in the industry, with large international conglomerates owning lots of different brands in many different countries. Constellation Brands, for example, owns ninety-one different wine  brands, including Mondavi in California, Kim Crawford in New Zealand, and Ruffino in Italy. The quintessential French company Pernod owns the quintessential Australian Shiraz producer, Jacob’s Creek, and the quintessential Australian beer producer, Fosters (through its Treasury Estates subsidiary) owns that jewel of Napa Valley wineries, Beringer. The consumer may believe that he is getting a cute bottle of French artisanal wine from the Languedoc when he buys a bottle of Red Bicyclette, but the winery is actually owned, controlled, and marketed by E&J Gallo, California’s largest producer of jug-wines.

In his fascinating book Wine Politics, Tyler Colman quotes a senior French wine industry official in 2000, saying, “We don’t make wine to please consumers. We make wines that are typical of their terroirs. Fortunately for us, consumers like them.” Unfortunately for that arrogant official, the times are a-changing, and consumers are no longer dependent on the dictates of French bureaucrats. The Aussies have joined the game. While the winemakers of Burgundy fine tune their Appellation laws and wine labels to differentiate one side of a hill from another, and German winemakers create consumer confusion with labels mixing Grosslage with Einzellagen, the Australians cut straight to the chase with pictures of sweet, cuddly animals.

In 2005, the Old World conglomerate LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey) sold six hundred thousand cases of wine at an average price of $44, making $26 million. However, in the same year, the New World newcomer, Yellowtail, sold seven million cases of wine at an average cost of $6, making $42 million.


Yellowtail is a family owned Australian wine company that only began exporting to the United States in 2000, and which branded itself with brightly colored images of a cute Wallaby. In 2001, it sold 112,000 cases, a number that jumped to 7.5 million in 2005, helped by distribution through Costco. Yellow Tail has enjoyed similar success in the UK, which, in 2000, began importing more wine from Australia than from France. And in 2005, Yellowtail sold more wine to the US than all the French producers combined. Both research and experience demonstrates that most consumers today, especially when buying New World wines, want to buy wine by grape variety and brand name. Young consumers in particular tend to avoid what they consider to be confusing and pretentious wine labels, characteristic of some Old World wine bottles. Terroir and provenance have been surpassed by cute and cuddly.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

NEW WORLD VS OLD WORLD WINES [Part One]

Most of the vineyards in the New World are in hotter climates than their European homeland; consequently, with more dependable sunshine, the grapes are riper, resulting in wines which have a higher alcohol level and which are more full-bodied and fruitier. It has been argued, not without a certain level of Eurocentric snobbery as well as a certain level of truth, that New World wines reflect their culture—being more “loud” and “brash” than their more subtle and discreet European counterparts. In some ways, this has been exacerbated by Robert Parker, the American wine critic who has encouraged more full-bodied and fruit-forward wines in the New World.

Fruit Bombs: As discussed elsewhere, I have mixed feelings concerning Robert Parker. Initially, many Californian winemakers were striving to reproduce French wines and to recreate the same tastes. It was Parker who told them to be true to their terroir and to make wines which reflected the local conditions. “If you want to make French wines,” he said, “go to France.” This is most clearly shown in the difference between Chardonnay wines from Burgundy and California. The Californian Chardonnays are much more oaky, alcoholic, fruitier, and full-bodied. The Burgundies are far more subtle and lighter-bodied, exhibiting more herb, earth, mineral, and floral components. Parker is correct in encouraging the Californians to be themselves and not slavishly copy the French; it is just that his opinion is so influential that the pendulum has now swung the other way, and all Chardonnays are becoming the “hedonistic fruit bombs” that Parker so enjoys. The average alcohol content for European reds is about 12.5 percent while in the New World, 14 percent is more common.

Many Europeans argue that New World fruit-bombs overwhelm food, and that the lack of acidity and tannins fails to cleanse the palette while eating. However, while Europeans have always associated wine with food, a 2011 survey by Wine Opinions (www.wineopinions.com), found that most of the wine consumed by Americans is not drunk as part of a meal but rather alone as a cocktail, before or after a meal. So the harmonious balance of acid, tannins, and fruit, which pairs so well with food, is less important when the wines are to be enjoyed by themselves and the soft-rounded pleasures of the fruit can stand alone.

Annual variations and vintages: One of the big differences between annual vintages in Europe is rainfall. Lack of rain or too much rain, or rain falling at the wrong time, can destroy a whole year’s crop. This is why the quality of the wine from major European regions varies from year to year, and why the vintage of a European wine is of such importance. This is much less of a problem in the New World, where seasons are much more predictable and consistent. Much of Europe’s wine country is in the Mediterranean climate zone, with unpredictable rainfall and climate fluctuations. Much of California, however, like Australia and Chile, is desert. As early as 1962, Professor Albert J. Winkler at UC Berkeley had analyzed the temperature and climate of California’s grape-producing regions, and divided them into what are still referred to as the five Winkler Zones. Within those five zones, the annual rainfall and temperatures are fairly consistent, and thus predictable, by the winegrower. Rain does not usually fall during the growing season, and so water is provided, through irrigation, by the farmers. This means that the farmer has much more control over the growth and development of the vine, and it also means that his wines can be consistent from year to year. The only potential downside to this is drought. As this book is being written, California is introducing drastic laws to restrict car washing and lawn watering in order to adjust to the fourth year of severe drought; but so far, in mid 2017, Californian winegrowers have not yet been affected.

Varietals: With over two thousand years of experimentation and experience, Europeans had learned which grape varietals grew best in which region, and thus the concept of terroir and regional styles developed, most especially in France. Consumers were aware of the difference between Burgundy and Bordeaux, for example, or Champagne and Chablis. New World winegrowers, however, had to learn by trial and error, and so would plant a wide variety of different vines in the same geographic area. There was no concept of terroir, and the difference between a Napa and Sonoma red wine was a meaningless concept. Nobody had heard of either place; there was no tradition or reputation behind either name. Winegrowers, therefore, referred back to the French classics, and would label their red wines “Burgundy” and their white wines “Chablis,” for example. Initially, most New World wines were simply imitations of Old World wines, and so in addition to Californian Burgundy and Chablis, there was Australian Sherry and South African Port.


The formation of the European Union in the 1970s gave increased legal power to European winemakers who objected to the indiscriminate use of regional names like Champagne and Burgundy. At the same time, wine writers like Frank Schoonmaker and winemakers like Robert Mondavi encouraged the Alsace tradition of classifying and labeling the wines by their constituent grape. Consequently, for the past forty years, all New World wines have been identified by their grape varietal rather than their terroir. Today, even some French wines are identifying the varietal on the label in order to compete in the US market.