Enemies to Wine: What Not To Eat with Wine
There are many foolish notions current about dishes with which certain wines will not ‘go’. It is equally to the point to state that there are certain people – heavily scented, both male and female, with cigarettes alight throughout a meal, drinkers of several double measures of spirits prior to any fine wines, and those who, if they see a fancy label, hear a wine name mentioned in some gossip column and know that a certain bottle has attained a high price in a well-publicised sale – with whom not even a modest wine will ‘go’ either. Circumstances are equally harmful: a crowded, smoky, noisy atmosphere, or any form of distraction such as an argument, (not, be it noted, a discussion), some sort of ‘show’ as in a night club, or simply the sort of company who admit honestly, that what they eat and drink is not of the slightest interest to them. For such, the choice of wine is easy: something cheap (decanted, if they are likely to be impressed) but good as the host has got to drink it too. There may also be just the ‘one righteous man’ who will appreciate a drink that may not come his way as routine. There are reports of rich people who give guests cheap wine, themselves drinking something special; this would seem to me the negation of what is understood by the word ‘hospitality’.
There are, however, some foods that will not be good partners to good wines. The obvious example is anything with vinegar, which naturally will change the taste of any wine in the mouth if it is assertive in any dish. There are, though, two points to bear in mind: the first is that a salad, as such, is not the type of dish with which one would anyway serve a fine, much less a delicate wine. At the sort of formal meals still affected by what is the conventional type of menu, salad if served will not appear until the table wine is finished or nearly so. Also – for one-should never be bound by convention – it depends on the salad and even more on the dressing as to what damage this may do to the wine.
If a ‘French dressing’ consists of two or three parts of oil to one of vinegar – and malt vinegar at that, (Raymond Postgate admitted it was useful in the making of certain pickles but otherwise said it served only to remove thefrom furniture) – then of course the vinegar will ‘turn’ any wine being drunk alongside the salad. Some people use lemon juice – I admit I find this insipid in most salads – others a little of the wine, which to me seems peculiar. But I have known some of the greatest authorities on wine make no adverse comment (which they were quite capable of doing) when they had salad at my table. This was because the dressing would always have been five or six parts of whatever oil I had thought appropriate, plus a very small ‘one’ of my own wine vinegar. This has never seemed to do any harm to the wine – and, in case the reader begins to be apprehensive about ‘all that oil’, it should be noted that the oil is used to coat the salad first, the vinegar acting as a very light final condiment immediately prior to serving.
Then there are the very strongly-flavoured foods, such as curry or anything with a pronounced spice dominating the flavours. It is possible to take wine with these – but how easy will it be for you to taste anything except the food? If wine is to be served, then something fairly robust, of no special style is all that is required. The same applies to Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian dishes – they are not intended to be partnered by a wine. If very strong spirit-based drinks have been served before a meal, then any delicate wine will make only a feeble impression on the palate – serve a good but assertive wine and, ideally, have a first course to refresh the palate.
Eggs, because of their usually unctuous and palate-coating character, are also not ideal with fine wines. For eggy dishes and egg sauces, something faintly assertive in the medium range is preferable. Some people get a taste of metal if they drink red wine with eggs or white fish, but this is personal (I don’t). Ham is sometimes cited as the ‘problem’ dish – but again, how is it cooked? If in wine, then serve the same sort of wine. If in cider, why not cider? Anything with a very fruity addition, such as pineapple, oranges or apricots will, because of the fruit’s acidity, assert itself against the wine, so choose something slightly sweet and suave to counteract this.
Sweets do mask the taste of a wine, because of the sugar – the easiest way to conceal the defects in a wine is to sweeten it! So a sweet dish will prevent any delicate flavours being noted from the wine, just as a strongly-smelling dish will counteract any delicate bouquet. The odd way in which many French will serve a bone dry Champagne at the end of a meal, accompanying a creamy, fruity pudding or ice is strange: something sweeter and more luscious will usually seem better. Anything enriched with liqueurs will also have too pronounced a flavour to enable the wine to make its effect. With savoury things, or anything very salt or piquant, no wine can compete. Lemons, citrus fruits in general, anything with a really strong flavour, such as mint, caraway, treacle and toffee will defeat most wines. If you want to serve dishes involving them, finish the wine beforehand.
The service of after-dinner mints before or even with the port is an incomprehensible notion to the wine-lover – and really will not enhance the flavour of the mint any more than the wine! The really palate-stunner, however, is chocolate. Even coffee is not quite as definite in making it impossible to taste anything else afterwards – which is why, at a dinner when the wines are of any importance, there should be a pause before the coffee. But for an hour or more after chocolate, the mouth really does not seem able to register anything. Although most of those who have taught me share my love of chocolate, the only thing to drink with or immediately after it is a spirit in some form.