Matching Wines and Dishes
Many wines will go with every dish. In most cases there are really no hard and fast rules, and where there are, it’s a good idea to try something different. It largely depends on how much you feel like spending and, if you’re at home, what wine you’ve got in stock.
In principle, the hors d’oeuvre is death to any wine. The vinegar is a direct enemy. In French vin aigre means sour wine, and the two just do not mix. That is not to say that you can’t drink anything, but don’t expect it to taste its best and then wonder why it doesn’t. Whatever you were drinking as an aperitif goes quite well (but not whisky or gin). Smoked salmon and eel are difficult as the oily taste is so strong. But most of the ‘starters’ on a basic menu go best with a dry white wine. With oysters the accepted choice is Chablis or Muscadet. Some gamey pates are better with Burgundy, and Quiche Lorraine naturally goes with the wine of its country — Alsace. In grapefruit the acidity destroys any other taste. Soup Sherry is the best accompaniment for clear soup, and if it is not desperately expensive, tastes delicious actually in the soup. A wine is not generally chosen to match this course, so just start with whatever wine you’ve chosen for the main course.
Eggs do not go with any wines particularly well. The sulphur in them somehow flattens the taste of the wine altogether. Ouefs en cocotte is blander than some egg dishes, but it’s better to start the wine when you’ve finished the egg.
Fish can be divided into as many categories as meat, all with their own styles and sauces. If the cooking is simple, then a medium dry white; if the sauce is rich then a stronger flavoured wine. The really superb Burgundies, the Rhine and Moselle wines, these complement any dish that has had a great deal of work put into it. A very strong wine with something like a plain Truite au Bleu will simply overpower the delicate flavour and it is rather a waste of both wine and food. Loire wines are excellent. If you want an interesting variation in tastes from the same area, compare a Muscadet with a Sancerre. The former is light and crisp and the latter has a flinty taste and a very strong bouquet. Salmon and lobster deserve individual attention. Opinion varies on what goes best with them: some people prefer a fine premier cru Claret with hot salmon. With lobster try Hock, Alsace or a very good Beaujolais.
Meat — white meat, pork or veal
Either red wine or a white wine that is not too dry and there are no hard-and-fast rules; a large number of wines go very well. It all depends on the nationality of the restaurant, and how much you feel like spending.
Meat — red meat, lamb or beef
Red wines: I prefer Claret with lamb and a Burgundy or Rhone with beef. An Italian Barolo is a different wine to try; it has several years of bottle age. There are also some good claret-type wines from Torgiano, the central area of Italy. If you have mint sauce, don’t expect that to do anything for the wine. A strong Rhone will counteract it fairly well.
Birds — chicken and turkey
Chicken is a very versatile bird, lending itself to all sorts of marvellous sauces, and the wine should follow the style of the dish. With a coq au vin, for example, a wine from the Burgundy area; with Chicken Parisienne, Champagne; with plain roast chicken, a good Claret, and so on.
Turkey also goes with Claret or white wine.
Pheasant, grouse, partridge, quail, pigeon and hare all call for a red wine. The higher the game is hung, the stronger the wine should be. Venison goes well with a Cote Rotie or Hermitage from the Rhone, and also with a very good Rhine wine, which is not so surprising, perhaps, when one remembers how many deer there are in Germany. The local wine is the natural partner.
Port or, if you don’t like Port, red wine. With Bel Paese a vintage Chianti, with Brie a Burgundy.
Wine does not like the acid in fruit, so a good wine should be chosen if you are selecting something specially for this course. The maxim of the wine merchant is to buy on apples and sell on cheese. Sometimes two really sweet flavours together are too much, but a sweet Sauterne with peaches can be delicious, and so can a Tawny Port with ice cream, or the Madeiras and Muscatels. The really superb German Trocken-beerenauslese or Chateau Yquem, for example, should be drunk quite alone, preferably on a terrace on a perfect summer evening.
Port, Brandy, Armagnac, Malt Whisky or any of the dozens of liqueurs on the market.
When you are travelling abroad, obviously the best choice is the local vin du pays. The wine can be kept cool either by being part-buried in the earth, or put in a stream if there happens to be one handy. Don’t forget to anchor it firmly, otherwise your last sight of the bottle may be as it bobs gently downstream.
P.S. A thoughtful idea for a birthday party if you can afford it: if the year was a good one, and if it will be appreciated, choose a wine of the same vintage as the person whose birthday it is.