What Wines to Drink with What
It can all really be said in a few words: red wine with meat, white wine with fish, rose when in doubt, and Champagne when extravagant. Just drink the wine and enjoy it. The only way to find out what you like is to keep on experimenting and there are certainly no rigid rules to follow. But you may find that our suggestions give you some new ideas. You can use these suggestions one of two ways — either choose a dish and then see if the wine paired with it inspires you, or start with the drink and a dish to it. If you are planning a dinner party, a helpful wine merchant should be able to suggest what to drink with it — if you’re in a restaurant, any wine waiter worth his salt should make recommendations — and not all from the most expensive wines on his list!
The more you know, the more interesting wine becomes. The basic ideas have grown up through experiment, and have subsequently become tradition for extremely good reasons. Red wine doesn’t go well with white fish because this seems to bring out a rather metallic, tinny taste in the wine, whereas the flavour of the white wine is complemented by that of the fish. This is the main object — to choose a wine that makes a perfect partnership with the food. Of course, some wines are absolutely perfect drunk by themselves, and it is a waste to cloud their taste with any food at all!
A full formal meal can have Champagne as an aperitif, Sherry with the soup, dry white wine with fish, Claret or Burgundy with red meat or game, sweet white wine or sweet sparkling wine with pudding; Port with the cheese and Brandy and liqueurs after the meal. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately) that doesn’t happen too often now. If you are having a fairly straightforward meal and want one wine to serve right through, make sure it does go reasonably with the various dishes.
Having a large jug of iced water on the table is a good American custom; it seems odd, but wine does make one terribly thirsty. A glass of mineral water is good as a thirst-quencher, too.
ORDER OF SERVING
There is a general rule to follow if you are interested in showing the wines to their best advantage: young before old; dry before sweet; white before red, or before sweet white; good wine before great.
Apart from matching the wine to the food and the occasion, choose it with the company in mind, too. Don’t give a really good wine to people who will drink it like orange squash, if this is going to annoy you.
CHOOSING WINE IN A RESTAURANT
Choosing wine in a restaurant seems to present more of a problem than buying it for home use. Perhaps it’s because wine waiters tend to hover about rather impatiently. If you can’t remember what any of the wines taste like, don’t think it mean to order half bottles. It gives a perfect opportunity for finding out what more wines are like, and you can always re-order. Half bottles are not supposed to be as good for producing the perfect wine as whole ones — a magnum is even better, but most of us can’t afford magnums all the time.
There are all sorts of things that go better than wine with the particular dishes of their own country: Schnapps with herring, Retsina or Ouzo with taramasalata, for example. Guinness goes with mussels and Hock and Seltzer with strawberries, but one can mix and match all sorts of things to make a change.
If there are two of you, the usual practice is to order half a bottle of dryish white wine to go with the first course and a whole bottle of red or white for the second. However, one bottle may well last the whole meal, depending on your thirst. Champagne goes perfectly throughout a meal. For a touch of glamour at half the price try half a bottle as an aperitif and to drink with the first course.
When in doubt the carafe wine is naturally the safest bet, though, sadly, it’s not always as good as it should be. It is a good indication of a restaurant’s standards if the patron has chosen a sound carafe wine. It is definitely the answer for a large party, when everyone has ordered totally different dishes. Red, white and rose are usually listed, and some more enterprising restaurants have a choice of both sweet and dry white.
Of course, there are hundreds and hundreds of wines to choose from. One cannot possibly list them all. Some particular favourites may be missed out, and anyway, once you do start trying to find your own personal choice to go with different dishes, the game is endless. The best place to experiment is at home. It’s much cheaper than paying restaurant mark ups for what might be a BIG mistake. At least at home you can open another bottle and keep The Mistake to drink at the next meal with something better suited to it.
It is mostly French and German wines that have come to be known and accepted as the best wines of their particular type throughout the world. That is not to say that many other countries do not also produce excellent wines, even though they don’t have the wonderful finesse and bouquet of a Lafite or Latour. Sadly, some of the better French and German wines are becoming so exorbitant that one is forced to try other wines, apart from the interest of doing so, if meals are not going to become ruinously expensive. One can’t have a Margaux with every meal — but who, truthfully, would want to. Half the joy of appreciating the best, is knowing the ordinary.
A memory for taste
If French wines are hard to get, or very expensive in your part of the world, try one just occasionally. It will give you a standard by which to measure the wines that are more readily available. When you have made comparisons and discovered the wines you particularly enjoy, you can start to build up your own personal list. The only thing is to drink as many wines as possible and try to remember what they taste like. This is probably the most difficult part — to actually build up an accurate taste memory. It does not seem to come so naturally as remembering colours or sounds, perhaps because people are not generally brought up to describe and record the taste in words. They simply drink. Happily!
Wines to Drink with Special National Foods
One of the guide-lines is to match the style of cooking of the country or the area with the wine. In an Italian restaurant you can hardly avoid drinking Italian wine, but this approach doesn’t work when it comes to an Indian restaurant. Curry is difficult to match because the hot spiciness completely overpowers any other flavour, and frequently leaves one gasping. Lager is the most popular choice. A spicy Alsace Gewurtztraminer or a strong Rhone wine go quite well, but in the end most of the taste is quite obscured anyway; lime juice and soda water is far cheaper.
The Chinese is the only other great cuisine in the world to match that of the French, in the variety of dishes and sauces from all over the vast continent, but China has never produced very good wine. Selecting what to drink with Chinese food is very much a matter of personal taste; there are no really good guide-lines to follow, not even from the Chinese I have asked. Try a strong Hock, a Burgundy or, again, a Rhone. Italian wines go best, I think, but there are so many small dishes in the course of a Chinese meal that it is quite impossible to find something that matches all the delicate flavours. Chinese tea is delicious — and infinitely more refreshing than coffee at the end of the meal.