I have lost count of the number of times I have been talked through the basic rules of food and wine matching, each occasion more infuriating than the last. It’s not that there’s no truth in it, it’s just largely irrelevant. And the amount that some people go on about it is not just tiresome – I’m certain that it puts many people off wine entirely, stops many more from enjoying their wine, or leaves them feeling guilty if they do.
Sod the lot of them. Eat what you want. Drink what you want.
The first and most important question when considering a wine and food match is this: how many people are eating and drinking? If the answer is two, and in my house it normally is, then go no further. You will spend 10 minutes eating your food, and all evening, perhaps two evenings, on the wine. Make sure it’s a wine you want to drink; if you don’t like the way it tastes with your food, stop drinking it until you’ve finished the food. It’s OK.
If four or more of you are eating and drinking, then it’s theoretically both feasible and reasonable to attempt a good match. Now here’s problem two: it’s not hard to find a wine that will form a reasonable relationship with your food, but though the perfect match does exist, it’s bastard hard to achieve, requiring a detailed knowledge not just of the food, its ingredients and its method of preparation, but also of the wine itself. The key issue is this: I (and most people) rarely get more than a couple of bottles of any one wine, so when I pluck a bottle from my wine, um, cupboard, I’m to a certain extent in the dark: though I can hazard a guess at what it will taste like based on where it comes from and what it’s made of, I don’t really know until it’s open. And once it’s open I’m having it, whether it’s a perfect match or a useless one.
It’s hard to find a proper wine person who is quite so dismissive of the art of food and wine matching as myself. Which makes Mark de Vere something of a personal hero. He’s from Oxford, is entitled to suffix his name with the initials MW, which means he knows his wine, and works in California for Constellation Brands, the people behind Ravenswood’s zinfandels, Manischewitz kosher wine, Corona lager and lots of other booze, though he concentrates on Robert Mondavi. That’s him at the top of the page.
He’s also an original thinker when it comes to food and wine matching. And his original thought is this: don’t worry about the wine – just choose whatever you like – worry about the food. If the food has been properly prepared – specifically, if salt and acid are in some degree of equilibrium – your wine will taste just fine. It will taste like it’s supposed to taste, and that’s the main thing. He proved this to me once, by serving me a load of totally unseasoned food (that’s it above) and making me drink wine with it, and watching my displeasure. And then by encouraging me to squeeze lemon and sprinkle salt upon the food (that’s it below), and making me drink wine again, and smiling knowingly at my sudden enthusiastic nodding. Red wine and fish; white wine and steak – it’s all good. So long as you choose the wine you want to drink, and the food you want to eat, happiness is guaranteed. “Choose the wine you like, taste it, taste your food, and if it doesn’t taste right, add lemon and salt, and the wine will taste the way it’s supposed to,” he says. “It’s that simple.”
It’s a beautifully straightforward philosophy, and with plates of food based round slabs of protein I’m convinced that it works. It won’t turn sauvignon blanc into the best possible match for a rare T-bone steak, but if what you want with your T-bone is sauvignon blanc it will allow both beef and booze to taste as they should, and leave you free to do lots of unselfconscious grinning. It’s less handy when it comes to pudding, which doesn’t tend to benefit from the heavy-handed addition of salt, but then again salt is only sodium chloride, not magic fairy pixie dust.
So burn your food-and-wine-matching bibles, all you need at your table is some salt, some citrus and an open mind. Drink what makes you happy, eat what makes you happy, be happy. Nothing could be simpler.