Peter Ranscombe tries a wine recommendation service from Britain’s biggest grocer.
IT’S a situation that will be familiar to every foodie.
You’ve researched your recipe, you’ve grabbed your ingredients, you’ve invited your friends round – but what wine are you going to serve with your chosen dish?
If you were in a restaurant ordering a meal then you’d turn to the sommelier and mine their encyclopedic knowledge of food and wine matching.
Now, you can do the same at home.
Tesco is running a “sommelier messaging service” until 16 April.
Between midday and 7pm, a team of 20 sommeliers and wine waiters from restaurants throughout the UK – led by television presenter Helen McGinn – will be on hand to help.
All shoppers need to do is text the word “WINE” to 82228 and then answer three simple questions about the dish they’re cooking, their budget, and their preferences, covering colours, grapes, flavours, and so on.
Then, one of the sommeliers will text back with a recommendation from Tesco’s range.
For every wine recommendation, Tesco will donate £1 to Hospitality Action, a charity that supports hospitality workers.
The service has echoes of Virgin Wines’ takeaway matching webpage, but with the nice addition of the personalised recommendations from the sommeliers.
It bridges the gap between Googling frantically to find wine recommendations and the more in-depth type of service offered by Waitrose’s “Wine Tasting at Home”, in which an expert visits your house to run a wine tasting – virtually at the moment.
Having spent the past seven years pairing wines to our guest chefs’ dishes for my Wine to Dine column in the printed Scottish Field magazine, I decided to let someone else do all the hard work this time by putting Tesco’s “SMS” service through its paces…
THE DISH: Chicken nuggets
THE RECOMMENDATION: Finest Brooks Road Margaret River Chardonnay 2019 (£15)
THE VERDICT: I instantly liked this idea – I’d deliberately set my price range high to see which suggestion would come back. Margaret River in Western Australia is famous for its chardonnays – as I discovered when I visited in 2019 – and the Brookes Road made for Tesco by Howard Park Wines didn’t disappoint, with high acidity to cut through the greasy nuggets, and plenty of lemon rind, apricot, and subtle cream flavours for balance. The SMS’s other suggestion – Tesco Finest Premier Cru Brut Champagne (£18 until 19 April then £20) – was one of my lockdown highlights last year and would work equally as well.
THE DISH: Veggie burger
THE RECOMMENDATION: Kanonkop Kadette Cape Blend 2018 (£11)
THE VERDICT: I was a bit naughty by typing simply “veggie burger” as that covers a multitude of sins these days, and so the pairing will depend a little on what’s going into the patty. However, the clever sommelier on duty suggested that Kanonkop’s Kadette – a blend of of 37% pinotage with Bordeaux favourites cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot – would work well if the burger was being barbecued, which it would indeed, thanks to its heavy smoky nose, meaty tannins, and mix of blackberry jam, vanilla, and dark chocolate flavours.
THE DISH: Sweet and sour chicken Cantonese style
THE RECOMMENDATION: Guigal Cote Du Rhone Blanc 2018 (£10 until 19 April then £12)
THE VERDICT: Now this is an interesting idea – I wouldn’t have normally reached for a Southern Rhone white to go with a sticky sweet and sour sauce as the combination of roussanne and marsanne grapes would tend to be too savoury. Yet what sets Guigal’s bottle apart is its use of 65% viognier in its blend, which brings ripe peach and lemon sherbet flavours, while still having tonnes of fresh acidity to cut through the sauce. Thumbs up from me.
THE DISH: Steak fajitas
THE RECOMMENDATION: Finest The Trilogy Malbec 2017 (£12)
THE VERDICT: Crafted for Tesco by Bodegas & Vinedos Catena, this malbec is worth every penny of the step up in price. Arguably the best wine among the six recommendations, with a complex nose full of violets, raspberry, sweeter raspberry jam, and blackberry that strayed into blueberry territory, prompting me to ponder whether some of the wine had undergone Beaujolais’ telltale carbonic maceration process. Either way, what really impressed on the palate was the balanced between the fresh acidity and the sweet jammy fruit. Gorgeous stuff, and the sensible 13.5% alcohol by volume means it won’t set alarm bells ringing if your fajitas are spicy – high alcohol wine accentates spice and so a 14.5% or 15% red would be a no-no.
THE DISH: Jam roly poly
THE RECOMMENDATION: Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2016 (£12 until 19 April then £15)
THE VERDICT: A big thumbs up from me. Having concentrated so much on smaller port houses in recent years, it was great to rediscover Taylor’s LBV. Tonnes of red fruit – stretching from strawberry and raspberry to match the jam through to richer red cherry – and a healthy dose of fresh acidity too, which stopped the match from becoming cloying.
THE DISH: Chocolate mousse
THE RECOMMENDATION: Finest Sauternes 2018 (£12 for 375ml)
THE VERDICT: Sauternes with chocolate is a classic match, while Tesco’s example – made for the supermarket giant by Yvon Mau – is an old stalwart. Yet there’s a reason why pairings become classics – it’s because they work. This bottle is so light on its feet, with its acidity adding freshness to the chocolate mousse, while its level of sugar paired perfectly. The Taylor’s LBV port would work well too.
To read more about Peter Ranscombe’s adventures around the world – both in person and online – visit his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain