Indulging in different wines to match different dishes is great fun, but Peter Ranscombe asks if a good all-rounder can do the same job?
I’LL hold my hand up and confess I’m the first one to go over-the-top when it comes to wine – different bottles to pair with different courses during blow-out dinners or a plethora of discarded corks and screwcaps if friends come round.
I’m not alone by the looks of it; the ever-growing list of restaurants that offer five-, seven- or even ten-course dinners with matching wines stands testament to the popularity of vinous hedonism.
Yet, in these strained financial times, there’s something to be said for simplicity, and finding a single bottle that will pair with a wide variety of dishes.
The merits of sticking to just a sole wine were highlighted to me last night during a dinner hosted by New Zealand sauvignon blanc winemaker Whitehaven at Wright Brothers’ seafood restaurant at Battersea power station in London.
The 2017 Whitehaven Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (£14.99, The New Zealand House of Wine) has pronounced guava, passionfruit, lime and gooseberry on the nose, then more ripe fruit on the palate to balance its high acidity.
It’s a classic example of the Marlborough style that made New Zealand sauvignon blanc famous throughout the world.
Three courses, one wine
Our meal opened with a selection of oysters from Carlingford in Ireland served four ways: unaccompanied to complement the acidity in the wine; in a bonito flake tempura with a deliciously-sticky sweet miso sauce to contrast against the acidity; dressed with a pineapple and chili relish to highlight the wine’s tropical fruit flavours; and raw in a ceviche featuring lime juice, chili and coriander to emphases the citrus notes in the wine, which worked best for me.
Josper grills have become – frustratingly – popular for steaks, but Edinburgh-born Wright Brothers group head chef Richard Kirkwood has developed an intriguing new use for the charcoal oven by cooking fish in it.
He explained that the high heat allowed fillets of fish to cook quickly – in around four minutes – while locking in the moisture.
That juiciness was on show in a starter of Cornish mackerel fillet served with blood orange, fennel and chicory, with the fruity and savoury flavours picking out their counterparts in the wine.
A main course of pan-fried fillet of Brixham gurnard, roasted Jerusalem artichoke, kale and pickled cockles again harnessed the sauvignon blanc’s acidity, although – as proper wine expert Joe Wadsack pointed out in between dispensing a shoal of gurnard factoids – the meaty savouriness of the fish worked even better with the 2016 Whitehaven Chardonnay, which sadly isn’t on sale in the UK, although I notice Ellis Wharton Wines appears to stock the 2013 for £14.
Hats off to the sauvignon blanc for matching with the oysters, mackerel and gurnard – a wide range of fish and seafood – although I felt it struggled slightly with the roasted Yorkshire rhubarb dessert, served with blood orange, crystallised puff pastry and the most amazingly-tasty vanilla cream.
Five other great all-rounders
Domaine Wachau Gruner Veltliner Terraces, 2018, £7.49 (Lidl from 28 March)
Gruner is my go-to bottle on a wine list – it matches with a wide selection of seafood, white meats and salads thanks to its acidity and crisp apple and apricot flavours. It’s great to see Terraces back in Lidl’s next Wine Tour selection. So many Gruners at this price point lack any sign of the characteristic minerality, but Terraces avoids that trap, with delicious savoury notes woven into its green apple and lemon juice flavours.
Garzon Estate Pinot Noir Rosé, 2017, £72.99 for six bottles (The Fine Wine Company)
Rosé is often dismissed as the drink for people who can’t make up their minds between red and white, but nothing could be further from the truth, especially when it comes to food and wine matching. A dry rosé can work with fish, white meat and salads galore thanks to having the freshness of a white wine and a dose of the tannins from a red. This bottle hails from Uruguay and has a pretty floral nose, with fresh and fruity strawberry and raspberry flavours to balance its acidity.
Painted Wolf Wild Dogs Roussanne, 2014, £13.50 (Addison Wines)
And now for something completely different: roussanne is one of the white grapes normally found in the Rhone valley in the South of France, but here it’s being grown in Paarl in South Africa. I love this style of textured white wine and I think it’s a great option for food and wine matching, from salty roast chicken through pork chops with creamy sauces all the way to fish. This example has delicious red apple and cinnamon flavours, plus a healthy kick of acidity.
Thistledown Vagabond Grenache, 2018, £23.99 (Virgin Wines for the 2016)
Grenache is really versatile – in very general terms, it tends to have more tannin than pinot noir and so can take on a wider range of meats, yet it still has the lightness to match even meaty fish. The Thistledown range of wines is produced in Australia under the watchful eye of Edinburgh-based master of wine Giles Cooke. Vagabond is made from grenache harvested from old vines at Blewitt Springs in McLaren Vale and is full of brightness and freshness, with redcurrant and cranberry aromas and flavours mingling with fresh raspberry and spun sugar.
Champagne Gosset Grand Blanc de Blanc Brut, £62.49 (Great Grog)
Never underestimate the power of fizz when it comes to food and wine matching. Gosset’s blanc de blanc was one of the stars for me at wine merchant Great Grog’s tasting earlier this week, with white flowers and red apples on the nose and then a selection of red and green apple intensity to balance its acidity on the palate. Champagne is a classic match for seafood and as an aperitif, but that doesn’t mean you can’t explore pairings throughout a meal, especially with cheese.