From riesling to the Smiths: Wine, food and music matching

Food isn’t the only match for wine – you can also pair it with music too, as Peter Ranscombe finds out.

WHAT happens when you mix wines from Alsace, food from a French bistro and Brit Pop from the 1980s?

The answer is you get Foulques Aulagnon, the export manager at CIVA, the trade body that promotes wines from France’s German and Swiss frontier.

Aulagnon not only has a passion for the wines he champions but also a not-so-secret love for Brit Pop from the 1980s.

Strike up a conversation with him about gewurztraminer or riesling and it’s not long before talk will turn to The Smiths.

Aulagnon is incredibly knowledgeable and one of the nicest people working in the wine industry – he was the ideal host during a trip to the region earlier this year.

And he was at 28-50 Maddox Street in London last night to host a unique dinner, which paired his favourite wines from Alsace with his top tunes from the 80s.

Aulagnon kicked off his mega-mix with a 2008 Vins Schoenheitz Cremant d’Alsace (not yet available in the UK), a sparkling wine made from the often-overlooked Auxerrois grape, showing all the acidity that was needed to pair with arancini. The bubbles reminded Aulagnon of the drumbeat in Depeche Mode’s I Just Can’t Get Enough, leading to the first vinous musical pairing of the evening.

In a similar vein, the freshness of the 2014 Josmeyer Le Dragan Riesling (£323 for 12 bottles, Fine & Rare) evoked memories of The Silencers’ 1998 track Answer Me, with the wine’s concentrated red apple flavours matching baked celeriac, goat curd and rocket and its fresh acidity cutting through the earthy flavours.

A delicious salt beef brisket and cornichons on sourdough was paired with both a 2015 Domaine Weinbach Cuvee Ste Catherine l’Inedit Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling (£220 for six bottles, Justerini & Brooks) – which boasted really concentrated pear flavours and crisp acidity – and Secret by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. The melancholy nature of the OMD tune chimed with the traditional sugar-acid balance of the wine.

Following the canapes – and a quick blast of Tainted Love by Soft Cell as guests arrived – Aulagnon paired two wines with each of the four courses.

A starter of salmon gravlax was accompanied by a 2013 Domaine Albert Boxler Grand Cru Sommerberg Riesling (£43.71, Gauntleys Fine Wine) and the Fine Young Cannibals’ cover of Suspicious Minds, along with a 2008 Trimbach Cuvee Frederic Emile Riesling (£40.60, GP Brands) and Just Like Heaven by The Cure.

While both wines produced similar apricot and peach notes, it was the fresher acidity in the Boxler that won the day for me.

Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart – one of the 80s’ most iconic anthems – made an appearance to pair with a melt-in-the-mouth shoulder of Norfolk lamb and a 2015 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Lieu-dit Clos Winsbuhl Pinot Gris (£196 for six bottles, Fine & Rare).

In between burst on her air guitar all evening, master of wine Sarah Abbott cleverly linked the grey skin of the pinot gris grapes to the melancholy nature of the music, while Aulagnon also highlighted the track’s off-beat drum rhythm.

I’d seldom think of pairing a white wine with lamb, but the slight sweetness of the pinot gris worked perfectly with the inherent sweetness of the meat.

It was the only red of the evening that won my heart though, with the 2015 Veronique & Thomas Mure V Pinot Noir (£34.99 for the 2013 vintage, AG Wines) offering tonnes of flavour to bely its pale colour. Spun sugar, wood smoke and a touch of mint on the nose led into rich red cherry and sharper redcurrant and blackcurrant on the palate – all in sync with This is the Day by The The (at which point my word processor has gone crazy with so many “The”s in a row).

Having dinner in a French bistro meant cheese before pudding, so the Stinking Bishop, Munster and Epoisses were joined on the table by a 2014 Domaines Schlumberger Grand Cru Kessler Gewurztraminer (£23, Tanners Wines), with its peach, pear drop and rose aromas and runny honey flavours, and the 2013 Domaine Weinbach Lieu-dit Altenbourg Gewurztraminer (£185 for six bottles, Justerini & Brooks), with more pear drops, higher acidity and flavours of apple jelly.

Crowd-pleasing cheeses and crowd-pleasing songs to accompany them, with the Schlumberger paired with The Housemartins’ Caravan of Love and the Weinbach taking on Golden Brown by The Stranglers.

The higher acidity of the Weinback – in what Aulagnon called an “old-fashioned style”, just like The Stranglers’ song – really appealed to me, although both wines slipped down quite handsomely.

Poached rhubarb, rose water mousse, meringue and strawberry sorbet rounded off the meal to the sound of Our House by Madness and – finally, Aulagnon’s favourites – The Smiths with The Boy with the Thorn in His Side.

Madness played alongside a 2010 Domaine Bott-Geyl Grand Cru Sonnenglanz Gewurztraminer (£22.99, JN Wine), while the 2005 Vins Schoenheitz Selection de Grains Nobles Riesling (again sadly not yet available in the UK) – arguably the wine of the night, with its bruised apple aromas and peachy flavours – was in harmony with The Smiths… if harmony with Morrissey is possible.

As the strains of the Pet Shop Boys’ Always on My Mind played guests out to the exit, it was interesting to reflect on how wine – just like music – can evoke an emotional reaction. Perhaps pairing 80s Brit Pop and Alsace’s food-friendly wines wasn’t such a daft idea after all.