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Which Wine? What Grape? What Food?
Wine has become a huge business in 2010Click thumbnail to view full-size
Buying wine today is a labrinthine exercise
What Wine? What Grape? What Food?
This writer has never really been a great fan of wine. This is especially true today, when most affordable (read cheap) alcoholic grape juice tasted like a mixture of vinegar and horse piss. No doubt some study of the subject and the world’s wines would steer one through what is a veritable maze of offerings onto being able to find some at least tolerable. But, generally, a decent bottle in the UK is upwards of a tenner a time, (about $15). The problem, of course, is the demand: wines are being bottled and shipped to an insatiable market which just wants something cheap and which they can get pissed on. For me, that’s not the object of wine: in fact, I have never enjoyed drinking wine without at least a piece of roll or cheese, etc., to accompany it. My heavy drinking days are over, thank de lawd, but if I ever wanted to get legless, a good single malt would be the choice - even bitter - but not wine.
Once, you supped a red vintage, or possibly a strong rose (not today’s bloody rosewater!) with red meat and a white with chicken and fish. That seems to have mostly gone by the board and many people today just go for whatever they like regardless of what meat, fowl or fish is being served.
However, just a little study will give you a clue of what wine to try and find for the right price to go with common dishes to enhance the meal, just as you would with a good sauce. It all depends on the grape, the alcohol and acid contents; the sweetness or tartness - the type, of course, along with several other determining factors…
There are hundreds of grape varieties used in wine making. The French wine industry never really recovered from the bugs that attacked the roots years ago and killed-off more than half of the vines, despite urgent root transplants from American vines which were resistant to the bug. The industry has bounced back, but experts talk of the great labels of yesteryear with a sigh…bottles of these great wines that do still exist fetch six figures at auction, palatable or not.
Anyway, there follows a list of a few of the more popular and great reds, mostly from France and a couple from Italy. These are some of the grapes used by the now popular wine makers in the USA, Australia and South America, etc. I have hinted at their composition and a few of the foods they might accompany. There are many tomes on the market telling you all about the wines of the world if you want more information than in this humble article.
White Grapes. Best known are the Chardonnay variety, which have found their way all around the world from their origin in Burgundy and Champagne, often aged in oak barrels these days to add complexity. So much variety that you should find one to go with any sort of dish.
Chenin Blanc, coming from the west of the Loire valley and extending through Anjou, Saumur and Touraine. Dry grapes famed for wines of high acidity. With highly flavored dishes, such as duck a la orange.
Gewurztraminer, an Alsace grape that has also found steady but limited world-wide appeal. Very full bodied wines suitable to drink alone and difficult to match with many foods, but goes well wherever peppers and onions are generously used. Also goes well with strong cheeses.
Melon. Originally a Burgundy grape that has migrated to the Muscadet area of the Loire estuary. A good match for fish and other seafood and also does well with veggies and pork dishes. Muscat/Moscato wines smell and taste of the grape distinctively, made from late ripening and very sweet grapes: some are low alcohol and go well with the deserts such as Xmas Pud!
Riesling. A grape that has been much abused and has resulted in many insipid and unimaginative wines. Stick to labels that state merely “Riesling” without further clarification of a vineyard name. Sweet wines best used as aperitifs…the Australian varieties are often superior.
Sauvignon Blanc. World-wide availability these days and hard to locate due to the fact the grape is seldom mentioned on the label, don’t know why. (An annoying and common problem all across the industry and should be addressed). Goes with a vast range of foods.
Semillon. Another important white Bordeaux grape now found all over. Found in Sauternes after conversion by “noble rot,” (see below). The Australian variety often good with curries and other spicy dishes (Mexican, etc.).
Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc. The famed great red of Bordeaux that has been borrowed by vintners all around the globe. It has a deep red to purple color and a fruity, blackcurrant flavor. The better wines made with the best grapes need a substantial period of aging, so look for an older bottling. To accompany meat, from lamb to beef.
Gamay. The grape used in Beaujolais. Good drinking wine, soft and gulpable, A good party piss-up juice and goes well in punch or dishes made with fruit.
Grenache. Used by a lot of makers in the Rhone, usually blended with local grapes; for full-flavored dishes and meat.
Merlot. Often the imbiber’s choice, easy and soft on the palate, good with fowl.
Nebbiolo. Italian wine very powerful flavor, with overwhelm many dishes. Good with competitors like Camembert, Venison, Liver and Kidneys.
Pinot Noir. Back to Burgundy for this great grape making fine, fruity reds, fruity scents. Usually expensive these days due to popularity and time of maturity of the better ones. Good with cheddar and that hung pheasant.
Sangiovese. From Central Italy, much variety in maker’s styles and the quality. OK with some of the less well known (and hard to match) cheeses, like Munster and Chaume.
Syrah/Shiraz. Intense, raspberry tasting wines. From the Northern Rhone area and need strong accompanying dishes such as Indian as so on.
Rose. I used to like a strong, crackling rose, such as Lancers and Mateos, with most American and British dinner food. But I am not up to date with modern roses which, as I said, remind me of rosewater, but I haven’t bought any top ones, if such exist, and there seems much antipathy towards them at meal times today, perhaps a reader will clue me up.
Apart from the Japanese who would top up their wine glass of vintage Chateau Lafitte with ice if they had the opportunity, most consumers have definite ideas about whether to drink their wines at room temperature, above, or chilled. Chilling wines make them taste fresher and are nicer on a hot day, but tends to subdue the flavor - not the ideal when you have just paid 30 quid for it. White, low acidity whites are best served by chilling, as do very sweet varieties; serving champagne and sparkling wines warm will tend to minimize your guest list as well as put diners in danger from flying corks. Light bodied reds are often preferred chilled and all reds should be lightly chilled if the room temperature is more than about 68F., or so. But avoid over-chilling the latter wines as they will taste dull accompanying your stronger menu.
Decanting, should you bother? Few people bother to decant wines these days, no time, no time, we need to get legless!! The pizza has arrived! Decanting serves two purposes: it allows you to leave out the sludge older wines have at the bottom of the bottle and it gives the decanted wines a larger surface with which to “breathe.” The very act of decanting will allow oxygen in and the wine to open up its flavor like a flower bloom. Do not leave in decanter long as they will deteriorate sooner.
So…salute! Cheers! I’m off to make a cup of tea!
Notes: Noble Rot. A benevolent, grey fungus, “Botrytis cinerea,” which can destroy a grape harvest, or, when picked at an opportune moment - usually grape by grape - can impart a fantastic flavor to the wine