A simple enough topic, often featured in wine- and or lifestyle magazines, fancy cookbooks and evening courses. You have some food, you find a wine that fits. Everyone’s happy.
But to a sommelier those four words can pose a threat as well as a challenge. Consider the triumph when you manage to find the perfect match for a complicated vegetable dish or when you – after a few minutes of floundering – come up with a wine to appease a fickle gentleman who absolutely MUST have a powerful red with his poached cod served with liver soaked in vinegar. Imagine the despair when you’ve found a fantastic pairing, but either the food or the wine is too complex or too racey for the guests to understand, or when the whole match fails on the fact that they are tired of drinking white and would have prefered a red or rosé with their dish. Not to mention the times you just plain fail to find a good combination and get written down by critcs and press…
Not to long ago our restaurant was having a winemakers dinner with a Tuscan wine producer. I knew the wines and I know my chefs quite well, but come the day of the event they were all recovering from a bout of cold and had managed to loose their sence of taste. Imagine three tired chefs whose palates couldn’t distinguish syrup from fish stock, cooking up a five course meal for over 40 guests… The food actually turned out quite nice, but it posed an extra challenge for me as a sommelier to go into the kitchen and help the chefs tweak the dishes so that the levels of acidity and spice as well as the the amount of reduction were at the same level as the basis of the food and wine pairings.
And maybe, just maybe, that should be taken as a sign. Maybe food and wine pairings aren’t at their best in a restaurant. To the contrary, perhaps the highest levels of greatness are and should be created in the home kitchen, where you as both head chef and sommelier (come on – you picked out the wine, you chopped the onions, you’re probably going to have to do the dishes – ergo you are both kitchen and front of house) can taste the wine, adjust your dish and find an intuitive balance between the two.
So how does one set about this food and wine pairing? Let us take an example. Imagine a rich Italian tomato based fish soup. Is it based on fresh tomatoes or on crushed tomatoes? Crushed tomatoes automatically give a higher level of bitterness that you might want to balance with some sweetness. That in turn should warrant an extra swig of wine in the sauce to highten the acidity, as well as thin what could easily become an over-reduced sauce. In this case you’re going to want a wine with rich fruit, a good acidity to tackle the cooking wine and without oak-induced bitterness. Be wary of high-alcoholic wines; the tomatoes will strip away all the lovely fruit and leave you with the heated taste of alcohol in your mouth.
If you´re using fresh tomatoes the trick is to find a nice balance between them and the stock, not letting the umami and/or ”fishiness” of the latter overpower the dish while still making it interesting enough for the guests. Are you adding shellfish or redfish as many recipes – amongst other the legendary Cacciucco alla Livornese – call for? In that case the dish will be richer, more exciting, with so much going on in your bowl that maybe the wine should be toned down a bit, reduced to a structured and crisp companion to help clean the palate inbetween spoonfuls.
Regardless of your style of cooking, the wines below each have their own qualities that enable them to match most tomato based fish soups I’ve come across. And in the end, there isn’t much that an extra pinch of salt or swig of olive oil won’t save…
H. Wirsching Iphöfer Julius-Echter-Berg Silvaner Kabinett Trocken 2012
Varenummer: 5284401 Pris: 200 kr 12,5%
Clear and crisp with good acidity and length. This classic silvaner has a clean style that will complement and cut through many dishes without overpowering them.
Domaine Weinbach Cuvée Théo Riesling 2013
Varenummer:1647401 Pris: 259,9 kr 13,5%
Rich and concentrated with a vivacity that is especially pronounciated in the 2013 vintage. The Théo riesling has a knack for handling dishes that need powerful but not heavy wines.
Occhipinti SP 68 Bianco 2013
Varenummer: 513101 Pris 199,9 kr 12%
Made from a mix of muscat d’Alexandria and the lesser known albanello, the bianco has a pronounced florality complemented by a fist-full of minerals. It works wonders with bitter elements such as tomatoes and greens and is well-equipped to handle shellfish and other seafood.
Fregola ai frutti di mare
2 store porsjoner
200 g klippfisk
200 g fregola
2 fedd hvitløk
1 dl olivenolje
1 bunt bladpersille
200 g hjerteskjell
200 g blåskjell
1 dl tørr hvitvin
2 ss tomatpuré
1 dl fiskekraft
1 dl skalldyrkraft
6 grillede gambas
saft og skall av 1 sitron
salt og pepper
Vann ut og rens klippfisk og rens blekksprut. Forkok fregola. Finhakk hvitløk og sjalottløk og fres i olje. Grovhakk persille og tilsett sammen med blåskjell og hjerteskjell. Ha i hvitvin, tomatpuré og kraft. Kok under lokk til skjellene åpner seg, tilsett babysblekksprut, klippfisk, gambas og forkokt fregola. Smak til med sitronskall og -saft, salt og pepper. La alt småkoke under lokk i noen minutter og server.