We are really delighted to have Cathy Marston as our guest blogger this month on The Horse’s Mouth. Cathy is a freelance writer and the only educator offering the internationally-recognised Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) in Southern Africa. For details of her courses, go to www.thewinecentre.co.za
“I don’t know much about wine, but I know what I like.” If only I had a rand for every time I’ve heard somebody say that to me! I’d have – oooh, at least R265, perhaps not enough to retire on, but certainly enough to make me think that people need to get a bucket-load of confidence and actually start believing in themselves. This nervous disclaimer becomes even more nervous and hysterical when you add food into the mix and probably one of the most frequently-asked questions I get asked is ‘what wine goes with that food?’ Of course the best answer is ‘the one that you like’ but it’s surprising how few people actually believe in this and do drink what they like with the food they enjoy.
One answer to this conundrum is to ask a sommelier. If you happen to be eating in a restaurant and there is one handy. Sommelier is a sadly misused term with far too many people claiming it as a title with no real training or knowledge, but when you get a good one, it can make for an awesome experience. Basically a sommelier’s job is three-fold – he/she should know intimately all the wines he/she is selling (I’m fed up of political correctness – I shall use ‘she’ from now on!) so she can give you honest and realistic views as to what it really tastes like. Secondly, she should have received some training in understanding the basic principles of food and wine matching – looking at the balance of sweet, sour/acidity, salt and umami and what they all do to different wines. And finally, she should be able to put that knowledge to good use in relation to the dishes on the menu. It’s not an easy task – especially not when chefs change the menus all the time and add in lots of interesting tweaks and flavours. I’ve had plenty of occasions when I’ve found the perfect wine to go with a dish – but not with the sauce that’s served with it. Sometime it’s even more detailed than that and it’s the garnish which messes everything up and then you have hell’s own time convincing prima donna chefs to change their plating.
If you don’t have access to a sommelier, my advice is to think logically and sensibly. If you are eating a big, hearty, flavour-packed dish, then make sure you don’t pick a delicate, fragile, simpering little wine because it will be completely wiped out by the food. And vice versa – delicate aromas and flavours will be knocked for six by a brooding beast of a wine. Read the back label of a wine and see what it says – if you’re lucky, it will mention fruits which you know go with certain foods (ie cherries and duck, lemons and fish etc etc) and then you can take a wild stab that the wine may have an equally fair chance with the dish. Drinking at home is the time to experiment rather than out at a restaurant where the wine is more expensive. Plus, if you try a combo at home which doesn’t work, you can always keep the wine for tomorrow’s supper when you’ll have a much better idea of what will go with it. And if all else fails, just say ‘sod it’ and choose a wine you know you’ll like. It’s not a test, it’s not a matter of life and death – it’s all about enjoying yourself at the end of the day.