Death Match ageAgainsttheTagine by Jonny Goodall
My Gobelet d’Or award for the most pretentious wine event — some achievement — would have to go to a dinner I attended in Beaujolais that sought to match specific food and wine combinations with music by Mozart.As the MC explained how the bracing acidity of premier cru Chablis resonated perfectly both with leeks and the vibrato in an oboe concerto in C major, I shot vichyssoise through my nose — not a great look, and expensive in a rented tux.
The absurdity of this experience, plus the hefty dry-cleaning bill, served to confirm my belief that food and wine matching is a pastime best practised between consenting adults in the privacy of their own home. It’s certainly not something to write books about.
I’ve read through absolute reams of this crap, and my conclusion is not that these obsessive nutjobs are always wrong. I’d rather match chilled Toilet Duck with pork scratchings than have dinner with one of them. They are the compulsive calorie-counters at the feast.
Paradoxically, their attempts to impose order, to list and to categorise, remove any enjoyment that might be had from the dining experience; in the same way that nothing sucks more pleasure out of drinking wine than a range of glassware designed for individual grape varieties. In trying to intellectualise these simple pleasures, gastro-geeks strip Bacchus of his bacchanalia.
Now picture the scene: you’re perusing the wine list in Restaurant Le Posh while repeating these simple words: sweetness in food increases the perception of sourness, bitterness and astringency in wine; salty foods make wine taste sweeter; sourness suppresses bitterness in wine; acidic food makes wine taste richer; ground pepper may knacker fine old wines while rendering young, lightbodied wines fuller and more complex. Meanwhile, Nigella’s ordered ostrich and Heston’s having haggis while you’re torn between the snail porridge and the jellied eels. Are you ready to order your wine now? Was this advice helpful?
The other issue here is that there is no accounting for taste (if you don’t believe me, just think about the success of Jedward).An American Master of Wine once wrote: ‘Our individual physiological sensory sensitivity can vary dramatically,’ which is Californian for ‘we all taste things differently’. It’s affected by the number of taste buds on our tongues and by our life experiences; we might associate doner kebabs with bus stops, for example, or clotted cream with endless rain. So, if the taste of a wine is subjective, and the taste of a certain dish is also subjective, then recommending one with the other is presumptuous at best. Subjectivity multiplied by subjectivity equals pointlessness. And throwing Mozart into the mix (subjectivity cubed) is just plain irresponsible.
Then, of course, there’s the lazy formula these books follow that drives me nuts. They start by trying to get down with the kids like a patronising social worker — ‘Hey kids, rules like red wine with meat and white wine with fish are so, like, last millennium.’ Then, having urged us to ignore any advice on the subject they expect us to buy their book for reasons that are never made clear.
Next up, they implore us not to ‘panic!’ as if finding a wine to match elderflower fritters is on a par with defusing IEDs in Helmand.Then they announce that great food and wine combinations work either through contrast (conflict) or harmony (consensus). Sorry, what? Is there a third option I don’t know about? Bickering a little bit but generally getting along OK?
They’ve also got this horrible habit of anthropomorphising ingredients – thus pale pink prawns get sand kicked in their faces by ‘overwhelming’ oaky whites, and light chicken dishes can’t ‘stand up to’ cruel, assertive bastards like Châteauneuf-du-Pape. And anyway, doesn’t chilli ‘overwhelm’ chicken, and don’t we rather like it when it does?
And finally, without irony, they ask us to consider the sauce. Oh believe me, I do consider the sauce — the sauce of charging me £15 for this dross. When I think about the rainforests needlessly slaughtered to churn out yet another food and wine matching by numbers, I’m tempted to recommend the perfect match: ‘Your book, my arse.’
Jonny’s favourite match was Chelsea 5, Manchester United 0 (October 1999).
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