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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Vegetarian Food, Wine Matching and the "d'Arry's Cambridge" Case

When I give wine presentations to general audiences, there are a number of things I include as standard and one of them is suitable food matches.

To me, wine is part of the meal and matching it with suitable food is key to getting the best out of it; I involuntarily wince internally watching people drink red wine with salty crisps or chocolate, as both salt and sweetness are inimical to the tannins in a red wine.

When I think of matches for wines, it is usually in terms of suitable meats as, to me, the meat is the centrepiece of a dish, the wine its partner and the vegetables an add-on on the side.

However, I have been pulled up a number of times recently by non-meat-eaters asking for vegetarian food matches.

At the second of my d'Arry's tasting events of d'Arenberg wines yesterday, I resisted the temptation to quote Homer Simpson ("If God didn't want us to eat animals, why did he make them out of meat") and instead used the presence of a group of vegetarians to think about suitable vegetarian food matches for the six wines presented.

The first wine, a soft and peachy Viognier Marsanne, has enough fruit sweetness on the mid-palate to be a quaffer - or to match with smoked salmon for fish-eaters.

The Stump Jump White Blend of Riesling / Marsanne / Sauvignon Blanc, with its crisper acidity and more mineral backbone is a great food wine and worked well with the cheese board we had, cutting through a creamy goat's cheese and a cheddar.

And as a general point, I have never quite understood the red-wine-and-cheese idea as fatty, salty foods like cheese need high acidity and low tannins which generally steers you away from reds and onto whites.

The final white, a Stump Jump Lightly Wooded Chardonnay, was deemed much improved by the group when tried with a bit of cheese again.

On the nose and palate, like the Riesling blend, it does not score highly for primary fruit, making it a partner to the food rather than the centre of attention in its own right.

Also like the Riesling blend, it has the body and acidity to stand up to and cut through the cheese.

The first of the reds, a Stump Jump Red Blend of Grenche / Syrah / Mouverdre blends was low in tannins but full of juicy acidity with some spicy aromas and this would match well with a tray of roasted Mediterranean vegetables with aromatic herbs (such as bay, rosemary, sage and thyme) and olive oil.

The next wine, which again proved to be my favourite of the evening, was a classy d'Arry's Original Syrah Grenache with aromas of dark berries, liquorice and spice.

It had a soft, inky texture, some vanilla sweetness and ripe tannins giving a firm-but-gentle grip.

For me, the classic match for this wine would be a roast joint of lamb with garlic and rosemary but, as that was not an option, we kicked around ideas for a while before coming up with crostini, rubbed with garlic, salted and then drizzled liberally with olive oil.

The final wine, a High Trellis Cabernet Sauvignon, had predictably high tannins and, again, is traditionally a red-meat wine, needing protein to tame the tannic content and some fat content to match the acidity.

Ruling out vegetables alone as having too much sweetness, we eventually came up with the idea of a nut roast served with spiced red wine and onion gravy.

Personally, I would go for roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes with a wine like this, but if that's not an option for whatever reason, the the nut roast is as good a bet as any.

As an ex-vegetarian -,and even vegan - myself, I'll limit my thoughts on vegetarianism these days simply to saying that I firmly believe that any principled issues can be addressed by eating locally-sourced, free-range, compassionately-slaughtered meat and that this type of meat is more morally acceptable than, say, industrially-produced cow's milk.

But, for all that, we remain at the top of the food chain and if God didn't want us to eat animals, why did he invent wines that match so well with meat.

Links

D'Arry's - http://www.darrys.co.uk/

d'Arenberg - http://www.darenberg.com.au/

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