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Blue sky drinking: difficult pairings

Categories: Expert guidance

Jane Parkinson on pairing wines with difficult ingredients

Despite what the naysayers proclaim, there truly is a wine to go with every occasion—even though admittedly some foods cause more of a wine-matching headache than others.

Chocolate is one of the most notorious villains; its sticky texture when coating the palate makes it tricky for even the biggest of wines to reach the taste buds. Chocolate fondant, that dish of Masterchef dreams and nightmares, is the worst offender. Dark, sweet, thick food needs a robust sweet red to match up to it. Port can work extremely well as a chocolate partner, as can Pedro Ximènez sherry or maury, a sweet wine from the Roussillon region of France.

Chilli heat and spice can also be enemies to wine: not only do they numb the taste buds, they cause the wine to taste more chewy (tannic) and higher in alcohol than it actually is. But if turkey curry is on the menu this Boxing Day, something with a hit of sweetness like a German riesling can work seriously well, as can other aromatic whites.

Go gutsy
Soup can be a minefield, as much to do with the liquid consistency as anything else—wet with wet just feels a bit odd, doesn’t it?—so go gutsy with the wine. If it’s a chicken soup, for example, pair it with a white wine with real depth such as a chardonnay or chenin blanc that has spent some time in oak barrels.

There’s an old wives’ tale that charges asparagus with being the most difficult vegetable to match. But it has nothing on globe artichoke, which contains a chemical called cynarin that cuts wines dead, making them taste unusually sweet even if they’re bone dry. The jerusalem artichoke that Rosie uses in her pie is a somewhat different beast and can actually make a very nice match with wine, as long as its soft and sweet flavour is not overwhelmed.

Both types of artichoke work well with the vernaccia grape, which can be found dotted all over Italy but is used particularly well in Tuscany under the appellation vernaccia di San Gimignano. Golden in colour with a pronounced floral aroma, high acidity levels and a full, fruity attitude, these wines have such weight and body they’re like white wines trying to be red, and this makes them brilliantly versatile with food—whether smoked salmon, turkey pasta, or a Jerusalem artichoke-filled pie is on the menu.

Montenidoli, Fiore, Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG 2014
Bedales, £29

This wine’s palate of honeyed almond flavours gives it the personality to match up to bacon and pastry, while its mellow elegance ensures the artichoke does not get lost.