Q: I attended a wine tasting which also served plates of crackers, cheeses, pickles and boiled eggs. We had a morsel of each and then a sip of wine. I was amazed at how different the wine tasted after each mouthful. Would you blame me if I decided never to drink expensive wine with food again?
P.A., Goodwood, SA
You have opened a can of worms. It’s a good observation, though: food does change the taste of wine. It affects the chemistry of the mouth, thereby altering our perception of the wine. That’s why, in competitions, we judge wine without food, even though that might not be the way it was intended to be consumed.
There are competitions where wine is judged alongside appropriate food, but the problem is, what is appropriate for one wine might be less so for another, even if they’re the same grape variety. So to be fair to all wines entered in a competition, we generally leave food out of the picture.
This might seem ironic since the proper place for wine is at a table with a meal. But judging is different from drinking and the two shouldn’t be confused. Judging is about recognising the quality of wines and rewarding the best. Drinking wine with food is about enhancing the experience of both – and oiling the wheels of social interaction.
I understand your decision not to waste good wine by eating while you drink it. The wrong food can spoil the taste of a wine, hence the maxim that great wine is best served with simple food. This is something I’ve tried to practise: if not with simple food, then at least food that won’t challenge or confront the wine by dominating it. Great wine should always be given the spotlight. A simple roast of whatever beast takes your fancy usually works for reds; or a single well-chosen cheese, if you prefer.
You mention pickles and boiled eggs. I suspect your host chose those precisely because they are so challenging for wine perception. Pickles are soused in vinegar, which ruins most wines, and boiled eggs can make some white wines taste off. The wrong cheese can also wreak havoc, especially a strong blue-mould cheese with a young, tannic red.
But what works for you may not work for me. “One man’s drink,” as they say, “is another’s poison.”
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