Thoughts on food and wine pairing

How to choose a wine to match your food is an never ending discussion as we continue to search for the best strategy to deal with our ever increasing options. I was recently reading Olly Smith’s The Complete Summer Wine Guide, and while I found it entertaining to read and very helpful in its specificity, after reading the question still lingered- if you’re having fish with a citrus, for example, how do you choose between New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre, and Riesling?  In the US and UK we have nowsuch a plethora of grapes, regions, and styles it can be paralyzing, even with expert advice.

Food and wine pairing

In this sense living in Spain is a blessing, for although I can seek out imports, the wines usually sitting on my grocery or local wine shop’s shelves are generally Spanish. With 77 Quality Wine regions, there are still a lot of options and a lot to explore, but choosing wine one country at a time has certain advantages. Most of the food I am eating is Spanish or at least Spanish influenced, not just in restaurants, but also at home as my local shops tend to dictate in large part what I eat by what’s available. And my Spanish dinner usually goes pretty well with the Spanish wine I buy.

Back in the States though, if I was stuck between options I still tended to pair with a similar mindset, picking a wine that reflects the origin of the food whenever possible. Even if the dish isn’t strictly from one place or another, the orientation of the ingredients is a great guide. When this system fails, for example, with sushi or ceviche, I turn to the type of place; since these foods are from the sea, I look for whites from regions by the ocean- something like a Albariño from Rias Biaxas or Vinho Verde. Beef, on the other hand, would call to mind regions that are famous for their cattle as well as wine, such as Argentine Malbec or a Brunello  (from Tuscany, home of the Chianina, the beef used in bistecca alla fiorentina).

There’s no perfect answer, but it helps to have a place to start. How do you pick your wine for dinner?

Icewine comes to Spain

Penedes in Catalonia, SpainUnlike in the New World, where appellations are still being defined (for example segmentation crazy Napa Valley, who seems to be in constant turmoil, most recently over a new proposed Mayacama Mountain range AVA), the Old World wine producing countries usually look at their wine regulations as being set in stone. For the most part, you are allowed to only grow the same grapes that were approved for your great grandfather if you want your wine to bear the appellation label. This can make understanding what type of wine you will get from a particular region easier for the consumer, but it can also be a source of frustration for producers looking to experiment. 

https://www.uvinum.co.uk/blog/assets/uploads/sites/3/2010/07/804381-274685.jpgHowever, Spain, who is becoming one of the biggest exporters to the US and UK markets, is one of the more liberal in this regard, particularly in it’s lesser known regions. I would be surprised to see any changes in the regulations that guide Rioja wine anytime soon, but now Penedes, the region where Cava is produced, has now been approved for icewine. What’s more is producers are allowed to artificially freeze the grapes, which is not permitted anywhere else in Europe.  Icewine is normally created when the grapes freeze on the vine, and this is the only method available in Germany, Austria, and Canada, the best known locations for this type of dessert wine. 

Although the 3 countries mentioned above each have their own version of icewine’s history, Spain will definitely add a new chapter. The new DO (Domination of Origin) is called Vino Dulce de Hielo or Vi Dolç del Fred, and will apply from 2009. A general rule is not to drink your icewine with a food that is sweeter than the wine, and goat cheese is one example of a classic pairing, for example Garrotxa if you wanted to stay local to the Spanish version. Salud! 

Shipwrecked Champagne

https://www.uvinum.co.uk/blog/assets/uploads/sites/3/2010/07/775388-271574.jpgAccording to a  Reuters report that will surely inspire jealousy in wine loving divers across the world, a group of Swedish divers discovered what is being called the oldest known drinkable Champagne in a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea. They believe the bottles are from the late 18th century, and they know it is drinkable because they drank it, apparently with great pleasure. The general theory is the Champagne is likely Veuve Cliquot, and  that it was on it’s way to St. Petersburg. This would beat Perrier-Jouet’s current record for world’s oldest Champagne, which only dates back till 1825, probably because unless you happen to lose it in a shipwreck, most of us would find it impossible to hold onto Champagne for that long.

Shipwrecked Champagne

 

Diver Christian Ekstrom was quoted as saying, “It was fantastic… it had a very sweet taste, you could taste oak and it had a very strong tobacco smell. And there were very small bubbles”. Lucky guy. I think I just found a reason to learn to dive.

BYOB comes to London

https://www.uvinum.co.uk/blog/assets/uploads/sites/3/2010/07/733582-270759.jpgHaving usually been allowed to bring a special bottle of wine if I so chose to a nice restaurant as long as I was willing to pay a corkage fee, it was not until recently that it occurred to me that this could be considered a privilege and not a right. It was not actually until my first day at Uvinum that I learned that this was not a common practice in Spain, and since then I have noticed the online wine world has been commenting on a new BYOB (bottle in this case, not beer) club in London. Started by Christopher and Khadine Johnson-Rose, the idea is to pay an annual fee in exchange for permission to bring a bottle from your own collection to the restaurants on the list, most fine dining, and some of them among the big names in London’s restaurant scene such as Tom Aikens and The Ledbury, both which have Michelin stars. Restaurants can still place restrictions, such as limiting it to lunch or certain days of the week, however, or charge small additional fees. 

It’s a tricky one for restaurants as they make a substantial margin on wine sold in house, though they tend to cite service as the reason behind the big markups. It is true that a nice restaurant with a sommelier needs to pay that salary, but it is not the same rationale that can be claimed for food. There is no transformation with the product in question as there is with food in the kitchen; the server or sommelier, other than helping a guest select a wine, just needs to open and pour the bottle. This is still very important, but it is likely something that can be covered in a corkage charge. 

I have to admit I am biased coming from a place where this is not unusual, particularly in my hometown of San Francisco. Yet we also normally have a few unofficial rules:

  • Bring a special bottle (not a cheap one).
  • Never bring something that is on the restaurant’s wine list.
  • It is always nice to also buy a glass to start with from the restaurant, or another bottle depending on the size of the group. 

Despite the fact that bringing a bottle is frequently permitted in the US, the majority of customers chose not to. After all, selecting a wine is often one of the best parts of eating out. So I don’t think restaurants in other countries have much to fear. It simply allows their guests additional options. And for some diners, there can certainly be financial incentives to bring a bottle- they can often drink a nicer bottle than if they had to order one. Which means for the restaurant, they have more money to spend on food, or justify a dinner out. In this economy, I think that’s a win-win for both sides. 

Uvinum Closes 300.000€ Round of Funding

Uvinum  just closed an investment round of € 300,000 thanks to important business angels. This investment will allow Uvinum to continue its plans for growth both in Spain and abroad in the major markets in the world of wine.

The investors include Luis Martin Cabiedes (Business Angel), Jaime Jimenez (VP Marketing & Sales of Softonic), Grupo Intercom, Tomás Diago (Founder and President of Softonic), Jaume Lladó Gomà (investor) or Jaume Gomà Llairó (Director of SegundaMano and investor). These are all business angels and prestigious professionals from the online world that will contribute their knowledge and experience to the company.

According to Nico Bour, cofounder of Uvinum:

We are very satisfied that investors of this caliber have demonstrated their faith in our project.  Their input at all levels will be essential to continue with Uvinum’s plans for growth and to position ourselves as a worldwide reference in the wine sector network. Our aim is to be known as an innovative global project, with a clear social and transactional character in wine ecommerce.

And it is a clear sign of confidence that, despite being in very complicated global economic situation, many projects with strong potential like Uvinum continue to grow, as they seek market leadership on a global scale.”

Nico Bour, Albert García & Albert López launched Uvinum on December 15, 2009 in Spain , followed by their first movements into international markets with entries into United Kingdom and The United States  in the following March.

Uvinum is an international site for wine recommendations. It allows each wine lover to discover a unique catalogue of still and sparkling wine, to receive personalized recommendations, and buy more than 10,000 different wines at the best price, making it the number 1 wine catalogue in Spain.

To contact Uvinum, you can send an email to press@uvinum.com or call +44 02035140552 (Nico Bour).

Cheers to Spain!

https://www.uvinum.co.uk/blog/assets/uploads/sites/3/2010/07/700774-269484.jpg

Bottles of cava were popped all over Spain last night to celebrate  the winners of the 2010 World Cup, echoing the fireworks, horns, and shouts that could be heard until late in the night. If you want to join in the spirit you can salute the Spanish team with a glass of Segura Viudas Brut Reserva.

 

https://www.uvinum.co.uk/blog/assets/uploads/sites/3/2010/07/700774-269485.jpgHowever, if you are Dutch, you might well be contemplating what kind of wine goes well with octopus. A white with good acidity would be a strong partner, for example a Garganega from Italy or a German Riesling. A Spanish Albariño would also be a great choice; if you cannot forgive the football victory at least you can concede the Spanish make good wine!

Who Tastes the Wine?

https://www.uvinum.co.uk/blog/assets/uploads/sites/3/2010/07/692968-268852.jpgOrdering wine in a restaurant apparently not only creates confusion for the diner (which region? varietal? price? does it go with fish?), but also the sommelier. There’s already been some discussion as to which person at the table should receive the wine list, but now a new debate is emerging thanks to Eric Asimov’s recent article in the New York Times. The question now is, do you want the sommelier to taste your wine before you? (Or at all?)

 

On the pro side we have strong points made by blogger Alder Yarrow and many sommeliers, that this is one of the original purposes of the sommelier, and the reason they traditionally wore tastevins around their necks- to ensure the wine they were serving was a)not poisoned (thankfully not usually a problem these days), and b)not flawed (very much still an issue). They argue that part of a sommelier’s job is to ensure a pleasant experience, one which does not include a mouthful of corked wine. 

However, there is also a vocal contingent of mostly wine savvy consumers, who believe they are just as equipped as a sommelier to decide if the wine is in good shape or not, or take offense to the idea that the restaurant is essentially helping themselves to what the customer has paid for, akin to a server taking a bite of their food. 

Flawed wine remains a problem, and the reality is not all consumers are educated or confident enough to make that call. Furthermore, different diners have different ideas about what constitutes a great dining experience. Some enjoy the ceremony of the corking, decanting, and tasting of a fine wine on a big night out, others like Alder declare…“I’m SO OVER the theater of wine. A certain amount of ceremony is fine, but for pete’s sake, let’s just drink the stuff.”

I think the safest answer is for the sommelier to simply to ask the customer if he or she would like them to taste the wine. And you- who do you want to taste your wine? 

A New Way to Ship Wine

https://www.uvinum.co.uk/blog/assets/uploads/sites/3/2010/07/679881-267919.jpgAs a testament to the chateau’s commitment to lowering its carbon footprint, 20,000 bottles of Smith Haut Lafitte are due to begin their journey from Bordeaux to Montreal on July 21 not by the usual container ship, but by a 106 year old British sailing ship called Bessie Ellen. Bessie Ellen will take the bottles on a slower and more expensive path than usual, but the owner and shipping company cite several benefits to this alternate method. Owner Daniel Cathiard believes that winery clients will appreciate the reduced environmental impact, and the shipping company, CTMV, claims that in a blind tasting wines that crossed the ocean by sailing ship showed better than those that went by container due to a perceived one year increase in age.

https://www.uvinum.co.uk/blog/assets/uploads/sites/3/2010/07/679881-267921.jpgThough CTMV plans to make this a regular route, it is not yet clear how many other wineries will jump on board. However, if the increase in cost becomes a factor, the chateau could always consider selling spots on the ship to connoisseurs interested in “monitoring” the progress of the wine during the trip.

The Arrival of Wine-in-a-glass

Wine-in-a-glass

The introduction at Marks & Spencer of Le Froglet’s Wine-in-a-glass, an individual serving of either Chardonnay, Rosé, or Shiraz in a covered plastic glass has spurred a great deal of online discussion. Part of the story is the owner of the idea, Mr. James Nash, had his vision unkindly shot down by the BBC’s Dragon’s Den panel, who have been evidentially been proven wrong as Marks & Spencer reportedly cannot keep the glasses in stock.

However, some commenters have decried the environmental impact of the single use glasses, which is valid, but why should wine not be permitted in single use containers when so many other beverages are? (Target in the US offers more environmentally friendly single use wine tetrapacks, kind of like grown up juice boxes, but that concept hasn’t taken off yet.) And some seem offended by the very idea, that it’s déclassé and  “unromantic”.

Wine has survived the introduction of wine cooler and white zinfandel, so I doubt it will suffer at the hand of a plastic glass. If anything, it’s one more way for wine lovers to enjoy the product– and what’s wrong with that? 

French wine to become the Coke of the wine world?

France has been slipping for a while from it’s lofty seat at the top of the wine world  due to increased competition across the globe but also internal problems such as inconsistent quality standards, lack of government support, and the recent move among younger generations away from wine to beer and spirits. Yet the country’s wine reputation still stems from having some of the world’s top vineyards and producers. When you mention France many consumers continue to  conjure up images of first growth Bordeaux, rare Burgundies, and grand Champagne houses. But even this illustrious reputation is now being threatened it seems, for as The Independent recently reported, a senior French wine official has declared that French wine will become “like Coca Cola”.

Wine Coca ColaIt is a disturbing thought, but some believe it’s France’s best option to compete, saying the top and upper middle tiered producers can remain unchanged but the lower tiers will benefit from being consolidated to create more uniform wines of dependable quality that will challenge Australian and other New World wines on the cheap and cheerful shelves of your supermarket. 

Is this a win for value seeking consumers disappointed by uneven quality or a tragic loss for the beloved and very French idea of terroir