Do you keep treasured bottles for special occasions only? Relax, says Fiona Beckett, and crack one open with a fast food treat from the takeaway.
One of the most enjoyable food and wine matches I’ve experienced was also the most serendipitous. The family was away, I was working on a book and staggered down halfway through the evening to find the fridge virtually bare except for a half bottle of Krug, a half-empty packet of the kids’ fish fingers and some frozen spinach. Ten minutes later, the spinach well anointed with butter, the fish fingers grilled and the Krug poured, I had the perfect supper of fast food with fine wine.
Since then various wine lovers have confessed to me their secret pleasures: bacon and eggs or hamburgers with cru classé Bordeaux, kebabs with Côte-Rôtie, Champagne with popcorn. And it’s made me question why we save our best wines for special occasions. Why pour them for friends who may not appreciate them when you could be tucked up on the sofa with some fast food and a good DVD and have them all to yourself? Why create unnecessary competition for your best wines in the form of redundant foams and sticky jus? Let the wine be the hero.
In the interests of encouraging you to hang loose with your cellar I conducted a few experiments courtesy of the Decanter cellar and a selection of local takeaways. Needless to say I’m not encouraging you to head for your local McDonald’s – fast food needn’t be foul food – but if Robert Parker takes his favourite bottles along to his local Chinese, as he once told me – why shouldn’t you?
Burgers & Bordeaux 4/5
Why it worked: First stop, the local gourmet burger outfit, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, and a pukka bottle of Pauillac (Château Pontet-Canet 2001). I order their classic, served with salad and relish and a bowl of chunky fries. Apart from struggling to get it into my mouth without covering myself in creamy goo, it’s hard to fault the classic meat and potatoes match. Red wine, grilled rare beef, salty potatoes – what’s not to like? The Pontet-Canet even stood up to the raw onion and relish (though the match may have been marginally better without it), and brought some refreshing acidity to the party.
What to hold/go easy on: The raw onions and relish. And skip the ketchup.
What else to try: A top-notch Californian Cabernet, or a Super-Chilean.
Fish and chips & white Graves 4/5
Why it worked: I was surprised, I confess, how successful this match was with a Denis Dubourdieu 2004 Clos Floridène blanc. I would have thought pure unoaked Sauvignon would have been better (similar to adding a squeeze of lemon), but this seductively lush white added a note of luxury to what were admittedly not the crispest, most sizzlingly fresh fish and chips I’ve ever eaten. Like partnering them with really good homemade mayonnaise. White Graves is an underrated wine.
What to hold/go easy on: Added lemon juice, brown sauce or ketchup.
What else to try: Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé and other top Sauvignon Blancs; Champagne – though the Jacquart Katarina was a bit sweet. Champagne usually goes well with crispy, deep-fried seafood including fish fingers (see earlier).
Champagne & sushi 5/5
Why it worked: The sugar in the sushi rice keyed in perfectly with the dosage in the extravagant Katarina we paired with it, the bubbles counteracting the oiliness of the raw salmon. The match also held up when I dunked my sushi in soy and even when I added a modest amount of wasabi and nibbled some pickled ginger. The seaweed in the maki sushi also tied in well. Is there a nicer way to eat sushi?
What to hold/go easy on: Don’t overdo the wasabi.
What else to try: Muscadet.
Rotisserie chicken & Chardonnay 5/5
Why it worked: No news to Decanter readers, I’m sure, but just to draw attention to the fact that even a humble rotisserie chicken can be turned into a feast by partnering it with a top-class Chardonnay like the big, creamy Voyager Estate 2002 I tried. Don’t even think of removing the skin. That is what makes the match.
What to hold/go easy on: Veg and salad, particularly if with a vinaigrette. Just a few roast or fried potatoes will do.
What else to try: White Hermitage or good Pinot Noir.
Crispy duck & Pinot Noir 5/5
Why it worked: Another timeless classic but how often do you order crispy duck on its own? Or drink it with a wine as good as the silkily sweet 2003 Au Bon Climat Pinot? A crispy duck and Pinot Noir party. A great way to entertain!
What to hold/go easy on: Don’t overdo the hoisin sauce. And don’t order everything else on the menu too – especially dishes with black bean sauce.
What else to try: Cheaper Chilean Pinots. A fruity Italian red like a Dolcetto. Midweight Merlots should work too.
Pizza & Chianti 3/5
Why it worked: I’ve had better matches for Chianti Classico admittedly, but a bottle of Villa Caffagio 2004 doesn’t half improve a supermarket pizza. The acidity in Chianti is always great for tackling cooked cheese. Even at its superior best it has a quaffable quality that makes it a relaxing sip.
What to hold/go easy on: Too many toppings (very un-Italian). Avoid curried meat pizzas – as I hope you do anyway.
What else to try: Most other Tuscan reds, New World Sangiovese, Languedoc reds like Faugères.
Curry & Rioja Reserva 2/5
Why it (just) worked: I’ve matched Rioja with curry before, notably rogan josh, and the smooth Ondarre Rioja Reserva 2001 just about held its own with a moderately spicy selection of south Indian dishes including prawn and potato curries and a chicken Chettinad. The key was taking a spoonful of raita with each mouthful which calmed the heat and upped the acidity.
What to hold/go easy on: The overall heat level. Really hot curries do wine of any kind few favours.
What else to try: A substantial New World red would have been better, with a few years’ bottle age to tame the tannins. Maybe a Grange 1990? (Only joking).
Fiona Beckett has her own food and wine matching web site. Visit www.matchingfoodandwine.com