The war against terroir: Drink what you jolly well please
Take a hike, supercilious sommeliers. Finally the world is revolting against pompous food and wine pairings
“I remember the dinner well – soup of oseille, a sole ... a caneton à la presse, a lemon soufflé ... And for wine, a bottle of 1906 Montrachet, then at its prime, and, with the duck, Clos de Beze of 1904.” Thus Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited, bracing himself for dinner with the brash Canadian businessman, Rex Mottram. The pages of Evelyn Waugh’s novel are saturated in alcohol.
Its characters are delineated partly by their drinking habits: Mottram’s boorish ordering of a Jeroboam of champagne; the creamy cocktails favoured by Charles’s raffish Oxford contemporary, Anthony Blanche; the descent of his doomed friend, Sebastian Flyte, from playful undergraduate excess to hopeless alcoholism, signalled by a shift from wine to whisky.
Rex Mottram’s fellow North American, Tim Hanni, would not sympathise with Ryder’s fastidious pairing of wine and food, a habit that he describes as a “pseudoscience”. Hanni, an American Master of Wine said last week that “we need a campaign to stop wine and food pairing. We need to celebrate the diversity of consumers, not make them feel stupid. You can serve sauvignon blanc with steak – why not?”
To anyone who has ever had their wine-ordering confidence withered by a supercilious sommelier, or felt their heart sink at the sight of one of those ineffable restaurant tasting menus, in which a dozen tiny courses of ambitious but unidentifiable dishes are paired, at prodigious expense, with as many meagre thimblefuls of preposterously named wine, this is a rallying call. In Anglo-Saxon cultures, the idea of wine as an everyday part of domestic life is comparatively recent. (“Wine,” I remember my father saying on a French holiday some time in the 1970s. “It’s nice enough, but you wouldn’t want it every day.”)
This has led to an uneasy relationship with one of humankind’s greatest inventions, characterised on the one hand by absurd snobbishness and recondite “expertise”; on the other, by a tendency to regard wine as a legal analgesic (“wine o’clock”), rather than a modest element of a civilised meal.
Hanni is not arguing that we should serve any wine with any food; rather, he encourages us to trust our palates. Victoria Moore does the same in her book, The Wine Dine Dictionary, in which she suggests – knowledgeably, but without a trace of uppishness – wines to go with everything from bone marrow to birthday cake. Wine and food are inseparable from emotion: comfort, generosity, happiness, ease. Edouard de Pomiane treats the two as indivisible. The humble recipes in his classic book, Cooking with Pomaiane, almost invariably conclude with what we would nowadays grandly call a “wine pairing”.
But how ungrand they are, and how alluring in their simplicity: black vin de Cahors with kidneys; “ice-cold white wine, so your guests will not burn their tongues” with croûtes au fromage; “your best Burgundy” with Hare à la Royale”, a dish for which you need “plenty of patience, two good friends as guests [and] two bottles of Burgundy” – the wine that served to remind Charles Ryder, in the uncongenial company of Rex Mottram, that “the world was an older and better place than Rex knew”.
– © The Daily Telegraph