Three courses and wines to match

Food and wine pairing

By Ian Hickinbotham
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Ian Hickinbotham, author of Australian Plonky

Ian Hickinbotham, author of Australian Plonky

Josef Chromy Tasmania
Australian Plonky by Ian Hickinbotham


Sometime soon a nasty journalist is going to set up some leading sommeliers and hospitality writers.

It will be what used to be described as an 'investigative' journalist. That seems to be the only apt job description, as the qualification is – newspapers increasingly do not countenance the increased cost of such specialising.

The task would be as simple as requiring participants to list wines appropriate to accompany some classical dishes, as simple as oysters or grilled whiting. The resulting 'matchings' by various sommeliers and ancillary experts would vary enormously (though none would recommend a cabernet sauvignon to accompany shucked oysters). Human beings just do not have the same tastes of different wines and foods. One man’s meat is another man’s poison is rather a valid axiom.

Ten different wines suggested for a dish would be understandable, but style should be virtually the same, surely. Even so, I would not choose to drink a chardonnay with a first course, then a riesling with the second.

Furthermore, it has been established that some people dislike the tannin of dry red wines intensely. Also, people vary considerably in what they perceive as sweetness, which is precisely why winegrowers everywhere resist the persistent requests to define the sweetness of their white wines by printing an arbitrary scale of say, nought to five, on their labels so potential customers can confidently buy bottles without having to firstly taste the wine. (But now there is news that winegrowers of Alsace have succumbed.) In the real world, because of this imponderable alone, it is proven that diners will not readily buy a different white wine to match a particular course of their meal.

I recall discontinuing serving chardonnay wines at just under ambient temperatures rather than chilled, because wine waiters were continuously being challenged by diners, but only some diners: the discussions, though interesting, took too much time while it was a non-winnable situation. (The 'bigger' a particular beverage, the less it should be chilled so its strong flavour is not diminished.) In those days, if the wine waiter’s explanation was even accepted by the diner, a loyal and grateful customer was seldom attained, while in the real world, restaurants do not have fridge space at different temperatures available.

Though really dissimilar, another event was a basic marketing lesson: I prevailed upon a regular customer to buy a bottle of Grange instead of his usual French wine to accompany his filet mignon. He did, but he never returned (so the adage seems valid – give the customer what the customer wants).

On the other hand, if the diner asks the sommelier for a suitable wine to match the food about to be eaten, advice should be given and if the customer dislikes the match, so be it. In this scenario, such activity becomes more serious if the selected wine happens to be more expensive than the customer usually spends – even if the sommelier has never seen the diner before.



Ian Hickinbotham, one of the most innovative and influential oenologists in Australia over his 50 year career, is the author of Australian Plonky (see related review below).


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February 08th, 2011
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