Matching food and wine is important right? Why else would bottles carry tasting recommendations and endless wine columns extol the virtues of finding the right wine for Summer BBQ’s, hearty Autumn casseroles or Christmas lunch?
Over the last few years talking to people about wine I’ve developed a theory; people don’t match their food with their wine. So I decided to conduct some research and asked a very unscientific and unrepresentative sample of friends and family about matching food and wine. The findings of this little experiment could be summarised thus; for the most part, most of the time, most people don’t match their food and wine (mostly).
The answers I got to the question were interesting in themselves, ranging from “God no, I drink whatever’s in the fridge, to “sometimes, for special dinners or a meal out”. Most people were pretty relaxed about matching food and wine and freely admitted that it wasn’t that important to them. Most would say that they occasionally read the tasting notes on the label but it only made a passing difference to how the wine eventually got drunk. Whilst the sample could be described as “busy parent” rather than “wine enthusiast” I think it reveals something interesting; the myth of matching food and wine.
We live in a time where access to different food and wines is unparalleled. Likewise the ability to access information to find matches has never been easier so the perfect match should be easy to set up. But along with this the way we consume wine has also changed. Many of the people I talked to said that they were as likely to drink wine without food as they were with food. Just forty years ago wine was a luxury that was difficult to “understand the rules”, now it’s a staple and the rules seem to be no longer relevant.
It’s worth noting that the concept of matching food and wine is a relatively recent one (by wine standards). Prior to the middle of the 19th Century meals were organised in the style of “service à l’anglaise”, which is to say that all the dishes were presented simultaneously “buffet style”. Likewise all the wines would be presented in the same way. It was only the introduction of the “service à la russe” that the notion of sequential courses, and wines to match, was introduced (as well as the idea of separate wine glasses for different wines). Likewise the “rules” that abound regarding food and wine matches are even more recent. As late as the start of the 20th Century the idea of serving red wine after white would have been considered anathema, yet today the reverse is true (indeed Champagne was a common match for the beef course).
So what to conclude? The good news seems to be that we are all enjoying wine more than ever and that people aren’t getting too hung up on trying to achieve some kind of “perfect” match. Whilst I still believe that a good match between food and wine can elevate the experience of both, the converse is not true. A less good match does not spoil either the food or the wine. I also think that if you like the food you’re eating, and enjoy the wine you’re drinking, you’re pretty likely to enjoy the overall experience. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find some Champagne for tonight’s beef.