Is it all over for traditional food and wine pairing?

Everyone knows that red wine goes with steak, and white with fish. These are the traditional food and wine matching rules that have been around for decades. However, Master of Wine Tim Hanni says that pairing of food and wine in this way is “pseudo-science”.

The American wine expert says: “A perfect wine pairing doesn’t exist. We’re doing a lot of damage in the way we’re matching wine and categorising it. We need to stop wine and food pairing.”

History of food and wine pairing

Historical records show that wine has long been served as a food accompaniment. Its early history also shows that wine was served in place of water, due to the latter’s unsanitary condition. At this time, there isn’t much evidence to show that there were strict wine and food pairing rules.

As culinary traditions developed throughout the world, so did wine-making. The kinds of wine pairings we consider ‘classic’, came from the relationship between a region’s food and the wine they make. For example, many leading wine regions in Europe had lamb as a staple meat. This leads to red wines from regions such as Rioja, Greece, Bordeaux, the Rhone and Provence being considered a classic pairing with lamb.

Old ideas have survived, including the adage “White wine with fish; Red wine with meat”. Its exact origins are unclear, but it’s been given as advice for centuries. The root of this is the idea of matching the body (or weight) of the wine with the weight of the food. The heavier the food (for example, meat), the heavier and therefore ‘red’ the wine should be.

Modern food and wine pairing

In more recent years, there has been much focus on food and wine pairings. The rules have expanded and interest in pairing wine increased. Sommeliers in restaurants exist to instruct on the perfect pairings with the establishment’s food.

This kind of interest started in the 1980s in the US, when the wine industry began advertising its products as a key part of the dining experience. Previously, they have been marketed simply as an alcoholic drink for consumption. Winemakers started to emphasise the foods their wines would go with and the media ran with the idea.

These days, you can find advice all over the place for the perfect food and wine pairing. And it looks as though the strictness of the traditional rules is relaxing. Many wine buyers and drinkers go with their instinct or choose what they like the taste of.

Speaking at a wine conference in New Zealand, Mr Hanni adds: “We need to celebrate the diversity of consumers, not make them feel stupid. You can serve sauvignon blanc with steak – why not? We need to get over the notion that food and wine grew up together. Food and wine matching is pseudo-science full of metaphors and misunderstandings.”

How will climate change affect the wine industry?

Wine has always been connected with environment, location and climate. Grapes harvested in different regions have different depths of flavour. Even grapes from the same vineyard can differ every season, depending on the weather. Given that, it’s not surprising that the vast differences in weather patterns we are experiencing around the world thanks to climate change are affecting the wine industry in a big way.

How does extreme weather and climate change affect wine?

The flavour profiles of different wines are impacted by increased temperatures and unpredictable weather. This is the main difference for consumers. But for farmers and vineyard producers, there is a much bigger impact.

Scientists now say that growers must implement changes to the way they grow. For example, they should experiment with different, lesser-known grape varieties and try different irrigation methods. However, these are often too expensive and risky for many.

The past four years have presented the world with the hottest ever temperatures. As grapes generally need temperate climates, this has vastly affected crops. The unpredictability of droughts, rainfall, hail and heatwaves is also devastating. And while farmers of all kinds are affected, grapes are particularly vulnerable.

The climate and soil is changing

While wine growing regions such as California battle with ever-increasingly devastating wildfires, other subtle changes are impacting grapes too. Some regions are undergoing changes in soil salinity, due to rising sea levels. Growers are also dealing with increased vine diseases and damage caused by pests.

In the past, the chill of winter frosts has been enough to kill off many pests. However, if the temperatures continue to be higher than freezing, pests will only increase and cause more problems.

The wine industry is hugely dependent on changes in climate and soil. Experts say that four aspects make up wine: the soil, the grape, the topography and the weather. Even a single vineyard can include multiple different microclimates, due to exactly how much sun grapes receive in different positions. The weather affects the acidity of the grape, as well as its sugar and tannin content.

Harvests shifting forward

As temperatures continue to increase year on year, grapes are harvested sooner than ever before. If they stay on the vine, too much sun will mean the grapes contain too much sugar and therefore alcohol. However, harvesting earlier means losing some of the complexity of flavour. This is drastically changing previously reliable flavour profiles. For example, in New Zealand, most of the exported wine is Sauvignon Blanc, which is loved for its acidic gooseberry notes. Its flavour profile is changing and is now more ‘mellow tropical fruit’.

Many vintners have already started to use climate-intelligent agricultural practices. But this isn’t always possible for all farmers, due to cost and availability of the technology needed. The kinds of measures taken include drop irrigation and cover cropping to help conserve water and soil, using nets to protect vines from hail and growing shorter vines.

Others are shifting their focus onto slops that face south to reduce exposure to the sun. Yet others are moving their whole vineyards to cooler regions and higher altitudes. Even the simplest changes to the way farmers grow grapes comes at a higher cost in terms of additional labour and equipment.

There’s no doubt that the global wine industry is experiencing a time of change. Decisions must be made by growers regarding investment into new growing practices to future proof their crops.

What exactly is oaked wine?

If you’re a lover of wine, then the chances are you have heard about ‘oaked’ wine. But do you know what it means and how it affects the wine you choose to buy?

Oak barrels have been used for centuries to store wine, but it’s only much more recently that winemakers have started to understand the way they affect the wine. Oak barrelling affects the body and flavour of the wine and adds softer tannins to the final product.

How is oaked wine made?

A range of woods and different kinds of oak are used to make vessels to store wine around the world. However, there are three distinct types that are recognised for the specific effect they have on wine when it’s stored in barrels made from them. These are Quercus Robur and Quercus Patrea, which are both used in France. In the United States, the white oak variety Quercus Alba is used most often and is generally described as ‘American’ or ‘French’ oak.

Before oak is used as material to make the wine barrel, it is specially seasoned. This can be achieved by warming the wood using a kiln. The best method to achieve this, according to winemakers, is to season the wood in the open air. This allows the sun, wind and rain to slowly remove chemicals and bitter tannins from the wood, leaving it perfect to use for wine barrels.

Weathering the oak in this way takes between two and three years, which is perhaps why some prefer to use a kiln.

Constructing wine barrels with oak

When the oak has been appropriately seasoned using either method, it’s chopped into small lengths called staves. The winemaker will decide on the size of the barrel according to their needs. If they want a very large barrel, this will be to expose the wine to as much oxygen as possible. This softens the natural tannins in wine and gives dried fruit flavouring to the wine.

Often, flavouring is added to the wood used. This needs smaller barrels and for Rioja and Bordeaux, barrels that hold 225 litres are used. Wood used in this way adds sweeter spice flavours to the wine, such as vanilla. It also softens the tannins, making the wine smoother on the palate.

How long is wine aged in oak barrels?

The length of ageing can be from just a few months to a number of years, depending on the tannin and phenol levels in the wine. These act as preservatives and keep all the fruity flavours and aromas.

Winemakers all over the world use oaked barrels to age their wine using both French and American oak. The latter gives more intense flavours to the wines and are also less costly. These flavours are generally too intense for more delicate wines, and it’s usually used for medium and full-bodied reds, as well as full whites like chardonnays from the New World.

French oak barrels cost approximately €1,000 and are notably more expensive than those made from American oak. This adds a significant cost to each bottle made using barrels made from French oak. There are various ways to give a similar ‘oaked’ effect without paying premium prices. These include putting the oak directly into the wine rather than paying a craftsman to make, fire and finish a barrel. Instead, staves are placed inside containers made from stainless steel to impart the oak flavours into the wine. The cheapest way of all is to use oak ‘chips’, which are put in a muslin bag and dropped into the wine. To be sure which method has been used on the wine you choose, look out for the labels. If it says ‘aged in oak’, then that uses the traditional method, while ‘oak aged’ could refer to a cheaper way of imparting flavours into the wine.

The best wines to celebrate Valentine’s Day

We’re fast approaching Valentine’s Day. And for many that means a special meal, presents and celebratory wine. Below we’ve listed eight top choices from the International Wine & Spirit competition, which is in its 50th year, all of which would be ideal for a romantic meal for two.

The IWSC awards excellence in wine and spirits from all around the world and aims to find the highest quality products. Entries come from around 90 countries, and each sample is judged according to its class and individual components.

Best wines for Valentine’s Day

The chosen wines range from elegant, delicate champagne to toast your loved one, to robust reds with depth and flavour.

The best toasting Champagne


If you want to splash out a little, go for the elegant yet decadent Charles Lafitte Grande Cuvee NV. It’s toasty and has a refined balance on the mouth, with notes of clear, fresh green apple. It’s perfect paired with salty snacks before the main event of the Valentine’s meal.

For an even more lavish treat, choose Lanson Noble Cuvee Blanc de Blancs 2002. This is a beautiful choice for any special occasion and will definitely impress on Valentine’s Day. You’ll enjoy notes of honey, lemon and brioche with flavours of marzipan, golden apples and grapefruit.

Wines perfect for seafood dishes


You can’t have a romantic meal without some kind of seafood. Whether you’re opting for an oyster starter, or a main with King prawns, you need the ideal wine to go with it. Greyfriars Vineyard Sparkling Rose Reserve 2014 is a good choice as it pairs beautifully with delicate yet refined seafood dishes. Packed with lively bubbles, and delicate flavours, it will make your meal stand out for the right reasons.

Or, you could try the crispness of the very fruity La Chabilsienne Chablis Grand Cru Chateau Grenouilles 2014. Jammed with intense fruity flavours, expect a hit of sharp lemon against a background of hazelnut.

Best wines for steak dishes

 

If your ideal Valentine’s Day meal has a meaty main, such as steak, then you need a wine with sufficient depth of flavour. A great choice to pair with steak is the Trapiche Terroir Series Malbec Finca Ambrosia. Its colour is a deep red and it’s full of the rich flavours of violet, blueberries and jasmine with hints of spiciness, balsamic, coffee and nutmeg.

Or a good choice for steak is Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a jewel like dark ruby red wine, with intense black fruitiness. Expect more than a hint of cherry, tobacco, spice and blackcurrant mingling with a background of vanilla oak.

Wines for dessert

 

Valentine’s Day is not the day to count calories, and the ideal romantic meal always ends with a decadent dessert. A good dessert wine choice is Andrew Peller Signature Series Riesling Icewine 2015. It’s a distinctively sweet wine with aromas of lemon and peach over flavours of ginger, orange peel and honey. It’s guaranteed to make any dessert even more special.

Or, for a real treat, choose Kopke Porto Colheita 1981, with its rich, dark mahogany colour and deep flavours. You’ll taste dates, dried cherries, spices and roasted cashews in this sweet yet powerful port wine. A crisp acidity cuts through the depth and the whole thing is finished with a creamy flavour.

Is dry farming the way forward for the world’s wine industry?

Climate change is affecting the way wine is made right now. It’s no longer a vague future threat, but more of a ticking time bomb. And as the wine industry uses vast amounts of water, experts are looking for new ways to keep crops growing. Some vineyards have already taken on the challenge and have instigated dry farming.

While the wine industry has been making moves to change the way wine is made, most sustainable solutions focus on things like biodiversity and renewable energy. However, freshwater irrigation remains the biggest problem facing the wine industry as we move into a new world of adapting to extreme weather.

What impact does the wine industry have on the global water supply?

A recent piece of research reveals that more than a third of consumers take the time to look for companies and brands that are concerned with environmental and ethical impact. Within the millennial generation, three-quarters of consumers are happy to spend more on products that are truly sustainable.

However, the use of water irrigation in the wine industry has failed to pick up many headlines. Around 83% of wine regions in the New World are irrigated using fresh water. In the Old World, it drops to 10%.

How much water does it take to make wine?

According to the Water Footprint Network, it takes 5 litres of water to produce a 125ml glass of wine. This is without irrigation and is based on the water used in the winery alone. If we add in irrigation, it rises to 110 litres of water per glass of wine in a normal climate, and 240 litres in regions suffering from drought. Of course, the freshwater used to make wine differs a lot depending on the region.

The global wine industry is worth more than £229 billion, and wine grapes are the most valuable fruit crop in existence. Some scientists say that the land suitable for wine making will have diminished by up to three-quarters by 2050. All of which gives plenty of impetus to implement solutions such as dry farming.

What is ‘dry farming’?

Dry farming refers to a method of soil preparation that makes the most of the moisture from winter rainfall, which is used to sustain the vines as they grow. It guides root systems, so they grow deep enough to find water and micro-nutrients themselves. Irrigated vines have root systems that stay very close to the surface, so that they are vulnerable.

There’s a lot of work involved in making dry farming work, but it does make tastier, sweeter grapes. It also allows the soil and vine to live a longer, more stable life. It is inevitable that at some point in the future, it won’t be possible to irrigate vines in some regions. This means managing water effectively should be the most important factor in vineyards moving towards true sustainability.