Better Together: creating great food and wine pairings
The perfect food and wine pairing can be awe-inspiring, but there’s much more to creating a good match than picking a red wine for red meat.
While there are certain basic guidelines, when it comes to seasonal selections, intricate dishes and unusual wines, creating the ultimate match takes a little more thought and a lot more tasting.
For Michelin-starred Carters of Moseley in Birmingham, the primary objective is a complete dining experience, with the food and wine pairing always a collaborative process. Restaurant manager Alex Smith explains, “We work closely with chef Brad Carter to understand what key ingredients might be used in the upcoming season. We select several possibilities based around classic and new-wave pairings, always aiming to highlight natural wines, indigenous grape varieties and organic or biodynamic producers.
“Ultimately, it's down to taste, so once Brad completes the dish we try the suggestions together, always looking for the perfect match that showcases the food and wine in its most natural glory,” he says.
It may be ‘easy’ to match food and wine in theory, but not always so in practice. Alex recommends exploring what a classic pairing for ingredients might be, and then using that as a basis to build upon.
“Our customers appreciate the care, attention and work that goes into creating the experience. Often our pairings include wines and grape varieties they've never encountered, so there's an enthusiasm towards trying something new,” Alex says.
Sommelier and restaurant manager at Adelina Yard in Bristol, Jean-Sebastien Toulouse-Lupiac, explains that they tend to go for the unexpected when matching wine with food. “We try to be different by exploring new grapes or regions. We want to take our customers on a journey where we’re breaking new boundaries.
“The food (created by chefs and owners Jamie Randall and Olivia Barry takes centre stage, so when a dish is created, the wine match follows,” Jean-Sebastien says. “Everyone has different taste buds, so the first ‘rule’ is to follow what you like. In a more classic approach, the strongest element of the dish should be the starting point. After that you need to think about what the wine needs to bring to the dish. The best way to do it right is to exercise your taste buds.
“We have a few favourite matches, but the one we are proudest of is the brill with confit chicken wings, garlic puree and leek, paired with Domaine Rijckaert Savagnin Les Sarres 2012 from the Jura. Both the dish and wine are very complex, but together they form a dream match. They are on the same intensity level in terms of flavour and texture, but the wine brings a refreshing acidity to the dish,” he says.
The Cross at Kenilworth outside Birmingham is a Michelin-starred pub restaurant focused on the total dining offer. Giuseppe Longobardi, business manager and wine director, explains, “Our head chef Adam Bennett works on the best expression of seasonal products, while I support this with wine that leaves a lasting memory of the taste experience.”
Learning the lessons
For Giuseppe it’s crucial to work together and he believes that one of the biggest mistakes restaurants make is to create a wine list based only on the sommelier’s knowledge, without incorporating the chef’s vision.
Alex agrees, adding that you need to be true to who you are and stick to your guns. “Don't follow trends, just go with what you believe in. Go for something tasty, be true to the season and offer value for money – if you do this, you're on to a winner.”
Working with a seasonal menu can be challenging and new Belsize Park restaurant The Juniper Tree is taking this to the next level. This organic British kitchen was created by Andy Kent and opened its doors in November 2016, with every single ingredient used and drink served 100% organic.
General manager Kirsty Landles believes that food and wine matching is about personal taste and sticking to your overall philosophy, without being too strict about the theory. However, she stresses that staff knowledge and training about the wine and dishes – and how they work together – is key to helping steer customers toward their ideal matches.
Keeping it casual
But how does this translate for the casual dining sector? Bibendum director of regional On Trade, Ants Rixon, explains that there are many casual examples of where food and drink are equally important – where the chefs are involved in the entire process, working with those on the wine side.
“An easy way to incorporate this approach in the casual sector is to link signature dishes to specific wines,” he says. “By offering smaller serves with a food match and working on cash margins, you can sell more premium products.
“The market is such that no one accepts mediocre anymore – so you need to offer something better and impress customers the first time… you won’t get a second chance.”