GRAPEVINE

KATHRYN MCWHIRTER ON WINES TO DRINK WITH EGGS
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The Independent Culture
"As a last resort I can bring myself to drink Champagne with scrambled eggs," writes Hugh Johnson in his Pocket Wine Book. "They clash with most wines and spoil good ones." Eggs have always got a bad press from wine writers. Well, my chickens are back in lay, and I've been putting their produce to the test.

Egg whites turn out to be perfectly wine-friendly. It's the yolk that's the culprit. And it's far more of a problem with red wines or oaky white wines than for simple, unoaked whites. Yolks emphasise tannin, making it taste harsher and more bitter than it really is. Red wines have tannin from the grape skins, and tannin is one of the substances that wines (red or white) extract from oak. Hard-boiled yolk is worse than raw or lightly- cooked, runny yolk. There is a red exception. Beaujolais (at least the simple styles: Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages) doesn't turn bitter. In fact, the flavour goes well with eggs, so long as they are not hard-boiled.

Many unoaked whites go passably with eggs and eggy dishes, but Chardonnay is the grape that really cracks the problem. Egg dishes tend to be quite delicate, so we're not talking about the strongly fruity style of Char- donnay. Light, gentle Chardonnays are best, inexpensive ones perhaps from Northern Italy, Eastern Europe, Chile or France. There's something specially egg-friendly about the buttery flavour you find in Chardonnay if the winemaker has chosen to encourage a second, "malolactic" fermentation. White Burgundy and Californian Chardonnay are particularly likely to have this, but watch out for oak.

Even with Chardonnay, egg yolks (and especially hard-boiled ones) are slightly tongue-coating. That detracts just a little from the taste of wine, without clashing. So there's not much point serving an expensive Char- donnay. It won't taste quite its best.

Chardonnays or Beaujolais make good matches with plain scrambled egg or omelette, but other ingredients can sometimes provide the link that creates a really wonderful egg-wine partnership. They might also link in with a wine other than Beaujolais or Chardonnay, and help over-ride the problems caused by a little oak. My favourite is very lightly scrambled egg incorporating strips of smoked salmon. Try that with an inexpensive oaked Chardonnay - the oak chimes in deliciously with the smoke. Australian Semillon stars with piperade, the wonderful Basque concoction of cooked, skinned red peppers, tomatoes, onion and garlic, all gently scrambled up with eggs.

But Chardonnays (unoaked or very gently oaky ones) are tops again if you add fresh basil leaves to just-set scrambled egg. Spanish omelette, with or without onions, goes best with simple Chardonnay. So do most quiches. Even eggs Florentine (poached eggs on spinach baked under a cheese sauce) makes a star match with Northern Italian Chardonnay, with its good acidity balancing that of the spinach. Adding cheese increases the number of wines that clash. But Chardonnays make pleasant partners with cheddar or gruyere- laden eggs.

Good wines with (or without) eggs: gentle, pastelly 1994 Beaujolais-Villages, Domaine Granjean (pounds 4.99 Co-op) works well. For simple, unoaked Chardonnay, try the new, tangy-fresh, flavourful (and brilliant value) 1995 Gyongyos Chardonnay from Hungary (pounds 3.96 Thresher, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up, Sainsbury's, Co-op and EH Booth); honeyed, lemony, faintly buttery 1995 Domaine Mandeville Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d'Oc (pounds 3.99 Marks & Spencer), or gentle, honeyed 1994 Chardonnay Vin de Pays d'Oc, Bessiere (pounds 3.69 Majestic). 1993 Coastal Ridge California Chardonnay (pounds 5.99 Majestic) has plenty of that "malolactic butter" flavour. For stunning value oaked Chardonnay (for eggs scrambled with smoked salmon) it's hard to beat the yummy, full-bodied, honeyed 1994 Domaine de Rivoyre Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d'Oc, Barrel-Fermented (pounds 4.99 Safeway and Victoria Wine), or the delicious, buttery, subtly oaky 1994 Chapel Hill Balaton Boglar Barrique-fermented Chardonnay, from Hungary (pounds 4.99 Safeway). For a Semillon for Piperade, try the lovely, subtle, greengagey 1995 Fairview Semillon from South Africa (pounds 5.99 Oddbins) or the 1994 Basedow Semillon (pounds 5.99 Victoria Wine).

! Kathryn McWhirter is co-author of `Sainsbury's Pocket Food and Wine Guide' , priced at pounds 2.95.

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