GRAPEVINE: Bottles of aubergenius

KATHRYN McWHIRTER ON WINES WITH AUBERGINE
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The Independent Culture
Back from Greece? Turkey? Italy? The South of France? Wherever you landed around the Mediterranean, there would almost certainly be a national or local dish, simple but scrumptious, based on aubergines. The local plonk or beer would wash it blissfully down. But if you made the dish at home, with a world of wine within reach, it's almost certain that the best bottle to go with it would be a Sauvignon Blanc.

At its simplest, dipped in olive oil and grilled, aubergine needs a squeeze of lemon or lime juice to make a perfect match for the crisp acidity of Sauvignon.

Without that acidifying squirt of lemon, try grilled aubergine with a dry white Jurancon Sec from the Pyrenees, Alsace Tokay Pinot Gris or Italian Pinot Grigio, or Chablis. All have flavours that blend in deliciously with plain aubergine.

But most aubergine dishes pair up best with Sauvignon Blanc, tomatoes often providing the sharpness to match the tang of the wine. I once spent a student summer making parmigiana by day, pizzas by night in a restaurant on the Tuscan coast. I never had a recipe - precise quantities don't matter in parmigiana di melanzane, to give it its full title. It's simple but wonderful: olive oil-grilled aubergine layered in a large, flat dish with tomato sauce (a boiled-down paste of fried onions, lots of garlic, tomatoes and last-minute basil), topped with sliced mozzarella and grated parmesan, baked. Sauvignons taste fantastic with it, dry Rieslings nearly as good.

Similar ingredients (minus cheese, sometimes plus cinnamon) in the Turkish stuffed aubergine dish imam bayildi are said to have delighted some long- dead Muslim holy man (imam) so much that he swooned. Try it with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, or Soave Classico or Australian Semillon for a change.

The Greeks' aubergine dish is melitanes salata, a dip made by skinning an oven-baked aubergine and whizzing up the soft flesh with a little crushed garlic and lemon juice to taste and a little olive oil. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is the star wine match again, with other Sauvignons or Chablis the runners up. A Turkish au pair taught me to add tahini for the Turkish version of this, baba ghanoush: two dips from one mix, and the Turkish one, too, works particularly well with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a superstar again with ratatouille, and other Sauvignons or dry Rieslings make nearly as good a match.

Red wines tend to overpower aubergine dishes, but the lamb in moussaka links it to reds. Go for a not-too-oaky Spanish Tempranillo, or if you can find it, Greek Naoussa (one of the few Greek wine appellations) might elicit cries of 'Eureka'.

Excellent with aubergine: from New Zealand, 1995 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 6.99 Majestic) is delicious. Other very good Sauvignons include 1995 California Sauvignon Blanc, Mohr-Fry Ranch (pounds 4.49 Victoria Wine), 1995 Deer Leap Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 3.85 Waitrose) and 1995 Gyongyos Estate Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 3.49 Majestic, pounds 3.69 Sainsbury's, Thresher, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up), both from Hungary, and amazingly aromatic and fruity Italian l995 Sainsbury's Sauvignon Blanc delle Tre Venezie (pounds 4.49 Sainsbury's). For brilliant value Chablis, try the 1995 Chablis, Poinsot (pounds 6.99 Majestic), or the more intense Chablis Saint Martin, Domaine Laroche (pounds 8.99 Majestic) or 1994 Chablis Vieilles Vignes Domaine Daniel & Etienne Defaix (pounds 9.99 Thresher, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up). 1995 Villiera Riesling (pounds 5.69 Wine Rack) is a floral dry Riesling from South Africa, and 1994 St Ursula Devil's Rock Riesling (pounds 3.69 Sainsbury's) a good, dry, Australian-style German alternative. Hungarian 1995 Deer Leap Pinot Gris (pounds 3.65 Waitrose) is excellent value, an equal for the lovely 1995 Pinot Grigio della Toscana, Le Rime (pounds 4.99 Marks & Spencer) or the musky 1994 Reserve Tokay Pinot Gria, Cave de Turckheim (pounds 5.59 Thresher, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up), or for really intense, musky richness, splash out on the 1995 Tokay Pinot Gris Vieilles Vignes, Mann (pounds 9.99 Oddbins).

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