The phrase "wine and food pairing" makes me think of well-upholstered Tory MPs at The Junior Carlton Club ordering "another bottle of that most excellent vino, Rupert". It is a narcolepsy-inducer with the strength of temazepam. Unless you're eating a tasting menu which is longer than the Dead Sea scrolls, it is a red flashing light with a siren screaming BORING! And possibly then EXPENSIVE! And there is a simple reason: no chef wants his much-loved food going about with some cheap, shallow Chilean. They want only the best for their rabbit tartare – they want, in the words of Withnail, "the finest wines available to humanity".
It is an aspiration I can sympathise with. But the problem is, most of us don't have the money to buy the best wines known to man. Quite a lot of us don't have the money to buy the best wines known to J Sainsbury. The whole exercise, then, soon becomes a little pointless.
So, when Stella Artois invited me to a food and cider pairing, I packed my espadrilles and toddled off down to southern France to join them. The Belgian beer colossus has been selling its upmarket, French-inspired Belgian cidre since 2011. It now has five flavours – apple, pear, raspberry, peach and elderflower – which, while covering a good chunk of the fruit spectrum, wouldn't necessarily seem to lend themselves to food-pairing.
So I went down to a house that they had rented near Grasse feeling a little sceptical. I met Jeroen Laenen, the chap who is in charge of brewing. He told me lots of things about the cidre – that they have 961 quality control checks on it; that "flavour" was simply aroma plus taste; "that a brewer would rather divorce his wife than give away his yeast" – and still I couldn't help thinking: "Hmm, cider and ratatouille – not going to happen."
We sat down to dinner on the sunny terrace outside the house to eat. Things kicked off with a brace of fat scallops marinated in kaffir lime with fennel and grapefruit. Laenen had paired these godly creatures with elderflower cidre. It seemed like some terrible crime. But then I tasted it – and it did a nice job of bringing out the citrus and calming the grapefruit. It didn't overwhelm the scallop. He won that round.
Then came the herb-and garlic-crusted rack of lamb. This robust dish he had married off to the apple cidre – and perhaps this was the biggest lesson from the experience: forget your Bordeaux; pair it with a £2 cidre. It is not going to be like eating lamb with a Haut Medoc but it isn't at all bad – in fact, it was good. The sweet strawberry soup and lemon sorbet formed an even happier alliance with a peach cidre. The total drinks bill came to south of a tenner.
The great lesson is: you don't have to have pals with names like Rupert to make the most of a food and drink pairing. If your drink has some complexity, then you can try pairing it. Try it at home or, even better, try it where I did. Stella Artois are offering four punters the chance to stay in the same house and drink the same cidre for the price of a round of drinks (£21). It is available for four three-night breaks from 12-25 September – you just need to book by 31 July. So go find your joie de cidre.Reuse content