Is there such a thing as a wine for all occasions? Terry Durack brought the subject up in his review of Carles Abellan's chic new restaurant Commerc 24 in Barcelona. The Independent on Sunday's critic had been so daunted by the complexities of the menu that he confessed to floundering when it came to the wine: "Trying to match so many individual tastes to different wines would drive anyone crazy, so I choose the one-size-fits-all appeal of an elegant, toasty Hacienda Monasterio Ribera del Duero."
Which begs the question: if it's hard for someone with Terry's gastronomic nous, how are the rest of us supposed to make an informed choice from today's increasingly eclectic palette of wine and food? Eating out, after all, is supposed to be a pleasure and unless your idea of a fun night out is a gastronomic assault course, the thought of a bewildering menu and wine list might just tip the scales in favour of a night in chewing your fingernails.
One simple solution is to seek out one of the growing number of restaurants that serve a decent range of wines, fresh, by the glass. Popular as a less formal and expensive alternative to ordering a bottle, what better way to enjoy an exciting new wine? More to the point, it's an ideal opportunity to match the wine to the food and it removes the problem of having to settle for a boring generic bottle that's only the house wine, not because it's the most versatile option, but because it's the cheapest.
With a different glass thoughtfully chosen to accompany each course, however weird, Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck sets a high standard for a wines by the glass list. But you don't have to go to the gastrocircus for the experience. On a less expensive scale, an increasing number of wine bars and restaurants across the country are offering an extensive list of wines by the glass, as well as constructive pairings of wines by the glass with each dish.
If choosing a bottle is the only option, is it possible to find a wine that covers all the bases? In a recent experiment, a new wine company, 10 International, assembled a group of wine tasters at Masala Zone in Soho with the aim of finding the perfect rosé to go with Indian food. It was a tough job (yes, someone's got to do it) because of the varying shades of sweetness, hot chilli and creamy textures in a variety of fish, chicken, lamb, beef and vegetarian dishes.
By process of elimination, the most important factors that emerged - after chilling the wine, which is the most important of all - were the need for a balance of freshness, fragrance and fruit flavour. A relatively bland option like the 2006 Jacob's Creek Shiraz, £4.49, reduced from £5.99, Co-op, or 2006 Kumala Rosé, £5.49, Tesco, worked surprisingly well.
It's relatively easy to match traditional food to the obvious classics of bordeaux and cabernet-sauvignon-based reds, rhône and Australian shiraz, rioja, chianti and barolo. But as one of the few red grapes that's at home with meat, poultry and fish, New World pinot noir is the most versatile - and by Sod's law, the wine that I always have least of at home.
This is what both Christine Parkinson at Hakkasan and Alexander Marchesan at Zuma advised to accompany the cuisine when I went to see them. On the whites front, chilled aromatic dry whites like riesling, gewürztraminer and pinot gris suit Asian food, although full-bodied chardonnay is more versatile. In other words, it's horses for courses - and just supposing that there were an all-purpose wine that suited each course, life would be pretty dull, wouldn't it?Reuse content