Ever wonder what a wine critic means when he or she says, this is a food wine?
Some might suggest it's a derogatory term because "food" wines have a reputation for, well, needing food to make them taste better. Usually food is used to ameliorate rough tannins or too much acidity or a high rate of alcohol. At least, that's how they're viewed in the tasting arena.
On the other hand, many suggest the duty of every wine is to be able to work well with food. That said, we all know wine is better with food than without. Now imagine what the pairing could be when the wine is perfectly paired with a complimentary style of food.
Curiously, wines that have all the necessary attributes to enhance certain foods end up profiting from such a union, and taste even better. It's a Catch 22 in a good way. And that leads us to the inevitable question: which are the best food wines on the planet?
Here are six ideas to start your journey:
I'm not sure there is better food wine than champagne and the best of its sparkling imitators. The acidity is bitingly fresh and the mix of nuts, brioche and yeast flavours along with moderate alcohol and practically no oak — at least any you can taste — conspire to make sparkling wine a much better food candidate than consumers might imagine.
I've sat through numerous all-champagne dinners and never once wished there were other wines at the table. It's the bubbles that subdue anything deep fried, or wrapped in pastry, while the acidity suits salt and fat, be it salted nuts or caviar and crème fraîche.
If you are more into spice or Asian food sparkling wine can still work, it just needs to be fruiter. In the latter case think New World sparkling wine.
Practice pairings: Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne, France $68; Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut, Okanagan Falls, B.C. $24
There was a time when chardonnay meant white burgundy and all its incumbent flavours: Citrus, minerality, tree fruits, nuts, yeast and wet stones, all with a hint of grilled toast and butter.
After losing its way for a few decades, New World chardonnay is returning to the fold exhibiting much of the classic Burgundian framework with a touch riper fruit. No matter which style you prefer, both can be stunning food wines when the oak is perfectly orchestrated.
Think lobster, crab, chicken, quail, turkey, pork and veal; your job is not to mess up the match with a dish too big or too rich that overpowers the wine.
Practice pairings: Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2011, Burgundy, France $42; Penfolds Koonunga Hill Chardonnay 2011, South Australia $15
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