It needs to breathe, to evolve and gracefully to declineby Barry Smith / February 19, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
The first question you are asked in a restaurant is often: what would you like to drink? And with the mark-up practices in most restaurants, this can be the biggest investment decision of the evening; it’s important to choose wisely. I tend to look at the wine list first and choose the bottle before working out what to eat. As others have noted before me, you have to decide who’s the soloist and who’s the accompaniment.
What if you opt for the tasting menu: that carefully arranged parade of dishes displaying the virtuosity and dexterity of the chef? Here you can move from cold to hot, sweet to salty, crunchy to smooth; plate after plate where variety and contrast are the name of the game. The assortment of flavours constitutes the greatest challenge to the selection of a suitable bottle. Most restaurants offer a wine pairing option—the upside is that the they should have been meticulously chosen and you might discover wines you wouldn’t otherwise have chosen. But with anything between 12 and 24 courses in some restaurants, you could be in for an awful lot of wine.
If you forego the wine pairing option it is still possible to find something that will work with all those dishes. It is often white wines that reveal their versatility here, managing to highlight a range of flavours from briney seafood and silky veloute, to umami-rich gels and foams. You can impress the sommelier by picking out a rich and unctuous Rhône with Roussanne and Marsanne grapes, or a dry Jurançon made from Gros and Petit Manseng. But by far the most versatile white is Gascony’s Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec, made from Petit Manseng and Courbu: a wine that will stand up to pea purée and asparagus, foods that take the shine off most wines. By sticking to white wine you can always supplement your bottle with a glass of red for the particularly meaty plates, returning to the white for the lighter courses.