Boisdale Life Magazine (Issue 18) - Page 57

Bill Knott enjoys red wine with his fish
as he cocks a snook at the drinks snobs
and their prescriptive pairings
Illustration Martin Kingdom

ed wine with fish. That
should have told me
something,” says Sean
Connery’s Bond, held at
gunpoint by a villainous
Robert Shaw in From Russia with Love.
“You may know the right wines,” Shaw
says, “but you’re the one on your knees.”
The fish is grilled sole, the wine is
Chianti, and they are both consumed by
Shaw’s assassin, Donald “Red” Grant,
aboard the Orient Express. Bond and
his inamorata order the sole, too, but
with Taittinger Comtes de Champagne
Blanc de Blancs 1943. Grant’s choice of
Chianti is, the script implies, proof of a
dastardly personality. Nonsense. He
may be a murderous thug, but I defend
his right to pair fish with red wine – or
steak with Coca-Cola, pâté de foie gras
with a banana smoothie, or spaghetti
bolognese with Bailey’s if he chooses.
Open any of the myriad tomes about
food and wine pairing, and you find
prescriptions for what to drink with
every imaginable dish, each carefully
calibrated to reflect the smallest details
of its preparation – whether the steak
has a creamy blue-cheese sauce, say, or
the frîtes come with ketchup on them.
What these books fail to recognise is
personal taste. If you feel New Zealand
Sauvignon Blanc is undrinkable filth
that stinks of cat’s pee and elderflowers,
knowing that it is a perfect match for
sole Véronique will not make you like it
any better. And I think Gewürztraminer,
often fêted as the perfect match for
Indian food (which is about as helpful
as suggesting a wine to accompany
‘European food’), smells of pungent
underpants, and won’t drink it at all.
Should you be in Southeast Asia,
you might follow the oft-stated advice
that off-dry German Riesling is perfect
with Thai or Vietnamese food. This is
sound in theory – a little sweetness and
plenty of acidity to balance the spices
and herbs – but, not in practice. If, by
some miracle, you track down a bottle
in the backstreets of Luang Prabang or
Hanoi, it will probably have been stored
upright in fierce heat and bright
sunshine for a few years, gathering dust
as its aromatic charms evaporate. You
might find a carefully-cellared bottle in
a five-star hotel, but you will need to fill
out a mortgage form to buy it.
Compromise is key, so order a drink
that your friendly bartender actually
knows how to make. Having travelled
extensively in Vietnam, Thailand, and
Laos, I can tell you that the best drink
to accompany your som tam, duck laap
or chicken pho is a bourbon sour: Every
Southeast Asian restaurant has egg
whites, sugar and fresh lemon juice,
and a bottle of Jim Beam or Jack Daniels
behind the bar. If not, it is a terrific way
to make the local hooch – Mekong
whisky, for instance – more palatable.
These pairing guides also claim an
authenticity that is often spurious.
Google “wine to drink with pizza”, say,
and all sorts of erudite suggestions for
Italian wine appear, from Sicilian
Frappato to Pinot Grigio; from Alto
Adige, via Piemontese Barbera and
Lambrusco from Emilia-Romagna. Some
authors even offer different choices
depending on whether the pizza is
topped with mushrooms or pepperoni.
I have news for these self-appointed
cognoscenti. At Da Michele, the
peerless Naples pizzeria, nobody drinks
wine with pizza: They drink beer. Nor
are the pizzas topped with pepperoni or
mushrooms, which Neapolitans would
consider heresy. You order a marinara
or a margherita, and wash it down with
Peroni. The pizza takes 42 seconds to
cook, and you finish in 15 minutes. If
you lingered over a bottle of wine, your
pizza will be cold and congealed.
am not saying that great food and
wine matches do not exist, merely
that many of them are ridiculously
prescriptive. They also perpetuate a
snobbishness that manifests at dull
dinner parties, or, even worse, in a
sommelier’s wine pairings for a tasting
menu. Hapless diners have to suspend
their conversation every few minutes to
listen politely as the wine waiter drones
on about minerality and malolactic
fermentation, while the miserable
thimblefuls of wine evaporate. One of
the joys of drinking a good bottle of
wine is that, when opened and exposed
to the air, it develops in the glass: A
whole bottle unfolds like a movie.
A wine pairing menu, by contrast, is
just a haphazard handful of snapshots.
In any case, James Bond didn’t know
what he was talking about. How can
you take seriously a man who orders
his martini with vodka, not gin, and
then has it shaken, not stirred? Even his
wine choices were questionable: In Live
And Let Die, the FBI treats him to a
dinner of soft-shell crabs with tartare
sauce, medium-rare hamburgers, French
fries and broccoli, a mixed salad with
Thousand Island dressing, and icecream with butterscotch, all matched
with “as good a Liebfraumilch as you
can get in America”. This is the same
man who, in Goldfinger, can come over
all snobby about a bottle of Château
Mouton-Rothschild 1947.
My advice? Drink what you want,
with whatever you want. We are all,
thankfully, licensed to swill.

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