Our new Mini List is a celebration of our love of wine, a drink that can be savoured solo, but which always seems to shine brightest when served with a dish – grand or humble – that complements it perfectly. And who better to stir our appetites with their own favourite food and wine pairings than Olly Smith and Helen McGinn?
To many members, these names will be as familiar as the spot-hitting combination of a good bottle of malbec with a good steak (a pairing Helen explores below). Olly is a multi-award-winning wine expert, TV presenter, author, columnist and podcast host whose love of wine and food is as infectious as it is inspiring. His trio of choices cover adventurous dishes from his glittering career alongside a match for classic mature Cheddar.
Another much-loved TV presenter, author, blogger and columnist, Helen spent nearly ten years as a wine buyer, writes the award-winning Knackered Mother's Wine Club blog and is a regular on a wide range of TV shows. Her matches refine two timeless pairings, alongside the perfect midweek treat of bubbles and Ibérico ham.
Be warned: what follows will make you hungry and thirsty!
Sichuan Lamb Bao Buns with Crasto Douro 2020
Olly: ‘The Hairy Bikers once cooked some scrumptious Sichuan lamb bao buns – sumptuously slow-cooked meat with delicious detonations of fiery peppercorns. A totally amazing recipe and one which I loved experimenting with to find the perfect pairing. A go-to pairing for lamb is a red Rioja, but the rub and sauce in this particular dish were much more powerful than the lamb itself, so more welly was required.
‘After a few experiments with beefier reds, I turned to the might of Portuguese touriga nacional famed in Port production with its alluring scent and svelte spice. It was a slam-dunk, gold-medal-winning moment of absolute joy. Something like Crasto Douro 2020 from The Wine Society, which is a Portuguese blend featuring touriga nacional, would be a great match.’
Colston Bassett Stilton with The Society’s Tawny Port
Helen: ‘I know Port and Stilton is hardly groundbreaking, but it is still one of my all-time favourite matches and definitely not just for Christmas. The party that goes on in the mouth is out of this world – all that saltiness from the cheese cut through with the sweetness of the wine along with a side order of dried fruit and nuts in liquid form! Outrageously good.’
Mature Cheddar with Kumeu River Estate Auckland Chardonnay 2022
Olly: ‘The way that wine can lift certain nuances of fragrance or enhance the depth of umami in a dish feels like unlocking an extra dimension of deliciousness. It just takes a bit of time to learn the ropes – in my view, well worth the effort for all the happiness that it brings. And pairings don’t always have to be complicated to be surprising – try a cool glass of lightly oaked Chardonnay with a slab of mature Cheddar with those crunchy crystals in it – bliss. I’d love a glass of Kumeu River please!’
Ibérico ham with The Society’s Cava Reserva Brut 2021
Helen: ‘I adore the combination of Champagne and gougères but the latter are a faff to make, so if I’m at home and there’s a reason to open a bottle of fizz (like, say, Wednesday) then a glass of Cava and some Ibérico ham (usually eaten straight from the packet) is such a treat. The combination of bubbles in the glass and the slight nuttiness of the ham is so good.’
Scallops, Jerusalem artichokes and truffles with The Society's Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc 2022
Olly: ‘I was working hosting a series of events in The Maybourne Riviera hotel near Monaco and one of the dishes that popped up for me to pair a wine to was a dish of scallops, Jerusalem artichokes and seasonal truffles. Quite a conundrum to pick out the precise flavour to focus on, while also considering that artichokes have been known to overwhelm wine pairings with their curiously intense aromatics.
‘Scallops work a charm with chardonnay when they're pan-fried and succulent. I’ve also had good success with grüner veltliner from Austria with fresher scallop dishes such as scallop ceviche. Here, however, the three elements of sweet scallop, aromatic artichoke and fragrant truffle all needed to meet in a single sip of wine. The Society’s Côtes-du-Rhone Blanc has a decent whack of clairette in the blend alongside grenache blanc rounded out with peachy viognier. The price of £9.95 offers terrific value.’
Steak with Quimay Valle de Uco Malbec 2020
Helen: ‘Another classic but it’s one of those matches that can actually transport me somewhere else in one sip/bite, specifically the foothills of the Andes at an authentic Argentine asado. This match also works with peppercorn sauce (don’t knock it until you try it).’
We hope these pairings will inspire you to try them out. Remember, every wine we list online has a ‘Food Matches’ tab after the tasting note, where you’ll find a menu of options to complement it. Get exploring and get matching!