Tastebud Terrors

Matching wines with tricky ingredients

A series of articles by Fine Wine Editor Janet Wynne Evans on pairing wines with vinicidal food.

Contents

Introduction

What 2005 means to me

Culinary diversity

Nobody could accuse the British of not being receptive to gastronomic trends, from nouvelle cuisine to fusion to plain confusion. In our gloriously tolerant and deregulated foodie climate, we can be fashion victims or traditionalists as the mood takes us, opting for Pacific Rim one day, for steak and kidney pudding the next.

And should we fancy a dash of holiday flavour without leaving town, most British high streets could offer up Thailand, Canton, Peking, Italy, Spain, Goa and the Punjab at the drop of a Mexican hat. Not surprisingly, also at our disposal in this country is the most international selection of wine to be found anywhere, so that the main difficulty in finding a good match for the flavour of the month is usually one of too much choice.

The food & wine marriage wreckers

While most foods are wine-friendly to a greater or lesser degree, some ingredients are so positively vinicidal that they should carry a wine-lover's warning. Curiously, for all the waves of new, often strong flavours which have buffeted British tastebuds over the past two or three decades, the real wine-wreckers – the strippers of fruit and body, the concentrators of tannin and acid, the bludgeoners of finesse – come down to perhaps half a dozen ingredients which have remained unchanged for many years.

New ways with wine & food

What has changed is the way in which these ingredients are used, coinciding usefully with the bolder, more upfront flavours that winemakers these days are coaxing out of their grapes. Taking its cue from the Aztecs, the trendy mole poblano way with turkey incorporates bitter chocolate into the cooking liquid, transforming a ruthless killer into a velvety sauce which goes brilliantly with a vibrantly fruity Chilean merlot or Argentine malbec.

From Vindaloo warfare (traditionally conducted with twice as much lager before as during and after the meal) our relationship with chilli has evolved into a subtler partnership of moderation and clever spicing which demands aromatic, cool-fermented sauvignons, spicy tokays and rich gewürztraminers.

Until the Balsamic revolution, few would have thought of paying substantially more for a bottle of vinegar than a bottle of wine (intentionally, at least!), because it had been bubbling gently in a Modena garret for a hundred years. This sweet, refined nectar offers up many more wine possibilities, notably with the new-wave reds of Tuscany or Puglia, than malt vinegar, Having said that, though, what would you rather have on your fish and chips?

The culprits & what to do with them

In this series of articles we examine in depth a series of tastebud terrorists from asparagus to vinegar, to see how, and, indeed, in some cases whether, a marriage with wine could be arranged, for it will rarely be a love match. As well as chocolate and chilli we shall be naming and shaming one or two less obvious items such as the humble, but secretly devastating tomato, the virtuous yet vicious egg, and those nutritious but metallic greens, which may be good for you, but surely not at the expense of an equally therapeutic glass of red wine. We may even have to concede, reluctantly, that the ever-popular orange sticks to Vitamin C provision and marmalade rather than wreaking havoc with the blissfully happy marriage between roast duck and fine Claret, or a discerning member and a glass of Society Champagne!

Janet Wynne Evans

Click on the links below to read articles.

Use the Food & Wine Matcher for suggestions of wines to go with specific dishes.

Spoiling the wine

Wine & vinegar - some thoughts on the shared ancestry and feuding potential

The acidity in a glass of Champagne makes it a good match for fish and chips.

More vicious than virtuous circle
From good old British malt to balsamico di Modena, nature's earliest preservative, condiment and folk remedy is all around us, in a bewildering array of styles and flavours. With the exception of malt vinegar, which is properly brewed from beer, all derive originally from what you might call spoiled wine (vin-aigre) and, almost in a vindictive way, this is precisely the effect that they will have on your best bottles unless handled with care!

Acetic aggression comes mainly from high acidity, present in all vinegars. The 'pickled' tang of the brewing or fermentation process is demanding on the taste-buds, too, but added herbs, spices and fruit flavours are more forgiving. So, while all vinegar should be treated with caution, it's useful to note that while sweeter and fruitier vinegars are easier to match, the more basic the brew, the more concentration and fruit it needs in an accompanying wine.

Great British dishes
With fish and chips, with or without malt vinegar, we often recommend a racy, cool-climate white with plenty of stuffing - a New Zealand sauvignon blanc, for instance - on the tried and tested premise that acidity needs acidity, and a rich, deep-fried batter can take plenty of it. A Muscadet would do just as well, and why not a glass of The Society's Champagne Brut if the occasion warrants it?

A good, fruity home-made chutney needs a spicy Rhône-style red. The robust sweetness of grenache is an excellent bet for a ploughman's platter, with perhaps a lick of peppery syrah to echo the pickling spices. In winter, head for Australia or Châteauneuf and for lighter days, head for the Languedoc or Spain.

Sweet endings
For dessert, a few drops of authentic balsamic vinegar - so mellow that it may be taken as a digestif - can transform a dish of less than perfect strawberries. Add a sprinkling of freshly-ground black pepper, which seems to extract their flavour, leave to mature for a few hours and enjoy with a mature Banyuls or similar Roussillon fortified red.

Flavoured vinegars & salad dressings
Flavoured vinegars tend to work best with assertive oils in wine-friendly dressings. A hazelnut oil and tarragon vinaigrette makes a chicken salad worthy of a serious chardonnay. Instead of chips with your steak and mature red Burgundy (ditto), try a lardon salad of spinach with bacon bits fried in fruity Provençal olive oil, dressed with reduced raspberry vinegar.

One of the easiest suppers imaginable is melted goat's cheese, on a bed of salad drizzled with walnut oil and sherry vinegar, and for this you'll need a full-bodied sauvignon blanc perhaps from Chile, or Pouilly-Fumé. Finally, lubricate a plateful of rocket with parmesan shavings with a peppery Tuscan extra-vergine, a few drops of balsamico and a glass of fruity Italian barbera or primitivo.

Fans of pickled eggs are, we fear, on their own, but if you have discovered an inspired match, we'd be delighted to know about it!

Janet Wynne Evans

Short cuts

  • the more basic the brew, the more concentration and fruit it needs in an accompanying wine.
  • Fish & Chips – racy, cool-climate whites: New Zealand sauvignon blanc, Muscadet, Champagne
  • Chutneys – spicy Rhône-style reds from grenache or syrah/shiraz: Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Australian shiraz in winter, Spain or Languedoc in summer
  • Balsamic vinegar & strawberries – Fortified reds, Banyuls, Rivesaltes
  • chicken salad with hazelnut & tarragon vinaigrette – serious chardonnay
  • spinach & lardon salad with raspberry vinegar & olive oil dressing (& steak!) – mature red Burgundy
  • goat's cheese salad with walnut oil & sherry vinegar – full-bodied sauvignon blanc, Chile or Pouilly-Fumé
  • rocket & parmesan salad – fruity Italian barbera or primitivo

Propping up the bar

Try The Society's Exhibition Viejo Olorose Dulce with chocolate desserts

Wines to contain the dark forces of chocolate

There is little doubt that a once-tricky partnership, the subject of many appeals for advice here at Stevenage, has become easier over the years. This has less to do with the arrival on our shelves of new wine styles than with the increased use of fine chocolate as an ingredient. Dessert recipes nowadays call not for cocoa powder or 'cooking' chocolate but for the dark, continental bar, with its authentically high percentage of cocoa solids and relatively low sweetness factor.

Surprising possibilities
The purer, if slightly bitter taste of such chocolate introduces alternative wine possibilities, as different as can be from the unctuous sweetness of a vin doux naturel.

Dry, concentrated, even tannic reds can be surprisingly good partners for a dark chocolate tart, in which lavish quantities of the finest Belgian or French chocolate are combined with butter, perhaps an egg or two, a pinch of spice and very little else. The Rhône, Northern Italy and the cooler-climate New World cabernets or syrahs are all good sources of such bottles.

Chocolate in savoury dishes...
Fashionably bitter chocolate also plays an important savoury role in Mexican and South American cuisine, where it adds an unmistakeable bite to slow-cooked chilli-infused stews of beef or poultry.

Nearer home, a couple of squares popped into a rich game casserole is an excellent idea, especially for jugged hare or wild venison. For richness on this scale, the opulence of Australia, South Africa or California is required and the spicy overtones of the shiraz grape are particularly indicated.

…and in puds
For the richest, sweetest chocolate puds, the most reliable of the 'chocolate soldiers' are still recruited from the ranks of the fortified. The affinity of liqueur muscat with chocolate is well documented. Less obvious but fantastically good are the liqueur grenaches of the Roussillon - Banyuls, Maury and Rivesaltes. These fortified reds, pulsating with Mediterranean warmth and high-teen alcohol levels are gorgeous with chocolate gâteaux and old-fashioned steamed chocolate puddings.

Fruits and nuts
Equally good chocolate prospects, especially if nuts and raisins are involved, are properly matured oloroso sherries such as Viejo Oloroso Dulce and, that most versatile of drinks, Malmsey or Malvasia Madeira. A sumptuous finale might involve one of these with the ultimate expression of the serious chocolatier's art - a dish of dark, milk and white mendiants, round, thin discs of top-notch chocolate encrusted with walnuts, pecans and crystallised, or dried fruits.

Ligher alternatives to fortified wines
If the alcoholic implications of chocolate-fancying seem alarming, fear not! Not all unfortified pudding wines are usually overwhelmed by chocolate, and if you look beyond Sauternes to France's south west, you'll find one or two lighter alternatives.

A late-harvest dessert Jurançon or Pacherenc provides a welcome prickle of acidity with a Bûche Noël or French Yule Log, filled with a light-as-air chocolate cream. The extra sweetness and higher proportion of cocoa butter in white chocolate is better suited to wines of this type and a good, ripe Monbazillac with a white chocolate and raspberry fool is as just a dessert as a wine-lover deserves.

Janet Wynne Evans

Short cuts

  • Dark chocolate tart – dry full reds from the Rhône, northern Italy, of new world cabernet or syrah/siraz
  • Chocolate in spicy stews/casseroles – rich reds like shiraz from Australia, South Africa, California
  • Rich chocolate puddings, steamed chocolate puddings, gateaux – liqueur muscat or grenache from from Languedoc-Roussillon
  • Chocolate with nuts and fruit eg. Mendiants – oloroso sherry, malmsey Madeira
  • White chocolate, Bûche Noël, French Yule Log – dessert Jurançon, Pacherenc, Monbazillac

Taming the tomato

A tomato-friendly wine needs concentrated fruit, good balancing acidity and minimal tannin.

Wines to partner the tomato in all its guises

The long, lost real tomato
Tomatoes need sun, or, at the very least, heat and tender loving care. Here in Northern Europe, those of us without a greenhouse, south-facing terrace or time are obliged to consume so many hard, flavourless commercial specimens that the experience of a real, ripe Italian tomato on a summer holiday, will be nothing short of mystical. Such sweetness, such power, such sensual pleasure! All too soon, it's back to the watery beefsteak, the tinned plum and the extra charge for varieties 'grown for flavour' (as opposed, presumably, for profit).

The ubiquitous tomato sauce
Even a ripe tomato is high in acidity, which can challenge a sensitive bottle. Add further agents provocateurs like garlic, spices, sugar and, worst of all vinegar and you have that great standby, the tomato sauce, which features in most of our popular convenience foods. Perhaps we have become inured, after years of pizzeria patronage, to the strident clash on the palate of killer tomatoes and dry, insubstantial 'house' reds which simply can't handle them.

'The love-apple can be tricky but it need not always be red for danger'

Getting the balance right
A tomato-friendly wine needs concentrated fruit, good balancing acidity and minimal tannin, which can seek out and amplify hard edges. These specifications immediately suggest white, rather than red wines. A simple salad of ripe tomatoes, dressed with nothing more than good olive oil, black pepper and snipped chives, responds to the smoky, spicy flavours of Alsace. Try a restrained, rather than exotic gewurztraminer or a muscat or a peachy, new world sauvignon blanc, which have the stuffing to handle aromatic herbs like basil.

Roasted or dried tomatoes become sweeter and more concentrated with heat treatment, and the wine should follow suit. Baby plum or cherry tomatoes, roasted and stuffed with garlicky breadcrumbs, spiked with herbes de provence and drizzled with olive oil are sublime with a heady Mediterranean white or traditional white Rioja.

Fans of fine German riesling might uncork a late-picked riesling from a ripe vintage, with plenty of racy acidity and just enough sweetness to pick up the caramelised edges of a roasted tomato tart. Try it too with a salad of poached salmon and salad leaves dressed with olive oil from a jar of sun-dried tomatoes.

Reds can work too
There is, however, room for reds, alongside those meaty tomato sauces, packed with herbs and spices which make pasta such a comforting bowlful. If you know your ammatriciana from your arabbiata, you'll instinctively head for Italy, where the best prospects come from the hot southern Mezziogiorno. The provinces of Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria and, increasingly, Sicily, abound with voluptuous and fruity reds from indigenous grapes like negroamaro, malvasia nero and primitivo.

By extension, primitivo's transatlantic cousin, zinfandel can wave the Cal-Ital flag in a, slowly-reduced bolognese sauce, but do make sure it isn't infused with too much new oak. Other tomato partnerships which won't dissolve include the Languedoc and Spain.

The perfect match!
Finally, for the most perfect match in the List, pour a liberal measure of The Society's Vodka over a handful of ice cubes in a large tumbler and stir in the merest teaspoon of The Society's Fino Sherry. Top up with tomato juice, a dash each of Worcester Sauce and Tabasco and a grinding of black pepper to taste. Add an optional celery stick and you'll find that dinner can probably wait!

Short cuts

  • Simple tomato salad – Alsace muscat or gewürztraminer, new world sauvignon blanc
  • Roasted, stuffed tomatoes – traditional white Rioja, heady Mediterranean white
  • Roasted tomato tart – ripe German riesling
  • Poached Salmon salad with sun-dried tomato oil dressing - ripe German Riesling
  • Meaty, spicy tomato sauces – southern Italian reds from negroamaro, primitivo, malvasia nero or ripe rather than oaky zinfandel or southern French wines

Beating the heat

It's just a matter of selecting the right bottle to complement the heat

Wines to cope with spice

Turning up the heat
If ever an ingredient could be guaranteed to bring a little warmth into life all over the world, it is surely the cosmopolitan chilli. It regulates the curry league table, permeates the Orient, signposts the South American way and promotes healthy perspiration in the Caribbean.

We are warned to be sparing with the powdered and the dried, and to remove the seeds from the fresh Scotch Bonnet, Jalapeño or Bird's Eye. We ignore at our peril the advice that rubber gloves should be worn at all times, and that not to do so will bring tears to our eyes, and any other part of our anatomy we may accidentally touch, so what wine in the world can handle that which our nerve-endings can not?

Can the wine and opt for beer?
An authentic solution is the speciality beer, widely imported these days from the subcontinent, from south-east Asia and from Mexico. Those not in the mood for the grain, even imbibed through a designer lime slice, are invited to read on. The grape does not invariably wave the white flag of surrender at hot cuisine. In fact many wines rise splendidly to the challenge, and as ever, it's just a matter of selecting the right bottle.

'Cool wines for hot meals'

A new approach
This encouraging news owes much to modern, fruit-driven winemaking, but more to the fact that chilli has now outgrown its unpromising reputation as an endurance test of British gastro-testosterone, or a disguise for dubious ingredients.

Consider the controlled heat of tandoori or Balti dishes, in which intricate spicing leaves a rich, warm feeling in the mouth, rather than lacerated gums. Here we need concentration, acidity to cut through yoghurt and ghee and, most importantly, a comforting touch of sweetness, so nothing too dry or oaky.

A demi-sec Vouvray, for example, or any other full-bodied chenin blanc, is quite brilliant with a cardamom-infused tikka, or an oily aubergine bhajee. The same goes for a ripe, smoky rosé, from Anjou, Bordeaux or Spain or even a late harvest gewurztraminer as the Tastings Team found when dining at a very authentic Indian restaurant in the Midlands with a clutch of Alsace producers.

The saltier the dish, the sweeter the wine
We already know gewürztraminer to be the obvious antidote for Chinese saucery. The sharp, saline edges of soy and the treacly tang of hoisin reach out for the aromatic whites in which Alsace specialises, and the saltier the fare, the sweeter the wine should be. Choose a drier wine to match the subtler, though actually hotter Thai combination of nam pla, lemon grass, chilli, lime juice and sesame oil, which favours pungent Kiwi or Loire sauvignons.

South of the border
The Mexicans introduced us to turkey, but politely declined the cultural exchange of sage and onion stuffing, preferring to spike their national bird with chilli and chocolate. Mole poblano and serious chilli con carne are firmly red wine territory. Look north to California or south to Argentina for inspiration, choosing big, bold, oaky fire-blanket reds with plenty of body

In Jamaica, meat or fish is 'jerked' awake by a startling rub of dried herbs, spices and Scotch Bonnets, ranging from fairly brisk to hot-hot-hot. Fight fire with fruit - a young, fruity syrah/shiraz, zinfandel or southern Italian red.

And stay cool!

Janet Wynne Evans

Short cuts

  • Tandoori or Balti dishes such as tikka or aubergine bhajee – demis-sec Vouvray, smoky rosés from Anjou, Bordeaux or Spain, Alsace gewurztraminer
  • Chinese – aromatic whites like Alsace gewurztraminer
  • Thai – full-flavoured Loire or New Zealand sauvignon blanc
  • Mexican, eg. Chilli con carne – big bold reds such as those from California or Argentina
  • Jamaican, eg. Jerk chicken – young fruity syrah/shiraz, zinfandel or southern Italian reds

Contemplating the navel

The orange and the grape are not natural allies.

Wines to cope with orange

It's time we wine lovers faced the truth. Oranges are not always good for us.

Duck à l'orange may feature prominently in every known anthology of Recipes to Impress. Nevetheless, it's a complete waste of fine wine. A tangy, vitamin-packed watercress and orange salad may well extend your life, just as it is quietly murdering the wine in your glass. An orange vinaigrette or beurre blanc, drizzled artfully over your salmon escalope, is probably very stylish - if you are on the wagon.

A lift for lacklustre fizz
It's true that many a lacklustre fizz is dramatically improved by a splash of freshly squeezed orange juice provided that you are prepared for potential acid indigestion. However, an original recipe for Buck's Fizz (or Mimosa as it is called in France) specifies Bollinger as the Champagne of choice. If this doesn't rest our case, consider the much-quoted words of Madame Lily Bollinger, who may have drunk her splendid product when she was happy or sad, hungry or thirsty, in company or alone but never, so far as we know, with orange juice!

The dessert course is another matter
If the aperitif, the starter and the main course must be declared orange-free zones for the purposes of wine enjoyment, dessert has distinct possibilities. The reprieve is largely attributable to the three-man arbitration and conciliation service of sugar, cream and butter, which calms the ranting acidity and pungent zestiness of the average orange. It also owes much to the character, and more forgiving nature of dessert wines.

'The orange and the grape are not natural allies, but keep them sweet and they'll get along'

A dessert wine can simply be the product of super-luscious grapes, briefly fermented to preserve sweetness and accordingly relatively low in alcohol. A lighter-than-air moscato d'asti, made from naturally sweet grapes with a touch of pétillance, is an utterly perfect accompaniment for a simple salad of oranges in a sugar syrup, spiked perhaps with rosemary or mint.

The same grape fortified, as in Beaumes de Venise, or Australia's Rutherglen has the power to embrace weightier, rich combinations of chocolate and orange and comes into its own with stout English classics like Saint Clement's pudding (oranges and lemons steamed in a suet crust) or an old-fashioned treacle tart infused with orange zest.

The finest pudding wines owe their sweetness to botrytis, or noble rot, which strikes when heat and humidity work in harmony on semillon, riesling and chenin blanc grapes. Botrytis-affected wines have a definite aroma of very good marmalade, which finds a pleasant rapport with more subtly orangey desserts: try a Sauternes or Monbazillac with a Grand Marnier soufflé, a trockenbeerenauslese riesling with an orange-flavoured crème brûlée, or orange custard tart, or a mature Vouvray moelleux of with crêpes suzette.

Meanwhile, if you will buck your fizz, do make sure that the fizz truly deserves it.

Janet Wynne Evans

Short cuts

  • Declare aperitif, starter and main course as an orange-free zone
  • simple salad of fresh oranges in sugar syrup – Moscato d'Asti
  • chocolate & orange puddings; treacle tart with orange zest – liqueur muscat such as Beaumes de Venise or Australian 'stickies'
  • Subtle orangey desserts – botrytised dessert semillon, riesling, chenin blanc
  • Grand Marnier soufflé – Sauternes or Monbazillac
  • crème brûlée or orange custard tart - trockenbeerenauslese riesling
  • crêpes suzette – mature Vouvray moelleux

Turning over a new leaf

Try a grenache-rich Côtes-du-Rhône with fried cabbage

Wines to partner green vegetables

Since the cabbage clan, from spring greens to January King, provides us with important antioxidants and vitamins all the year round, eating one's greens is clearly a good idea. Finding wines to cope with their ominpresent metallic tang on the palate is trickier.

Asparagus, for example, can strip certain whites and make them taste metallic. Kiwi sauvignon blanc won't stand such nonsense, but for a match made in heaven, try a dry muscat from Alsace or the Languedoc. The heady aromas and lowish acidity work to perfection. Most Portuguese whites are a revelation too.

Brave the brassicas
Spinach, savoy, sprouts and even trendy cavolo nero all put the brass in brassicas, while simultaneously packing a deep, green, chlorophyll punch. Small wonder that these are vegetables which most of us come to appeciate only in adult life, when the memory of the last school dinner has finally faded, although the evocative powers of boiled cabbage like Marcel Proust's madeleine, remain undimmed by time!

'Partnering greens with reds and whites'

How, then, should we set about finding a wine partner for greens and their often assertive accompaniments? Consider the uncompromising sprout, jollied along with a few rashers of crisp, salty bacon, for example, and spinach softened with lashings of garlic, nutmeg and cream, or fruity olive oil and lemon juice. Or spring greens trendily deep-fried, drizzled liberally with soy sauce and sesame, and relaunched as 'crispy seaweed'.

Closer to home lies another challenge, in the form of boiled cabbage which has had a day or two to regroup itself, a bit of vintage mash, an optional but ferocious English onion and a panful of sizzling butter. We call this British classic bubble-and-squeak and wonder why our friends across the channel do not spend more time à la récherche du chou perdu!

Fearsome greens need fearless wine
After considerable and deeply satisfying research here at Stevenage, we have formed the conclusion that fearsome greens need fearless wine. Not for the cabbage front are the grand-cru Chablis, the mellow Margaux or the fine-boned Nuits. The crucial ingredients needed here are fruit and alcohol and lashings of both.

While a few white wines can work with specific dishes - burly new-world chardonnays, for example, with creamy dressings, ripe Alsace Gewurztraminer with the Oriental treatment or a mature, honeyed Loire chenin with chilli and spices, the cheeky Italian Fiano with peppery watercress salads, the best all-rounder by far is red, and the grape of choice is grenache or garnacha, the most alcoholic of all varieties available to the winemaker. This is the grape which puts colour and power into a hearty Rhône a winter-warming Languedoc, an inky Priorato or a robust Aussie red. It makes comforting, cuddly wine to warm the cockles of the heart, a shoulder to cry on, a shock absorber. Best of all, it is almost invariably affordable, and always excellent value for money.

Try a grenache-rich Côtes-du-Rhône or the big-hearted wild-cherry charms of a Spanish garnacha with simply fried cabbage and build up the volume to match the spice factor. An Aussie shiraz-grenache blend has the fruit and backbone to cope admirably with any amount of garlic, caraway, aniseed or ginger.

For a special occasion and the meanest of greens - Christmas dinner, for example - a top-class Châteauneuf du Pape which will be as flattering to the turkey as it is firm with the sprouts. Most of these wines pack at least 13% alcohol, which bring the additional benefit of a relatively painless festive season or, for that matter, any rainy, post-prandial Sunday afternoon.

So eat your greens, pour your reds, and watch the blues disappear!

Janet Wynne Evans

Short cuts

  • Best 'all-rounder' – Grenache/garanacha; hearty Rhône, Languedoc, Priorato, robust Aussie red
  • 'Meanest of greens' & Christmas dinner – Châteauneuf-du-Pape
  • Greens in: creamy sauces – burly new world chardonnay
  • Greens in: oriental spices – ripe Alsace gewurztraminer
  • Greens in: chilli & spice – mature, honeyed Loire chenin
  • Greens in: watercress – Fiano

Unscrambling the egg

Try an omelette, with a fruity, Italian red such as Valpolicella

Not so bad once you've cracked it

The fact that there are few aromas more pervasive than that of an egg sandwich at room temperature should not entirely set the tone for this piece. After all, the egg is at the heart of any number of gastronomic recipes, while a glass of Claret or Burgundy with one's full English breakfast is surely taking wine appreciation to the limit.

Few dishes successfully combine wine and cooked eggs. The Burgundian speciality oeufs en meurette consists of eggs poached in a red wine reduction flavoured with bacon, onions and garlic. It works because the intensity of the sauce overcomes the texture of the egg, from the stolid rubberiness of the white to the pasty mouth-feel of the yolk. For texture, more than taste is the real problem with eggs and wine, whether free-range organic or Beluga caviar, which is more attuned to a whistle-clean vodka than fine Champagne. For the once-chic menu stalwarts of egg mayonnaise, or even à la Russe, there is no hope whatsoever and one wonders if the rising tide of wine drinking swept them away.

One answer, then, is to change the texture, and add flavour. Omelettes and scrambled eggs laden, like Arnold Bennett's, with smoked haddock or salmon and oozing with butter or cheese are more manageable than the sum of their parts, especially with an equally assertive white, perhaps a ripe, well-oaked New World chardonnay or a warm Burgundy vintage. You might try a frittata, or baked vegetable omelette, with a fruity, medium weight Italian red such as Valpolicella, and the Mexican-inspired huevos rancheros, (chilli-spiked scrambled eggs), with a white Rioja or big-boned shiraz.

A highly-flavoured savoury custard such as quiche lorraine brings this difficult customer yet further out of its shell. The firm, spicy whites of Alsace excel at partnering such fare especially pinot gris, with a hint of sweetness to match the slowly-cooked onions or shallots in a classic tarte à l'oignon.

Combined with cream, separated and folded into soufflés, cakes and rich mousses or whipped into fluffy meringues, eggs become miraculously wine-friendly, and particularly responsive to one noble and versatile grape - riesling. The subtly different grades of sweetness of which it is capable enable it to cope with anything from a delicate soufflé to a full blown Queen of Puddings. Choose a wine from Alsace or Germany for the racy acidity which is always a welcome foil for such richness and select your degree of residual sugar according to the intensity of the dessert: an Auslese, Beerenauslese or vendange tardive with an apricot tart or baked Bramley apples, a Trockenbeerenauslese or Selection des Grains Nobles with a classic crème caramel and, for a memorable treat an Eiswein with your best bread and butter pudding with real custard.

Finally, don't shun the raw egg. It may do wine no favours, but an over-enthusiastic wine drinker is another matter. Break a whole fresh egg into a glass with Worcestsershire sauce, a dash of wine vinegar, salt, pepper and Tabasco. Do not whisk. Drink very quickly, and do only try this at home.

Janet Wynne Evans

Members' Comments (1)

"A brilliant piece, Janet. Eggs are my perennial problem when it comes to choosing accompanying wines, so these ideas are really helpful. And your final para takes me back to my twenties in the City when, after a boozy night, I'd drop in at El Vino in Fleet Street for the early morning cure - essentially your raw egg recipe plus tomato juice and a shot of amontillado. Yummy, and instantly effective!"

Mr Stephen R R Bourne (11-Apr-2014)