Chinese food can be tasty with barrel-fermented chardonnay. Red wine often stinks with cheese. Cabernet franc poured over strawberries is delicious. Rosé goes with almost any dish.
You'll find culinary insights like those and much, much more (392 pages in all) in The Wine Dine Dictionary, a well-researched and engagingly written new book by Victoria Moore. The British writer is wine correspondent for The Telegraph as well as a columnist for BBC Good Food and has won multiple awards for her entertaining prose and authoritative voice.
She spoke with The Globe and Mail's Beppi Crosariol about food, wine, vodka and even tea from her home in London.
Given the title, I expected a simple alphabetized listing. But you delve into sensory science and culinary trends, among other topics, and include recipes as well as many lengthy pairing suggestions from winemakers. Did you have qualms about calling it a mere "dictionary?"
No. I wanted the title to explain to people as simply as possible what the book would be and how they could use it. And I would never think of a dictionary as "mere." Even a foreign-language dictionary is so rich.
You suggest that haute cuisine is not always best suited to "spectacular" wines. Better to opt for a simpler bottle, or even – as you sometimes do – water. Water?
It's very personal. If I'm eating food that's so spectacular, I find it a bit much to have a spectacular wine as well, and vice versa. I find that I'm not appreciating or enjoying all of it properly and I just end up finding it a bit exhausting.
And quite often if I have spectacular food, I don't drink very much. Because I think also cooking has changed quite a lot. Often now when you go to a [Michelin-star] restaurant, the plate is complete, the flavours are perfectly balanced and they don't really leave much space for the wines in that sort of restaurant.
Whereas a lot of cuisines – Italian would be a good example – give room for the wines to jostle in, like a condiment. But if you have a plate of food that's balanced and so finely done, what can the wine do? It can only get in the way.
Dry fino and manzanilla sherry pop up often in the book, yet in North America sherry is as hard a sell as haggis. Would you say these fortified wines are underappreciated or are they simply a lot more popular in the U.K.?
They're very underappreciated. We drink sherry here in tapas bars and it has acquired a certain following. And tapas has become very hip. But buying it to drink at home, it's still, as you say, a hard sell. I think it's a shame because sherry is one of the world's best food wines.
Any specific examples of things that go particularly well with sherry?
Fino with fish soup. An amontillado or a fino can be really nice with a slow-cooked beef casserole or oxtail casserole – or even a palo cortado sherry if it's a very rich stew.
You opened my eyes on many fronts, including cider with bacalao (salt cod) and barrel-fermented chardonnay with Cantonese dishes. Did any winemakers you interviewed for the book surprise you with their choices?
Yes. To me, the matches that I get most excited by are the really simple ones that somebody tells you about and you say, "That is so true and I completely missed it." One of those was from Nigel Greening at Felton Road (in Central Otago, New Zealand). He talks beautifully about sitting in Burgundy eating thyme-roasted Ratte potatoes with red Burgundy. And you're, like, "ever since, every time I've had a red Burgundy or pinot noir, I think he's so right." Pinot noir is an amazing match for potatoes. The earthiness in the potatoes goes good with the wine.
I guess also one of the sherry winemakers pointed out that sherry can be extremely good with sushi and most Japanese food, and that's another sort of it's-so-obvious-that-you've-missed-it example.
Dimple Athavia of Indian wine producer Grover Zampa recounted to you that her viognier is particularly popular with the local food. I've been a convert to viognier-with-Indian for years, ever since I had an epiphany over a bottle of Condrieu. Do you find it odd that so many Britons prefer tasteless lager with curry?
There are amazing Indian restaurants now in the U.K. at all levels, but I think we all grew up eating Indian food that was more or less the kind of bastard. Lager can be brilliant with that because it's got bubbles and bubbles go really well with spice.
You say gruner veltliner pairs reasonably well with nearly everything with which you might want to drink white. Can you talk about another versatile style or grape?
Every time I'm stuck, I say rosé. It does go with pretty much everything. You can drink it with red meat, with white meat. Rosé goes really well with soft cheeses, like camembert and brie, which actually can be quite tricky with wine. And then of course if you have a rosé that has some residual sugar, it goes with spicy stuff as well and the fruity stuff that's a bit too sweet for a dry wine.
Rosé is almost the most versatile wine style of them all. It sort of doesn't get in the way.
At the same time, if you have a good one that's quite savoury, perhaps one from Provence – those wines feel quite fruity if you just taste them but they're almost like a spider's web, they have a kind of hidden strength. So, when you eat food with them, you can still taste the wine.
I was reassured to read that you believe, as I and many wine experts do, that "much cheese murders much red wine." Don't you find that most people cling to the bias that dry red wine must be the proper pairing for salty, pungent, fermented dairy?
Definitely. I think it's simply that we all like to carry on drinking after the main course and we're usually on red by that point. But I don't know what the history is of putting red wine with cheeses. I should go away and learn that, shouldn't I?
You prefer a cup of tea with good, old British fish and chips. Egad! Really? Is this an English thing?
Yes, it is an English thing. It's absolutely what we all do. We sit 'round with our mugs of tea and our fish and chips.
I learned from the book that wheat vodka is apparently better than rye-based vodka for caviar. Wow, that's a pretty slender distinction. I think I'd be more jittery having you to dinner than I would the Queen. Do you consider yourself a tough guest?
No, because I'm so grateful not to be making my own dinner. I have a 16-month-old child, so I hardly go out these days and I cook for her and I cook for me. Luckily she's reaching the point at which we can eat together, so I no longer feel like a short-order chef. But being cooked for is the most astonishing luxury, and I love it. So, I'm now a very easy dinner guest.
It's almost dinner time in London right now. What's on the menu for tonight and what will you drink?
I'm not going to drink anything because I've tasted 140 wines today and that's enough. But I'm having lamb chops from the butcher with new potatoes and roasted romano peppers and buttermilk-and-dill sauce.
This interview has been condensed and edited.