"The ‘perfect marriage’ of food and wine should allow for infidelity." - Roy Andries De Groot
I’m not going to argue against pairing food with wine. It’s delicious. It works. And whilst you can build an entire career around understanding how to best combine the two (and if anything, I’m rather jealous of those in that noble pursuit) the fundamentals can be picked up pretty quickly by anyone with a working nose and mouth.
Need to start proceedings with something to whet your appetite? A glass of dry Champagne will do the trick. Something bright to balance the starter? Grab the Picpoul. Gone heavy on the meat for a main? A tannin rich Cabernet will sort that out. And don’t forget about dessert of course! A little Sauternes should see you through. There we go, four courses down and our glasses haven’t even had to leave France. The diversity of wine, with its varying levels of acid, sugar and alcohol, makes it any easy place to start in the world of food pairing.
But wine isn’t the only beverage with this much versatility. And much as you change cuisine often to keep things fresh (unless you’re a green, hard shelled, martial arts specialist with a penchant for pepperoni), I’d argue that mixing drinks to match meals is just as successful with food, and even more rewarding when you get it right.
As long as you know what’s needed to compliment a particular course, cocktails can give you a whole world of flavour possibilities. To prove my point, below is an example four course meal, paired only with single malt whisky cocktails. And to really put my money where my mouth is, I’m only using classic French cuisine, the poster child of food and wine pairing. Wish me luck…
APPETISER - OLIVE TAPENADE CANAPÉ
Ideal drink traits - Light and dry
Drink - Whisky Six
Why? - It’s clean, dry and palate whetting. The salt in the tapenade will enhance the whisky, and the dry, bubbly nature of the drink will both balance the intensity and whet your appetite. The added bonus here is that mint garnish, who’s aroma contrasts brightly with the olive.
STARTER - SALADE LYONNAISE
Ideal drink traits - Bright and refreshing
Drink - Shrub Shrub
Why? - This is a longer drink, with a lower ABV and delicate flavours to match lighter food. The acetic acid, sugar and alcohol will enhance the salad’s flavours subtly, and pairing pear with bacon (whilst linguistically confusing) is always delicious.
MAIN - CONFIT DE CANARD
Ideal drink traits - Cutting, and equally rich
Drink - Otto Highball
Why? - Duck is fatty, salty and very rich. We need enough ABV to cut through that, and enough volume to last the course, with flavours to compliment. Duck and citrus are a perfect match flavour wise, and this drink is bittersweet to aid digestion. Being a simple “spirit and mixer” style drink, you can also play with ratio to find the perfect ABV and intensity for you.
DESSERT - CRÈME BRÛLÉE
Ideal drink traits - Strong and bright
Drink - Prince Edward
Why? - The dessert is creamy, sweet and rich, so our drink needs to accentuate those qualities whilst also offering a little balance. Nc’nean’s is both citrusy and creamy, a perfect compliment to the dish, and the contrasting citrusy profile is boosted by the other ingredients. The sweetness of the liqueur will also ensure the drink doesn’t stray too far in opposition to the Brûlée.
There we go, four courses down again, and whilst our plates haven’t left France, our glasses have gone on quite the journey. The important thing to remember here is a drink’s purpose is more important than it’s provenance, so I urge you all to experiment a little more and allow for a little culinary infidelity.