April Book Review – ‘Cheers’ and ‘Bon Appetit’

The Food & Wine Pairing Guide – Katinka van Niekerk and Brian Burke (Struik Lifestyle, 2009) – R220

Book: 4.5/5

I purchased the Food & Wine Pairing Guide a couple of months after I bought the 2017 Platter’s South African Wine Guide. It was also after a most informative tasting with the Cape Wine Academy. Red and white wines were sampled whilst eating foods that matched each of the 5 different taste senses – sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami – and with fascinating results.

My appetite for the art of how food and wine paired – or is it science? – was whetted. I am the first to comment that one should drink whatever one best likes with food (and still do) but I wanted to partake in some expert advice and to understand the thinking behind it. The Food & Wine Guide was an ideal starter.

The book is slim in size, akin to the Platter’s Guide, and a deep pink in colour. It runs to more than 300 pages and has a handy ribbon bookmark to save any reference page. It is divided into two unequal sections. The first third of the Guide focuses mostly on the wine. The authors describe how just 3 things need be considered when selecting a wine to accompany a dish: weight, flavour and intensity, together with the role of the 5 taste sensations. I was intrigued to read how traditional ‘horizontal pairing’ gives equal importance to both food and the wine on the basis that both complement each other with similar ‘likeness’. Rogues in the 1980s turned this thinking on its head by suggesting that pairing should be based on ‘contrast’, with the rationale that ‘opposites attract’. This so-called ‘vertical pairing’, in which either the food or the wine has the upper hand, remains common today. This section struck particular accord for me having been married twice – to a ‘like’ and an ‘opposite’ – and with equal lack of success.

The bulk of Part 1, besides some notes on the impact of sauces on wine choice and tricky food to pair (‘wine fears’) covers the different wine styles and grape varieties. I found this to be a particularly useful section for cooking at home. This is because I will frequently choose the bottle of wine I wish to drink with my lunch or evening meal, then to consider what to cook that will make the best of it. The section is structured in alphabetical order which makes it easy to use. I liked too how Bordeaux Blends, Claret, Rosé and Sparkling Wine (as well as aperitif and dessert wines) were listed as well as the common grape cultivars. I suggest that Rhône Blends are added in the next edition as these are being produced with increasing popularity in South Africa since the book was published in 2009.

The meat of the Food & Wine Pairing Guide, so to speak, is about matching food with wine. The content logically flows from starter to soup, salad to fish and seafood, pasta and vegetarian dishes through to each meat and game variety, to chicken, to ethnic and foreign cuisines, ending with desserts and cheeses. The listing is comprehensive and I have found few dishes without a wine to match. Not only are there variations of the same dish mentioned separately – for example, the many different kinds of kebab – but also of the cooking method, seasoning and sauces. The level of detail for beef dishes included inter alia boeuf bourgoignonne, curry, stew, beef stroganoff, beef wellington, brisket, beef burgers, burritos, cannelloni, carbonnade, chilli con carne, cottage pie, espetadas, lasagne, meatballs, roast beef, spaghetti bolognaise, steak (with each sauce dealt with separately), stir fry and tacos. This is comprehensive enough indeed for most cooks.

The book has been written for the South African reader, chef and oenologist. I found this to be a major strength and utility as so many wine books are either European-based or US-centric in their approach. The grape varieties are those grown in South Africa, including less frequently produced varietals such as bukettraube, carignan and nebbiolo. The same applies to the foods. The traditional fare of bobotie, boerewors, bredie and malva pudding is not forgotten.

The Guide did just what it said on the cover. The authors have cooked up a reference book that I shall use often. It is equally relevant in the kitchen as in the restaurant, though a good sommelier should be able to advise the diner. The content has been pitched at the enthusiast who, like me, wishes to learn more from a practical perspective. Full-bodied theory and science sensibly are left out. One minor irritation is that you won’t find the grape varietals and wine types individually listed in the Index. You need look for them at the end under ‘Wines and wine styles’. The Index becomes much more useful when you learn this. There’s the added bonus that this Index section highlights where to look for wine and cheese pairings here.

The best advice, as I hinted at earlier, is in the Introduction. Katinka van Niekerk and Brian Burke clearly lay out their table. The book is ‘not about preferences but about pairing food and wine’ to gain best advantage of both. The authors show ‘how to choose the best wine for whatever food you are going to eat with it because, when you make a happy match, both the food and the wine will benefit’.

I have greatly benefited from being matched with the Food & Wine Pairing Guide. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn how to gain more from their food and wine, whether as cook or restaurateur. ‘Cheers’ and ‘Bon Appetit’!

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