Hospo pairings - what's on the menu

Box of 6 Jancis Robinson x Richard Brendon wine glasses

Our resident food and wine matcher Tam sifts through the pairing suggestions of the 2,000+ hospos who applied for complimentary membership of our Purple Pages. For all the hospo pairing articles, see our guide.

Within minutes of publishing our offer of free temporary membership to newly unemployed members of the hospitality sector, we saw the applications roll in, by the tens, then dozens, then hundreds. Sommeliers, waiting staff, chefs, bartenders, kitchen porters and laid-off cellar-door staff wrote in from London, New York, Tokyo, Sydney, Paris, from Kazakhstan and Estonia, from Finland and Chile, as did, apparently, every waiter, bartender and chef in Toronto.

All that applicants had to do was explain what their previous relevant work had been and provide a favourite food and wine pairing. We found that these suggested matches were just as diverse as the locations and previous jobs: from terse two words to loquacious essays; from Michelin-star combinations that could come only with lofty price tags to a bag of potato chips and whichever bottle was presumably in the door of the fridge.

It’s been fascinating, and often quite joyful, to have this peep into the thoughts, lives, fantasies and sometimes even hearts of a cross-section of a global industry. Pairings came with stories, personal anecdotes, memories and messages of encouragement and appreciation. People flew the flag for their own countries, their regions, their restaurants and their families. There were several that I found more than a little bit poignant.

People interpreted the challenge in different ways: some talking dreamily about the last amazing pairing they had at a special restaurant, others about the pairings they were working on at work before everything ground to a halt. Some saw it as an opportunity to come up with their fantasy meal, others with whatever they had drubbed up for dinner the night before.

As is true of any group, there are those who have relied solidly on their training and stuck to the safest classical pairings. Others took the classical pairings and gave them a bit more thought, ratcheting them up a notch.

One or two stated that it was all a nonsense, wine goes with anything. Several entries suggested that Pinot Noir, champagne or Riesling goes with anything. One chap suggested the best pairing for wine was his wife. I’m not sure everyone would agree with that. It depends on how lockdown is going, I suppose…

There is a definite school of thought that – as reflected by the handful of respondents referred to above – it is all a load of pretentious tosh, designed to intimidate some and elevate others to positions of superior authority. It interests me that no one questions the importance of getting the balance of a dish right, the seasoning, the flavours, the textures and colours and acidity, sweetness, spice. Cooking can go very wrong with too much or too little of anything. Why, then, is adding wine into the equation – wine which is going to be sipped at the same time as the carefully combined food on the plate – somehow different?

There is a great deal of fun to be had with matching food and wine. No, it’s not an exact science. And yes, palates, situations, preferences, are unique and different every time. But, unless your palate is like old boot leather, it is impossible to deny that some food and wine combinations are magical, and others simply suck.

We’re going to share many of these wonderful suggestions with you over the next few weeks. They’re too good to keep to ourselves. We’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on them – and if you’re inspired and have the requisite ingredients in the cupboard, please try them out and report back via our Members’ forum.

As we explained, the person who sent the pairing we judge to be the best wins six of Jancis’s hand-made, versatile wine glasses as shown above. We plan to announce the winner on Monday 1 June and to publish a series of themed articles on some of the most interesting suggested pairings throughout May.