We launch a podcast

Tam in the kitchen

Today we prove that we not only write, but speak too. Below the link is a transcript of this first episode.

The first episode of our new JancisRobinson.com podcast is available from today, with 40 minutes of ding-dong discussion between me and Supercook Tamlyn Currin, pictured above, about the mechanics of food and wine pairing – and whether it really matters.

The podcast is free and this debut episode is stuffed with practical tips, not to mention firmly held opinions, not always in harmony. Background: Tam is mad keen on cooking as well as on monitoring what specific wines do to specific foods, while I am an extremely keen, sensitive eater but was succeeded in the family kitchen by my husband Nick Lander as long ago as 1984. While he cooks, I choose and open the wine.

Other episodes explore the wine world way outside JancisRobinson.com. Our podcast is designed to share untold stories about wine and provide an insider perspective on the trends and personalities behind what you drink.

Every two weeks we’ll share with you an original take on the magical world of wine. Perhaps a revealing conversation with one of its leading figures – or a famous musician who happens to have turned a whole US state on to wine production, or a top sustainability scientist with an interest in wine. Or one of the human stories behind the brilliant, award-winning film Blind Ambition.

Future episodes will be launched on 19 December, 2 January, 16 January and 30 January.

Subscribe now on Spotify, Apple, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, or wherever else you listen to your podcasts.

Transcript of Episode 1 – Food and wine pairing, with Jancis Robinson and Tamlyn Currin

JANCIS ROBINSON (00:01): I'm Jancis Robinson. Welcome to JancisRobinson.com, the podcast. This is a special episode with a crucial member of the JancisRobinson.com team, Tamlyn Currin. We'll be discussing a subject that can be, depending on your point of view, daunting, absorbing, fun or even unnecessary, pairing wine with food. We'll offer some useful tips, debunk a few myths, and even share some of the latest discoveries in the science of taste. It is my great pleasure to introduce you to one of our JancisRobinson.com team members, a very, very important one, Tamlyn Currin, who writes about all sorts of things beautifully, I may say, and has her own very particular style, fantastically creative tasting notes. Well, she specialises in lots of things. She's the person who extremely thoroughly answers emails that people send into the site. She has a special interest in all matters, sustainable and ecological, and is currently doing a BSc Honours degree in environmental science. She writes all our book reviews extremely thoroughly. I don't know any book reviewer who reads the books as thoroughly as she does. You got a special interest in the Languedoc, I think Tam, so for...

TAMLYN CURRIN (01:42): I do, and Roussillon.

JANCIS ROBINSON (01:44): But she is a very good cook. I think her sister's a professional cook.

TAMLYN CURRIN (01:50): Yes.

JANCIS ROBINSON (01:50): And she's particularly interested in wine and food pairing. Thanks so much, Tam, for joining us today.

TAMLYN CURRIN (01:57): It's wonderful to be here today to talk about one of the things that I'm really obsessed about.

JANCIS ROBINSON (02:05): And I thought it'd be fun to discuss the whole question of matching food and wine because I am pretty much a Philistine or a pragmatist depending on whether you agree with me or not. And I don't, I'm afraid to say, go to great lengths on the food and wine pairing front. My own little theory is that if you are sensitive to what you taste, and once you've drunk quite a bit of wine and eaten quite a bit of food and had them together, I think we have a sort of little invisible computer in our heads that pretty much senses what's going to go with what. And so rather than, I don't know, looking up a guide or something like that, we kind of automatically choose a wine that's likely to go with what we're going to eat or vice versa. But Tam, I know that you are much more precise than that, so set me right.

TAMLYN CURRIN (03:03): Right. I think I agree with you in that, to a certain extent, the reality is we all have to be practical and pragmatic about this. You have food to hand and you have wine to hand. And very often we don't have a huge amount of choice to hand. However, the tradition of food and wine pairing is long. For me, that tells me something that it's been an interest of human beings who love flavours for a long time, as long as gastronomy has been around. And many great chefs have taken it very seriously. And these are people who take flavour very seriously. They spend their lives obsessing about how to construct recipes, what flavours go with what flavours. (03:51): So I wouldn't argue for food and wine pairing as something that we should all do obsessively all the time. But I would argue that it has a place and it can be huge fun. And when you have a great combination of a dish and a wine, and I think other people might agree with me, but this is what I believe, is that it is a two plus two equals five combination, that the sum becomes greater than the parts. I think what's interesting is that food and wine pairing was very much a traditional thing based on a few simple but quite stringent rules. We all know the cliché red wine with red meat and white wine with fish.

JANCIS ROBINSON (04:40): Is that rubbish?

TAMLYN CURRIN (04:41): Yes, it is, quite frankly. And in fact over the weekend we had a roast lamb with Assyrtiko, and that's one of the most sublime combinations in the world. And Assyrtiko is a white wine, as we know, from Greece, with great acidity, but it's also got great power and depth and it's absolutely beautiful with roast lamb. And it picks the two of them up and is one of those combinations that I think is the way the sum is greater than the whole. And there are also fish that go very well with red wine. Again, it possibly depends on the sauce. If you are cooking your fish in a richer sauce or a tomato-based sauce, with a right red wine, it can be better than with a white wine.

JANCIS ROBINSON (05:28): Where do you think it came from, that white wine with fish rule and red wine with meat?

TAMLYN CURRIN (05:34): Possibly, fish tends to be more delicate, fresher, and if we go back to the way that recipes are constructed and the way that we eat and the way that we cook, flavour combinations and texture combinations are very much tried and tested, traditional ones anyway. And if you think white fish is often served with lemon or a citrus sauce, and white wines have that citrus, fresh lemony kind of element. So if you extrapolate out of that, red meat goes beautifully with mushrooms and deep sauces. And very often the sauces for red meats were based on wine. So it kind of makes it obvious or more instinctive maybe to go with a wine that has possibly mushroom flavours and has the depths and the darkness of the sauce. I also think that we eat and taste with our eyes. So white fish, white wines, red meat, red wine. I think there's a great element. We can try and get away with that, but we are very guided by our eyes.

JANCIS ROBINSON (06:47): They did that experiment, didn't they, when they gave people wines to describe, and people always go for red fruits when they're describing red wines.

TAMLYN CURRIN (06:55): Yes, yes.

JANCIS ROBINSON (06:56): Yeah, we blow in the wind basically. But I suppose in real life as opposed to sort of high gastronomy, we often don't have a choice, do we? So often people just have one bottle to hand or two at the most.

TAMLYN CURRIN (07:12): Exactly.

JANCIS ROBINSON (07:12): And aren't even choosing what they're going to eat, somebody else… So often in say a couple, one's responsible for wine and one's responsible for food, and they don't necessarily sit at breakfast and say, "Darling, what should we have this evening?"

TAMLYN CURRIN (07:27): You don't live in our house.

JANCIS ROBINSON (07:31): Well, I congratulate you. I think that's brilliant if you are that well prepared. For me, there is really, well, only two circumstances in which I would expect to have the perfect match of wine and food. And one of them would obviously be coming to your house for dinner. And the other would be being in a sort of Michelin three-star restaurant, a really fancy restaurant, one of those French ones where the menu doesn't change much and the sommelier has access to a cellar that they know intimately and because the menu doesn't change often, the somm has tasted all the dishes. And so if you're in that circumstance as a guest, I think you are justified in asking the somm to recommend a wine at say, three different price points that will be perfect with that dish. I think that, but a lot of it is just kind of trial and error, isn't it?

TAMLYN CURRIN (08:32): There's another time when you'll find the perfect wine with the perfect food, and it's a cliche, but it's true. And this is when you go to a wine region with a strong cuisine, a strong heritage of cuisine and a strong heritage of wine, and you sit down at a simple restaurant, trattoria, brasserie, whatever it is, something simple, or go to an Italian family for lunch and the food in front of you will just be magical with the wine that they give you. Very often you're not given a choice, it's a carafe of something. And I don't know the explanation of it, but it so often seems to be that wine styles evolve in a region alongside of the cuisine of the region. We could be talking about Barolo and white truffles at that end, or simply a slice of pizza in Naples with a slosh of whatever local red wine they've got. And often there's a perfection in that which may or may not be related to ambience, to the moment, to the emotion.

JANCIS ROBINSON (09:44): Or for instance, goat cheese and Sancerre or something like that.

TAMLYN CURRIN (09:48): Exactly.

JANCIS ROBINSON (09:49): Not expensive, not particularly expensive. Or Rioja and lamb done over open fire or something.

TAMLYN CURRIN (09:57): Yes. And even perhaps with not as long a tradition, but Argentinian Malbec with a gaucho grill.

JANCIS ROBINSON (10:05): Yeah, asado.

TAMLYN CURRIN (10:06): Asado, yeah.

JANCIS ROBINSON (10:07): Or let me throw in another here. Beaujolais and saucisse lyonnaise, the sort of local….

TAMLYN CURRIN (10:15): And Victoria Moore whose Wine Dine Dictionary is one of the most well thumbed books in our household next to The Oxford Companion to Wine. And I guess you think for someone who loves wine and food pairing that I wouldn't need books, but I love to see what people who are really good, like Fiona Beckett, the food and wine matching and Victoria Moore with her Wine Dine Dictionary. And both of them, but Victoria Moore particularly is one of her, not a rule, but a guideline that if you want to not overthink it, to match regional cuisine with regional wine is one of the easiest ways of just getting it right without much effort.

JANCIS ROBINSON (10:58): Sherry with a nice dry... Oh, actually almost any sherry with jamón, lovely, lovely ham, olives, all those almonds, yes.

TAMLYN CURRIN (11:08): Marcona almonds. Yeah, absolutely. I think that the other interesting thing is how wine and food pairing has started to move, I think led by people like Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal and chefs who became obsessed with the chemistry of food. And not necessarily molecular cooking, although that's how they both started off, but really trying to understand what is the chemistry of flavour. And along with that, much as I don't like to say this, we have to credit the fast-food industry and the war machine. So processed food became very important during World War Two. How do we provide soldiers with food that doesn't go off, that can be packed easily, carried easily, but that tastes good? So food science, the chemistry of food started to become quite serious because of war. And then in the fifties, sixties and seventies, trying to feed people cheaply processed food became even more important. (12:13): And with that, before you would grow your tomatoes in your garden and they would taste great, now we're talking about having to make commercially grown tomatoes in greenhouses taste great. So we've got to add things to them. So yes, food chemistry. With that then grew the chef movement of trying to understand the chemistry of flavour and how these things changed, how different chemical components changed other chemical components in your mouth, how we smelt. And alongside of that, the science of food and wine pairing has started to develop, still to a very geeky, quite a small thing. But what has been quite interesting is that it has backed up some of the traditional way of thinking. The science has kind of gone, "Okay."

JANCIS ROBINSON (13:04): Explained combinations that worked.

TAMLYN CURRIN (13:06): Yes, yes. But it's also opened up new things that we can try and daring pairings. I even have a book on my shelf called Daring Pairings.

JANCIS ROBINSON (13:17): I think that's Evan Goldstein, isn't it?

TAMLYN CURRIN (13:19): Yes, yes. And you've got the work of the – sadly late, he died in 2021 – but the amazing neuroscientist, Dr Gordon Shepherd who professor at Harvard University, and he studied the neurology of tasting for 30 years. And he wrote two books called Neurogastronomy was his first one, and Neuroenology, trying to understand how we taste. And what's really interesting about his research is that the combination of different flavour molecules from different foods in our mouth change. Some of them have a cancelling effect, some of them have a synthetic effect. So between the two of them, they will change each other and some of them together will enhance one flavour over others. So this chemistry, the molecules in our mouths, the aromatic flavour molecules, there are chemical reactions going on in our mouths, our noses, and even in our throats, we smell down the back of our throat, we have smell receptors. So this is moving food and wine pairing onto a really geeky level.

JANCIS ROBINSON (14:34): Can you pull out one or two simple rules for us or guidance for us to follow? What about that thing when hot chilli, you're tasting something really hot, doesn't that do something to your receptors?

TAMLYN CURRIN (14:53): That's a particularly interesting thing. The impact of chilli in our mouths is actually we feel like it's burning, but what it's doing is it's activating pain receptors and kind of teasing them. It's not just chilli. Chilli and garlic stimulate heat and pain receptors. So they're kind of tricking our mouths into feeling heat and pain. There is no heat and there is no pain, but they stimulate those receptors. And when those receptors are activated, the wine that we drink, particularly with chilli, feels colder because suddenly there's a contrast. And because these receptors are heightened, it actually heightens tannins as well because now the receptors have become overactive as it were. So now they're very sensitive. So any tannins, which is why often the advice is with chilli, don't drink big, tannic red wine. If you can have a light red wine, chill it a little bit because it cools the chilli, it balances out that sense of heat.

JANCIS ROBINSON (16:00): So a fruity red would be a lot better than a tough, young, chewy one?

TAMLYN CURRIN (16:06): Absolutely. And because your mouth is, as it were, distracted by the pain, the receptors in your mouth and your aromatic receptors don't concentrate so much on the rest of the wine. Literally, it's like making a big noise and then you can't hear. This is what all your flavour receptors are doing. So things like fruit and nuances and complexity of the wine, we don't pick up. Now our whole mouth and brain are working on texture and basic things, which is why, and I will possibly be shot down for this, but often a slightly sweet rosé is one of the best things to have with a very hot chilli. And I don't know what it's like in the rest of the world. Up here in North Bucks you've got lots of Indian curry houses with fantastic chilli, but terrible wine lists, really terrible. But inevitably of these wine lists is a Mateus rosé and it's actually one of the best wines to have with a really hot chilli.

JANCIS ROBINSON (17:11): Well, we are going out for a Sri Lankan meal tonight at a restaurant. So I'm going to put you to the test. Try a nice fruity rosé.

TAMLYN CURRIN (17:19): Fruity rosé, a cold, fruity rosé. Even one with a little bit of a sparkle is quite good. So carbon dioxide bubbles, so a little bit of a fizz in a wine also distracts those pain receptors. Garlic has a similar effect, which is why sometimes something very garlicky can feel like it's burning in your mouth, slightly more gentle because, and we don't often eat raw garlic, but if you have raw garlic, what you want is a rosé. And I guess that's why so often if you think about aïoli, the garlic mayonnaise, what is the go-to wine? Aïoli doesn't go very well with many other wines.

JANCIS ROBINSON (18:01): And it's horrible with water.

TAMLYN CURRIN (18:03): Yes. But with a rosé with lots of gumption and fruit in it, it's wonderful.

JANCIS ROBINSON (18:09): Isn't that funny. You see, I've been writing and saying for years that I recommend a rosé, a nice Provençal rosé with an aïoli. And you've explained why. So I'm starting to melt a little bit. Tell me though, on the subject of chilli and wine tasting, do you consciously avoid any foods before you taste wine?

TAMLYN CURRIN (18:34): If I'm writing about wine, if I'm tasting for work, in fact I try and taste hungry because I think that heightens all your tastes. But when it comes to food and wine, just eating, I'm quite brave and I like to experiment. So I'm always testing theories and testing things. And I've now had five or six wines on the table and try different ones to see what works. I'm not keen on burn-your-tongue-off chilli. Brad, my partner does. I like to be able to taste my food. But no, I don't think I avoid anything. It's just fun. But there's some interesting things like if something isn't working. For example, if I have someone around who we're having steak for dinner and someone comes 'round who doesn't drink red wine, which I find increasingly common, I will suggest that they... I'll cut them a little bit of lemon and suggest that they put a little bit of lemon on their steak. It enhances the savouriness of the steak and it makes the white wine go beautifully with the steak.

JANCIS ROBINSON (19:45): And why is that?

TAMLYN CURRIN (19:46): What you're doing is you're accentuating some of the acidity. You're bringing in acidity and then that segues with the white wine. This is one of the broad brushstroke rules of wine tasting. You can either match flavours or you contrast. You can't match the rich meaty depths of rare sirloin, for example, in a white wine. But if you just do a little bit of lemon over the steak after it's cooked, you've added that acidity so then you can match the citric acidity with the white wine that you're drinking, which white wine tends to have more citric-based acidity in terms of flavour.

JANCIS ROBINSON (20:30): Yeah, I will definitely try that. I love white wine actually. And you see, I would've normally, if someone said to me match a white wine with a steak, I think I would've gone for the match-the-weight kind of thing and gone for a really big heavy Chardonnay. I'll try the squeeze of lemon in future.

TAMLYN CURRIN (20:51): The other one, the other way of doing it, for example, if you've got say a slightly more herbal white, is to serve a steak with a really lovely herby salsa or a herb sauce rather than... Actually that's a good point because you can't... If you're serving the steak with a creamy mushroom sauce, for example, on the side or a creamy potato dish or something on the side, then bringing in a rich oaked white would work. This is the other thing is I think we think about food and wine matching in a slightly one-dimensional way, whereas the sides and the sauces are often actually more important than whatever the major thing is.

JANCIS ROBINSON (21:33): And I mean even putting aside say, many Asian cuisines where you'd have masses of different dishes on the table at the same time. We very rarely have just one thing on the plate, don't we?

TAMLYN CURRIN (21:46): Exactly. And more and more. But in fact that brings me to one of my bugbears about food and wine pairing, which is that Gewurztraminer goes with Asian food.

JANCIS ROBINSON (21:59): And you know why that is, why it came about?

TAMLYN CURRIN (22:01): No.

JANCIS ROBINSON (22:02): It's just because Gewürz means spiced in German. And so I remember old, old days of the London wine trade and I remember even the person who came up with, yes, Gewürz goes with spicy food.

TAMLYN CURRIN (22:15): Who was that?

JANCIS ROBINSON (22:17): I'm not telling.

TAMLYN CURRIN (22:20): And it's so much nonsense on so many levels because first of all, Asian food, spicy food, Asian food is such a broad, rich spectrum of foods and flavours that from one end to the other they bear no resemblance to each other whatsoever. Secondly, Gewurz can be rich, oily, and sweet to really light and quite innocuous and maybe a little bit of rose petal, but not spicy at all. Nothing annoys me more than at the back of a bottle of Gewurztraminer, pair this with Asian food.

JANCIS ROBINSON (23:01): But there are some foods that make wine taste odd, aren't there?

TAMLYN CURRIN (23:06): Yes.

JANCIS ROBINSON (23:06): I'm thinking artichokes here.

TAMLYN CURRIN (23:07): Artichokes, that's one of them. Again, I'm going to reference Victoria Moore because she's brilliant on this, but she calls them game-changer ingredients. Ingredients that quite literally... And chilli and garlic are two of them. Artichoke has a very particular chemical in it. And what that chemical does is it inhibits the sweet receptors in our mouth. So the moment after you’ve swallowed or eaten artichokes, everything tastes sweeter but in a slightly metallic way. So what you want in that is a wine with a certain amount of bitterness because sweetness counteracts bitterness rather nicely actually. I mean anyone who's ever had a radicchio or a chicory salad knows that there's nothing better than a bit of really sticky balsamic vinegar drizzled or honey and salt to also counteract bitterness. So if you can have a wine with some skin-contact bitterness...

JANCIS ROBINSON (24:08): An orange wine for instance?

TAMLYN CURRIN (24:10): An orange wine, Italian white wines often have a great element of bitterness. And I would avoid red wines because I think that again, with that slightly metallic thing… That's not based on any kind of science, but I would just avoid red wines. But I would go with something with bitterness, skin-contact or something Italian. Verdicchio comes to mind. Nuttiness, that kind of nut skin, walnut-skin bitterness.

JANCIS ROBINSON (24:44): We're all trying to eat a bit more healthily now, aren't we? What about salads, which tend to be dressed with quite acidic dressings? What would you recommend with them?

TAMLYN CURRIN (24:55): The kind of perceived wisdom is that if you've got something acidic, you need a wine that's equally as acidic or perhaps even more. The challenge with salad dressings as well is that you've got some sweetness in there and different types of oils. I agree that you want acidity, which thankfully most wines provide us with. When it comes to salads, I mean very rare nowadays that you go and the salad is just iceberg lettuce. Very often now, salads include nuts and fruits and I don't know, roasted veg as well, some cheese.

JANCIS ROBINSON (25:35): Pulses.

TAMLYN CURRIN (25:36): Pulses, yes. I would focus on a wine with good high acidity, wines from regions like northern Italy. They've got such great acidity there. Great varieties for acidity. Germany is another great one. Riesling is beautiful with salads, but also you've got coastal regions, so Albariño from Rías Baixas.

JANCIS ROBINSON (26:02): Up in northwest Spain, yeah.

TAMLYN CURRIN (26:04): But I think the other thing is to understand the weight of your salad dressing. Is it leaning more into one of the sweeter salad dressings? Is there lots of honey in it, for example? Or are we looking at a very plain salad dressing with more complexity in the ingredients? So I think the thing is to go, what's dominating here? Is it the dressing or the components of the salad? Nowadays with more and more plant-based eating, more and more complex, people who love food and wine tend to look for more complex foods or more interesting foods. And so we are moving away from just the simple French dressing where the dressing dominates a salad. Now it's more the ingredients and the dressing is just a piquant element of the salad. So for example, if you had a roast beetroot, goat's cheese and lentil salad, I wouldn't even focus on the dressing. I would look for a red wine that was relatively low in tannins but could pick up some of the sweet and earthy notes of the beetroot and the lentils. Possibly a Cru Beaujolais for example.

JANCIS ROBINSON (27:20): I often think there's a note of beetroot in some Pinot Noirs, not necessarily the best, but some of the less expensive Pinot Noirs.

TAMLYN CURRIN (27:28): Which if all you're having for supper is a lentil, beetroot and goat cheese salad, maybe all you wanted is a simple village Pinot Noir or a nice robust New Zealand Pinot Noir with a little bit of sweetness, because that's fine because beetroot is quite sweet.

JANCIS ROBINSON (27:47): Now talking of sweetness, because you say you are eating something quite acid, probably head for a wine that's a little bit even more acid. Now the one rule I think I've taken on board is that if you're serving something sweet, for heaven's sake make sure the wine is even sweeter. Because even I have noticed that if a meringue with, I don't know, a Muscadet would be pretty horrible. And occasionally when round a table that's rather jolly and people aren't really paying much attention, I see people drinking the red wine they've had with their main course with the pud, and I think, ‘you've had too much, you are not noticing what you're consuming at all’. But that's when those really sweet wines come in, isn't it, with a sweet course?

TAMLYN CURRIN (28:42): Yeah. And in fact, I'm not so bothered when we are talking about chilli and garlic and artichoke. I think that all of those things can be overcome with a good wine, but dry wine with sweet food is terrible. It kills the wine. To me that's the unbreakable rule. And Isa Bal might disagree with me.

JANCIS ROBINSON (29:06): He's a Turkish sommelier isn't he?

TAMLYN CURRIN (29:08): Yes.

JANCIS ROBINSON (29:08): Who was at the Fat Duck...

TAMLYN CURRIN (29:11): And he is very unconventional in his approach to all sorts of things. I mean I've done a sweet Tokaj tasting where the entire meal was savoury. And he's one of the few people who believed you can have a sweet wine with a dish and then follow it with a dry wine and your brain and your palate will very quickly adapt. And he's proved that to me. That's true. And he will also happily pair a sweet wine with a very dry dish. And yet... wines turn as soon as you have a dry wine with something sweet. You can't pick up any of the nuances. All you can feel and taste is the acidity, and in the case of red wine, tannins. So to me, no matter how beautiful and magnificent the wine is, it just comes down to acidity and tannin.

JANCIS ROBINSON (30:02): No, I agree.

TAMLYN CURRIN (30:03): That I would say is probably the most important. If there was going to be one rule, I'd say break all the other rules or have fun trying, but don't waste a good dry wine if you are having dessert.

JANCIS ROBINSON (30:17): Yeah. No, I absolutely agree with that. And I've ages ago had the pleasure of a lunch at Château d'Yquem with nothing but d'Yquem and taking it right through four courses, right from the starter, the main course, the cheese, the pud. Now, cheese, major, major topic for pairing. What's your view? Of course, I know you're going to say there isn't just one cheese.

TAMLYN CURRIN (30:42): No, there isn't just one cheese. And so for example, when it comes to goat's cheese, you mentioned earlier Sancerre. I love rosé with goat's cheese and the most robustly fruity rosé the better. One of the ways I try and describe it to people is, do you like your goat's cheese with say redcurrants or redcurrant sauce on the side or something like that? And what would you serve this particular cheese with? And often then, if you can try and reflect that in the wine, when we are talking about wine and cheese, we can't say what wine goes with cheese because goat's cheese or soft cheese is so very different from say something like...

JANCIS ROBINSON (31:28): Well, cheddar or Stilton or brie or...

TAMLYN CURRIN (31:33): Or some of the really stinky melting or chunky cheeses that are... Époisses.

JANCIS ROBINSON (31:38): Époisses or Münster or something.

TAMLYN CURRIN (31:41): Exactly. For years... And do you know where it came from, the red wine and cheese thing?

JANCIS ROBINSON (31:47): I don't except I think it might be a lot of people I know who follow the French habit of serving cheese immediately after the main course, have red wine with it because it's carrying on...

TAMLYN CURRIN (32:00): They're still finishing.

JANCIS ROBINSON (32:01): ... with the red wine they had with the main course.

TAMLYN CURRIN (32:02): Yeah, and I guess the more British way of serving cheese last and you had your cheese with the port. So then that kind of the port and cheese, which I agree because sweet wine goes beautifully with cheese on the whole, right across the board almost. But I do find personally that port and cheese at the end of a meal is a recipe for bad dreams and indigestion. So it's not the thing I'm the biggest fan of. I think that white wine, particularly it was a discovery that I made through a tasting during lockdown, so two years ago. Chardonnay and cheddar is the most beautiful combination, which kind of blew my mind away. And Chardonnay with a little bit of oak. It doesn't have to be big, oaky Chardonnay. So that was a complete revelation and it's something that we've stuck to. Port does go and classically obviously with blue cheese, but it's something that I would recommend you have on a winter's afternoon prior to eating anything else and just have a tiny morsel of cheese and a tiny little bit of port.

JANCIS ROBINSON (33:17): To stave off the bad dreams, you mean?

TAMLYN CURRIN (33:19): Yeah. Rather than having at the end of a long meal, late at night. Tawny port is a beautiful... We always go with vintage port when it comes to cheese, but tawny port, particularly if you're looking at some of the more nutty cheeses like Comté and some of the most beautiful, nutty English cheeses as well, tawny port's often a great... It's slightly, maybe elegant is the wrong word, but...

JANCIS ROBINSON (33:46): It's not as concentrated, is it? I remember Nick Faith, the late wine writer, making the point that vintage port was bottled so early that it has all the congeners in it. It's got everything in it. And whereas tawny port, they all fall to the bottom of the oak cask in which they're matured. So you're getting a sort of slightly more refined, more digestible liquid in a way.

TAMLYN CURRIN (34:11): Yes. And vintage port can clobber the cheese very easily, totally overwhelm it. Whereas tawny port and cheese form a more mutually expressive partnership. Apart from that, I wouldn't drink dry red wine with cheese, although I have had some lovely red wine and cheese combinations. But they tend to be really fruity, softer tannins, lots of generous fruit, kind of almost new worlds falling over itself, gamboling puppies kind of red fruit. But I do at night, for example, if we are eating and going back to Comté, alpine cheeses and alpine wines tend to be very good together. So there we are going back to that regional thing, but if you can... Often alpine cheeses have got a slightly herbal element. We're talking free-range on alpine pastures. And their milk has a very particular flavour profile. Often the cheeses have that slightly herbal, grassy wildflower fragrance through them. And then to pick some of the alpine wines to go with that, even like a Jura wine that has been made under flor can be absolutely beautiful and complement each other in slightly different ways.

JANCIS ROBINSON (35:36): You see, it's all fascinating this, but my concern is that if we are too strident about the niceties of what you call the geekiness of food and wine matching, we scare people, we make potential wine drinkers think that choosing a bottle of wine is more complicated than it is. But you have an interesting theory about where the whole importance of talking about pairing comes from the United States. And that need, when wine was being criticised by the anti-alcohol lobby.

TAMLYN CURRIN (36:12): And how we could put wine on the table, which is something that the rest of Europe and old winemaking regions never needed to do. They didn't need to justify wine. And it is interesting because I grew up in a culture in Zimbabwe where you drank very separately to how you ate. It was cane-and-coke and beer and G&Ts.

JANCIS ROBINSON (36:36): Well, like India, largely today.

TAMLYN CURRIN (36:40): Very much so. Basically it didn't matter what you drank. And alcohol consumption was very much something that was totally separate from food consumption. So you might even have someone who made really good food, but what you drank with it was irrelevant. And then Prohibition, which left long scars that, my sister lives in Arkansas today, so you can still see the impact, the long reach of Prohibition. And to justify getting wine on the table to say that you want to have this wine with that rather than a beer or spirit. Part of the post-Prohibition thing was lots of cocktails, wasn't it? But I think that judging by the interest that I see from people who are not even into wine, it's something that does interest them. And even if you're not a wine geek, there is something quite fun. It's a bit like the way that we are interested in food programmes and putting flavours together, even if it's non-scientific, even if it's not going to work, is for people who love flavour, it's an endless fascination.

JANCIS ROBINSON (37:56): And it is true that I think in general, people feel more confident talking about food than talking about wine. So if you put the two together, it gives them an in to talking about wine perhaps.

TAMLYN CURRIN (38:07): But it also... So where I live now, a lot of people are very much into cooking for others, but don't know much about wine. What they like about the food-wine pairing is that it guides their buying, their wine buying, which for them might feel a little overwhelming. They know where to get their salt marsh lamb from and when the wild garlic is in season and where to go and pick that. But when they're faced with a wall of wine or a website where there's so many wines, they don't know which wine to pick. (38:42): But if I can say to them... They say, "Oh, I'm doing this, this, and this for the meal, what wine?" If I say to them, "Right, go for it there, there and there," it narrows down the buying choices and gives them more confidence. And then when they've got the wine on the table, they feel confident that they've got the right wine. There is no right wine. And there's probably any number of wines that would've been great with the wild garlic and lamb, but it's taken out some of the uncertainty and people who are not wine nerds and wine geeks…there is an element of uncertainty and there's an element of fear of being judged for your wine choices, and a fear that people won't like the wine. But if you can say to your dinner guest, "This wine goes with this food," then it becomes not about whether you like wine, but whether the pairing works.

JANCIS ROBINSON (39:33): Yeah, no, that's a very good point. Yeah. Well, we could talk forever about this, Tam. We haven't even talked about texture much. We've talked mainly about flavour, haven't we? Maybe we have to reprise this and do a ‘let's talk about texture’ session. Me, the pragmatist, I'd like to throw in one very easy bit of advice that not everybody knows about, which is that if you are about to taste or perish the thought, drink some wine, leave a nice long time between brushing your teeth and trying to taste wine. There is nothing more inimical to wine, even worse than chilli is a minty toothpaste. Wouldn't you agree?

TAMLYN CURRIN (40:18): Yes.

JANCIS ROBINSON (40:18): It's just really wine and toothpaste is the most disgusting mix, I can assure you.

TAMLYN CURRIN (40:25): I'd agree with that.

JANCIS ROBINSON (40:26): Yeah. So this has been great, Tam. I'm really, really grateful and so grateful that you have revised the entry on food and wine pairing in the forthcoming fifth edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine, which won't be out alas until quite late in 2023. But you used a beautiful quote from the late wine merchant, gourmet and prolific author, André Simon that I'd like to end on. He famously said, "Food without wine is a corpse. Wine without food is a ghost. United and well matched, they are as body and soul living partners." Thank you Tamlyn for sharing your great knowledge.

TAMLYN CURRIN (41:11): Jancis, thank you. It was great to chat to you.

JANCIS ROBINSON (41:16): This podcast was created, hosted, and produced by Elaine Chukan Brown and me, Jancis Robinson. It's engineered and edited by Mischa Stanton. Production assistance by Susan Kostrzewa. Executive producers were Elaine Chukan Brown, Sam Dagirmanjian for Recurrent, and me, for JancisRobinson.com.