Pairing Wine and Food
A Handbook for All Cuisines
Daunting, almost. Far broader, studied and wittily annotated than one might ever imagine for the
subject. No whimsy here. Nor is there a provincial slant betraying the author
as some wine or food industry insider with an eye on promotion. Johnson-Bell,
an American residing in London, is ideally suited to this project. Unlike so
many New World wine and food writers, her take is evenly cosmopolitan though
just slightly (and rightly) partial to the French. She is a former
editor-in-chief of Vintage International Magazine, the author of The Wine
Collectors Handbook and conveniently, the wife of a top London chef.
Along with sturdy descriptions of thirty commonly known grape varieties, a
remarkably extensive chart of the particular grape varieties grown within the
top 150 wine regions, Johnson-Bell in Part 1, The Taste of Wine, thoroughly
dissects the many variables that influence wine flavor including issues such as
soil, climate, yeast type used during fermentation, barrel aging, pruning, age
of vines, amongst others. Part 2 of the three part book is titled The Taste of
Food and the author utilizes the same discerning methodology. In an
introduction to a section titled Cooking and Preparation Methods she writes,
”‘fast, hot and dry’ preserves taste, while ‘slow, moderate and moist’
intensifies flavors. And when it comes to matching wines, a general guideline
is that those foods that are prepared with a light method of cooking (poaching
or steaming, for example) would usually require a fruity, lightly acidic wine .
. .” She immediately continues by discussing the ten most used cooking methods
and offers generalizations about how certain wines can successfully be paired
to cooking methods.
Part 3 includes sixty pages of Food to Wine / Wine to Food charts that go into
alarming detail suggesting, for example, almond biscuits to be paired with the
little known Moscatel de Valencia, or salt cod balls with a white Rioja. The
beauty here is in the thoroughness.
Anyone familiar with such matters knows that the circumstance is rare when
serious food is unaccompanied by a carefully chosen wine and the superlative
precision provided in Pairing Wine and Food should serve to blur the
divisiveness often found between foodies and grape nuts. At its best, the
palate game (played by both food and wine lovers) requires the most honed
tasting skills backed by a prodigious memory. Johnson-Bell has contributed a
splendid resource for the novice and expert.