Transforming the way we drink and eat
A taste sensation
Wine get’s a lot of bad rep when it comes to pairing it with food. Indeed, when paired incorrectly with a dish, it is the wine that gets the blame and is labeled ‘corked’ or simply just a bad harvest. Truth be told, if we had paired it correctly, it would be the best wine we ever had in our life.
Dine at any restaurant and you’re more than likely to receive the wine list first before the menu. You may be pointed towards a particular wine by your Sommelier and after you have had a glass, you may be tempted to buy the whole bottle. Then you order your food and what started as a budding romance turns into a horror flick as the wine and food clash so violently that your natural inclination is to demand a new bottle because yours is evidently off.
This is when you need the divine intervention of food and wine advocate Katinka Van Niekerk. Hailing from a career embodied in lecturing in the wine industry, she is currently a consultant to the hospitality industry and numerous wineries and she champions her strong belief that wine and food need not be mismatched. Her reason for such passion is that that "wine and food are expensive commodities. Why should we be wasting them on the wrong combination? South Africa has such a wonderful culinary and wine landscape that it seems absurd to not be marrying the two." Because of this, she frequently hosts workshops that help one to ascertain the theory behind selecting a wine and its right partner and why they work together. She is often flown to Germany to run courses and has published The Food & Wine Pairing Guide which I believe is an essential for every foodie/wino.
I was recently treated to one of her workshops, held at her home in Somerset West and whilst I do not want to give anything away – you must experience it for yourself – I will give you a little hint into the afternoon’s greatness.
Katinka begins with a bit of theory which she insists will not leave you yawning from boredom. It is an essential for moving forward with the tasting. It is important to know about the birth and generation of wine in South Africa as it didn’t start overnight and nor was it born on the back of great vintages. South Africa was taught to drink wine by the 1959 launch of Lieberstein, a semi-sweet easy-drinking beverage that took SA by storm. It was made from Chenin Blanc, the most planted cultivar in South Africa, and it amassed a huge following, throwing wine into the spotlight. From this, wine evolved, wineries expanded and new methods were birthed. Winemakers began to look at their own ways of making wine, moving away from traditional French methods and then, in the 1990’s, the trend of pairing wine with food emerged. Wine history, in a very brief nutshell.
She finally adds in her 3 Considerations. She is adamant that they not be called rules as she believes it is human nature to set about breaking anything that has the word rule attached to it. Her considerations are the basis for selecting wines:
1) Weight against weight
Take Beef stroganoff for example a dish that is made from strips of beef, mushrooms, perhaps truffle oil and the addition of thick, double cream. If we stuck to the old rule of pairing red meat with a red wine then we’d be experiencing a taste sensation similar to that of licking the inside of a sardine tin. The problem being that the weight of the dish does not lie with the meat, but with the cream. And because of this, you need a weighty wine capable of dealing with a buttery, creamy consistency.
2) Flavour intensity with flavoursome wine.
The amount of flavour a dish has, must be succinct with how much flavour a wine has. For instance, if you were serving a spicy curry, you would want a wine with equal aromatic notes. So we must remember the following, acid loves acid, salt loves sugar – soy sauce and a sweet Riesling adore one another, sweet loves sweet and a spicy wine will need a similar food partner.
3) The five taste sensations
As humans, we have the ability to note 5 primary tastes in our mouth: saltiness, bitterness, acidity, sweetness and the umami factor which is a Japanese word meaning ‘pleasant, savoury taste’ but is the word you would use for when something is delicious, a taste-sensation in the mouth.
Wine is similar as it has primary tastes, those being sweetness, acidity and also the umami factor. These provide the basis of what food you would pair with it.
After these words of infinite wisdom, the building blocks of successful food and wine coupling were established. The pairing itself began with a plate of seemingly dissimilar items, which I will refrain from divulging because that might prevent you from experiencing the pairing itself. What I can say is that with each item on the plate and each glass of wine sipped, I discovered a whole new meaning to food and wine.
With the aperitif, the starter, the main and the dessert, our taste buds where exposed to the common mistakes each of us make with pairing, and how it destroys the wine, and then of course also the perfect wine for each dish and how our taste buds were lifted to new heights.
I highly recommend visiting Katinka. She'll have you looking at food and wine in a whole new light. My favourite, most mind-blowing pairing was a young Cabernet Sauvignon with an avocado and pineapple salad. Epic.
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