There is no doubt that the pairing of wine and food is considered by some to be snobbish, arrogant and elitist. On the other hand there can be no doubt that the correct choice of wine can substantially enhance your enjoyment of a meal. For example, a wine that you know well and often drink by its self may be completely transformed when served with a particular dish – sometimes in a positive way and other times perhaps not. This type of experience serves to illustrate that food is very much capable of altering the taste, and therefore your perception of a wine.
Without overcomplicating matters it is still worth trying to recognise why certain combinations work better than others. For example, our palates are actually only capable of tasting five elements, but this is more or less reduced to only three that determine our preferences when it comes to wine – sweetness, acidity and astringency… It is these basic elements in a wine that can either be balanced, exaggerated or perhaps even distorted completely when put together with food.
In the case of Albariño, which has intense fruit flavours and a zesty natural acidity, there are some very food obvious matches that spring to mind. It is absolutely no coincidence that the region of Galicia (where the Albariño grape finds its natural home), also enjoys some of the world’s best fish and seafood. There can be no greater pleasure than washing down a plate of fresh oysters with a chilled glass of the local grape.
This ‘marriage’ can easily be extended to the huge selection of local fish, shellfish and molluscs, which owing to their supreme freshness, require only the absolute minimum of culinary intervention. In fact, with no cooking whatsoever, Albariño lends itself perfectly to sushi (although we cannot claim this to be a regional speciality!)
The success of Albariño as a food wine (and all other wines for that matter) depends largely on the raw ingredients and how they are prepared. We cannot honestly claim that it is a wine to be enjoyed with red meat, although it will work very well with some grilled or pan-fried white meats. It may also help to cut through and ‘lift’ certain butter or cream sauces (sour cream or crème fraiche), and may enhance some ‘sharp’ or citrus flavours such as lemon, tarragon or mustard. Sometimes it can simply be a question of trial and error, and in the end the fact that we all have individual palates makes our choice of food and wine a very personal matter.
Some people also enjoy Albariño with certain types of cheese, more especially those made with goat’s milk, but take care with blue cheeses, as they may simply overpower the wine and render it tasteless. More optimistic wine producers even claim that it can be drunk with dessert, although I believe that excessive sweetness may only serve to exaggerate the acidity of the wine.
We musn’t forget of course, that Albariño is also really great on its own, as a very refreshing aperitif…
So, let’s summarise by saying that the appreciation of different food and wine combinations is purely subjective, and that, in the end, you should drink what you and your friends enjoy…. as long as it’s Albariño!