Charity Keita is hell bent on cutting through the noise and understanding what all the fuss about wine pairing actually is.
Wine labels, wine snobs, wine connoisseurs, sommeliers, pretentious people who make you feel uncomfortable about your lack of wine knowledge, books that want to make you more knowledgeable: sometimes the noise surrounding fermented grape juice is enough to make you want to scream. Then again, when something has been around for significantly longer than the cultures that define us—six millennia by some accounts, it should not come as a surprise that people like to wax lyrical about it.
For years I have known that white wine is good with fish, red wine is good with red meat and rose is a bit of a wild card but safe to say it’s nice with ice on a hot summer day or with salmon (not that I eat salmon in Kenya, I find the fact that it is flown in all the way from Norway off-putting, but I digress).
Then the other day I started to wonder what all this actually meant: why are some wines good with some foods and not with others?
Intent on putting the matter to rest once and for all, I headed to the one place I know I can get easy answers about wine: 63 Wines, my absolute favourite wine shop in Nairobi. Now I’m sure there are wine shops here that are as equally well stocked, but what keeps me going back is their delightful and knowledgeable employees who somehow always make the experience memorable whether I’m buying a reasonably priced white for dinner with my beau or something special to impress my friends. On this fine day, I found to my good fortune that the till was being manned (womaned?) by Anita, a self-taught wine enthusiast who intends to become a sommelier in the not too distant future. Anita was all too happy to propose a solution to my wine dilemma: she informed me that what I needed to do was conduct a food pairing exercise. In order to do so, she suggested four wines for me to buy: sparkling, white, rose and a red. Next she instructed me to buy a series of different foodstuffs that needed to fall into several clear taste classifications: something salty (I chose salami), something sweet (raspberries and chocolate ice-cream), something sour (sour strawberries), something umami (a simple sirloin steak), something bitter (pickled garlic and a mustard leaf salad from our garden) and something fatty (I wasn’t aware that fatty was a taste but under Anita’s instruction got a brie cheese). Armed with my wine and food, I invited a small handful of friends over and kicked off the experiment.
Starting with the sparkling, a Brut Chardonnay to be exact, the objective was to take a nibble of each food stuff followed by a sip of wine and then for each of us to record the taste sensation on a little note pad. The same procedure was to be followed with the white, the rose’ and the red. Now I’m sure you expect me to tell you what our conclusions were but trust me, this is not something you want to be spoon fed. Enough to say that while we all agreed that the red wine did taste delicious with the steak, there were many contradictory opinions on the rest of the combinations.
This was one of the funnest experiments I’ve ever conducted and we all came out a bit more knowledgeable as a result. In conclusion, my advice to you is try this at home;you will not regret.