The Accompaniments of Wine

bordeaux chateau bottled 1934The great oenophile and gastronome T. Earle Welby had sound and sensible, if occasionally harshly expressed, views on what to eat with wine. Here are some of his opinions taken from the brilliant Cellar Key (1933).

‘With the exception of Champagne, which is never better than when taken in the forenoon, and Sherry, which is highly adaptable, all wines need, for full enjoyment, to be accompanied or immediately preceded by food. It is thus an important part of connoisseurship to know the affinities and antipathies between particular wines and food.

To begin with the enemies of all wine whatsoever, almost all hors d’oeuvres are inimical. To a great extent they consist of smoked, pickled, or highly condimented articles, and are therefore bound to blur the palate. But there is nothing to be said against plain melon, caviare, or oysters. Genuine Chablis is proverbially most enjoyable with oysters; and all the fine white Burgundies…will accord excellently with oysters, as indeed with crab or lobster or fish of any kind. But unless melon or caviare or oysters be selected, it is wise to eliminate hors d’oeuvres on a serious vinous occasion, and simply have Spanish olives in brine put on the table as a preliminary, and kept there till the meal is at an end.

Egg dishes are usually not favourable to the enjoyment of wine, for eggs very often have more a less a sulphurous flavour, and though this may hardly matter when one is drinking the baser, over-sulphured white wines of Bordeaux, it is very harmful to all delicate wines.

Fish, which goes virtually with every white wine, has a most unhappy effect on all red wines, sometimes producing a dreadful tin or brass taste. Red mullet, however, may be taken with red wine.

All very highly spiced dishes are to be regarded with suspicion. It is true that some of the Spanish wines, of a robust character and not of supreme merit, seem to accommodate themselves to dishes containing pimentos…But good pimentos are not fierce with the fierceness of chillies, and the cream softens them, making them all bland…In general, I beseech the reader when invited to take Spanish food to remember that it is from a country with a Moorish tradition, and when bidden to Greek, Turkish, or Indian repasts or dishes, that they emanate from countries where abstaining Islam has had its say. Oriental and semi-Oriental food is not meant to go with wine, and mostly it does not. Certainly, curry, as delightful as it can be in itself, is death to every wine, the only possible drink with it being well-iced lager beer.

The chief enemy to wine produced by England is mint sauce. Nothing more delicious when enjoyed independently of wine! But it accompanies lamb or mutton; and, at that stage of a meal which includes a joint, we are come to the moment of great wines. Now vinegar is fatal to wine. It is a serious error to leave an unstoppered vinegar bottle on the table, or on the sideboard, anywhere near uncorked or unstoppered wine; as bad to leave a highly vinegared salad-bowl on the table when a fine wine is being served; but to ladle out mint sauce when a first, second or, third growth Bordeaux or Burgundy is being served amounts to a crime…

Vegetables call for no remark, except that the globe artichoke, served two-thirds of the way through the meal, is sometimes useful in assisting a change of wines. The host who insists on introducing Champagne into the wine- list, and does not wish to have it served with the fish, may well order it to be served with the artichokes, and therefore revert to the normal succession of wines. Asparagus may be used in the same way. Cooked chicory, as a separate course, is also useful. Salsify is excellent…

Sweet dishes are destructive of all wines except the most luscious of the Sauternes. Sweet or semi-sweet Champagne can be, and in France is, served with the sweets, and I have unwillingly participated in England in the atrocity of dry Champagne in the same place. There are certain dessert wines which seem destined for use there, by those who like them; for example, the wines of Montbazillac, which are very rich and sweet. But the wise diner will either take no wine with his sweets or delete sweets from the menu.

Fruit is not hostile to wine, but I am bound to say that for myself I think little of it as an accompaniment and have known it to be a distraction. There are, however, exceptions. The medlar brings out the taste remarkably, yet can hardly be recommended to a mixed company, some of whom will probably be found to dislike it. Strawberries, if not overwhelmed with sugar accord with tawny Port; and grape-fruit with Sherry. Nuts of most kinds, especially walnuts, go with Port and Madeira and with after dinner Sherries. Of the extraordinary virtue of the green olive in preparing the palate for wine, and clearing it for transition from one wine to another, it is needless to write.

…But because cheese blesses so many of the red wines, it must not be expected to do good to light, semi-acid white wines. It will bring them out, but with a vengeance, making them seem thin as notepaper and sharp as a needle; and he who thinks to have the vinous equivalent of a beer-bread-cheese luncheon in the country. with white wine instead of beer, had better substitute olives for the cheese. Stilton is the ideal precursor of a great vintage Port…

[R.M.Healey  ]



One thought on “The Accompaniments of Wine

  1. Major Wootton

    That seems like good advice, really. People have fun over the pretensions of wine snobs — fine, but a decent bottle of table wine with the right food is worth a moment’s thought.


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