The rules of food and wine matching (part one)


Photograph: Susie Carter

Photograph: Susie Carter

In our new series, food writer Susie Carter takes a look at which wines pair most successfully with some of our favourite foods. She begins by taking us through the key principles of food and wine pairing.

When I first started studying food and wine pairing I thought it was going to be easy. As a cook, I am always looking to see which flavours go well together, but with wine it wasn’t quite so straight-forward. As an extreme example, a Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon with flavours of blackcurrant and mint would be a disastrous match with a blackcurrant and mint fool. While flavour has its place, it’s far more important to match the wine’s weight and flavour intensity with that of the food, and to look at how the five primary tastes in the dish – sour, bitter, sweet, salty and umami – will affect the wine.

Some tastes are difficult to separate because we rarely eat foods that fall into just one category.

The most commonly confused pair is sour and bitter, though the two have very different effects. Sour foods, such as vinegar, make your mouth water; the bitterness found in chicory or over-stewed tea makes your mouth go dry. Take a wedge of lemon and squeeze some of the juice onto a spoon to taste sourness. Now nibble the white inner pith of the peel and notice the bitterness in your mouth.

In wine, bitterness comes in the form of tannin from skin extraction or oak, so it’s more frequently found in red wine, though bottle ageing will reduce the effect over time. Bitter flavours in food actually increase your awareness of tannin in wine, so if you’re planning on something bitter then your best bet is to go for a fresh, young white to drink with it.

Acidity in food makes the wine you choose taste sweeter, fruitier and fuller-bodied, but be aware that it also makes it taste less acidic. Aim to match the acidity in the wine with the acidity in the food to keep the wine tasting fresh and vibrant.

Matching the sweetness level of the food with the residual sugar level of the wine will also give you the most harmonious pairing. There’s nothing quite like a piece of wedding cake to ruin your celebratory glass of brut Champagne, though old traditions die hard. Just imagine how much more delicious a glass of aged Tawny Port or a syrupy Pedro Ximenez Sherry would be, where the sweet dried fruit is balanced by a full-bodied, luscious wine. A bit of residual sugar in a wine will also help to counter-balance the effects of chili in a dish, which can make a wine taste more tannic and less fruity.

Umami – that elusive fifth taste best described as savouriness – is difficult to pair with wine in isolation as it increases the effects of tannin and acidity. However, increase the salt levels in umami-rich foods and it counterbalances the influence, which is why the salty vintage cheddar on your cheeseboard works better with your glass of Claret than the squashy piece of brie.

Now put these theories to the test:

  • Pour yourself a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and try it with a slice of tomato – the two work well together as they’re both light in body, yet have good levels of acidity and flavour intensity.
  • Try the same wine with a sweet biscuit and it suddenly tastes far more acidic and less aromatic.
  • Tasting the wine with a piece of smoked salmon will demonstrate the ability of acidity in wine to cut through rich or oily foods.
  • Now try the same wine with some fresh, young goat’s cheese; a classic food and wine pairing. The wine cuts through the richness of the cheese, the cheese’s acidity balances the acidity of the wine, and the salt pushes the aromatic fruit to the fore. Perfect.
Category: Food & Wine

Taste the difference: English sparkling wine


Warehouse shop

English wines are enjoying a wonderful summer – not just out in the vineyards, but also when it comes to their increasingly celebrated reputation for quality. Stephanie Barlow, a Wine Advisor who recently hosted a sell-out tasting of Southern Belles in our Warehouse Shop, explores their many and varied charms.

The profusion of fantastic farmers’ markets means it’s easy to support local produce – but shouldn’t we also be looking closer to home when it comes to our wine? With many English vineyards now producing some truly impressive sparkling, journeying across the channel to source something for a special occasion is less of a necessity: we have terrific treats right here in our beautiful southern counties.

Last Thursday, in our recently refurbished Warehouse Shop in Basingstoke, we took the opportunity to showcase a range of English sparkling wines at our Southern Belles tasting. Alongside these crisp, fine wines, we also invited some excellent local food producers to concoct interesting food pairings to demonstrate the wines’ versatility.

What the evening really highlighted was the range of styles which are to be found along the chalk downlands of the south. For fresh, green-apple crispness, the Coates & Seely Brut Reserve NV (from its south-facing vineyards in Hampshire) perfectly exhibited the fresh acidity so characteristic of English sparkling wine; for elegance and wild strawberry notes, the Pinot Noir-dominant Jenkyn Place 2009 Rosé, which was so wonderfully explained to us by Simon Bladon himself, fitted the bill.

The 2009 Gusbourne Estate Brut Reserve demonstrates how well Chardonnay performs on the clay- and chalk-rich soils of Kent and West Sussex, displaying zesty citrus notes perfectly balanced with warming baked brioche. Also found in West Sussex, former home of Anne of Cleaves, is Nyetimber – a true pioneer in English winemaking and the first English vineyard to exclusively focus on the three Champagne grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The 2009 Nyetimber Classic Cuvée has perfect balance and structure with attractive lemon and freshly baked bread characters, an ideal match for the tasty charcuterie courtesy of Parsonage Farm at the tasting.

If the zestiness of Chardonnay isn’t for you, take a trip from Padstow to Wadebridge along the Camel River in Cornwall and the sample the wonderful Camel Valley 2009 Pinot Noir. Displaying elegant red berries and a hint of sherbet, it’s crisp and refreshing with an intense, long finish. Another fine example of the merits of the red grape varieties is the 2009 Ridgeview Victoria. This Pinot Meunier-dominant Saignee-method rose with complex citrus notes and subtle red berries was a perfect match for the hot oak smoked salmon blinis from British Fine Foods.

Over recent years, afternoon teas have increased in popularity: this indulgent trend gives us the ideal opportunity to be patriotic as English sparkling wines are a wonderful match with freshly baked scones (as demonstrated by those we tried from The Bakehouse in Old Basing on Thursday evening, which were served with Dart Valley Foods’ strawberry jam). Another favourite pairing, which may come as a surprise, was chocolate with sparkling wine: the unanimous winner on Thursday evening was the Pink Himalayan Salt and Toasted Almond from Kokoh Chocolate. The salt makes a perfect partner for the crisp acidity of the English fizzes.

We also conducted a  blind tasting of our Berrys’ Own Champagne alongside the Hambledon Classic Cuvée: many customers thought that the Hambledon was the Champagne, which shows just shows how well these English wines stand up to their French counterparts.

By supporting our local wine-makers we can help to build a stronger domestic market for English sparkling – not to mention showing the French that we can do it just as well (or better!) than they can. If it’s been a while since you last tasted English sparkling, you may be pleasantly surprised at just what a sophisticated product it now is. Come and visit us in the Warehouse Shop in Hampshire: with 10 different English sparkling wines on offer, we’re confident we can find one that’ll hit the spot.

For more information on how to find the Warehouse Shop, its events or opening times, please go to


Category: English Wine,Food & Wine

Introducing Berry Bros. & Rudd’s Reserve Red, White and Rosé


Grower and producer Jean-Luc Terrier (left) pictured with buyer Simon Field MW

Grower and producer Jean-Luc Terrier (left) pictured with buyer Simon Field MW

A merchant’s house wine should be the best it can offer for the price: a standard by which it can be judged. And so it was with no small sense of responsibility that Mark Pardoe MW, our Wine Buying Director, embarked on a project to refresh and improve our own-label offering.

The Berrys’ Own Selection range is having a face-lift. Smarter labels and packaging, some new wines and changes to the structure of the range will all begin to be instigated during the next year.

And with the new broom comes the opportunity for review. Our Berrys’ Red, White and Rosé, once with the sobriquet “House” included in the title, are among our most popular wines, so any change had to be treated with caution. But we felt that, with a tweak here or there, they could be even better.

So our “Reserve” range is born. Stylistically, these are teased from the same mould as the previous incarnations. The white still takes Chardonnay as its core, the red remains built around Merlot, and the rosé – with colour as important as flavour – continues to express its Provençale aspirations. And, of course, Jean-Luc Terrier, the grower and producer who has served us so well for so long, had to remain as our supplier.

The brief was discussed with Jean-Luc, and a modestly higher cost price agreed, which was vital to allow us greater access to the fruit of his own vineyards in the limestone-rich Limoux region, south of Carcassonne. In the past, to meet our pricing requirements, Jean-Luc would very expertly supplement some of his own production with other wines from the area. Now, we could delve into a much greater volume of his own wines, and we had our eyes on some well-sited parcels of vines which we knew were coming into full maturity, but previously outside our scope.

And thus, in crystal-blue January this year, Simon Field MW (our buyer for the Languedoc) and I spent the day with Jean-Luc, constructing and deconstructing all the 30-or-so components at our disposal until we thought we had it right. The white, now almost entirely from Jean-Luc’s fruit, is bright and tangy, but with a creamy note from a gently oaked element previously beyond our reach, and deliciously compact. The red keeps the juiciness of its Merlot, but gains another dimension from 10 percent of deeply coloured, spicy, domaine-grown Syrah, worthy of the Rhône, with Grenache softening the edges. The rosé is often the hardest to create, perhaps because we always do it last, but the final blend of come-hither pale pink, a wine firm but dry, with a gentle coulis of red fruits, seemed just right to us.

And now the Reserve wines are arriving. The first signs are good: we wanted them to be delicious to drink by themselves, but worthy partners for the table as well, and so they are. In their smart new livery, an upgrade to Burgundy bottles and a return to cork closure, they also look the part. The chest swells with a paternal pride, as on the child’s first day at school.

Our new Reserve range is available on Do let us know what you think of the wines by submitting a customer review.


Category: Old World

Tasting Italy: day two in Piedmont



The second day of Vanessa’s Italian tasting trip takes her into La Morra, where the superlative wines are hard to better.

We began our day in La Morra, first visiting Trediberri and then Roberto Voerzio. Davide Voerzio took us into one of the estates five vineyards and explained its low-yield philosophy. In order to maximize the quality of the grapes, bunches are kept close to the trunk and, at a later point, are cut in half. The wines were simply stunning – elegant, silky, beautifully perfumed and well-structured.

We then visited Maria-Teresa Mascarello, owner and winemaker of the famed Cantina Bartolo Mascarello. She not only gave us a tour of the property and presented us with her 2010, 2009 and 2005 Baroli. She also surprised our team with an incredibly generous gift: a magnum of 1986 Barolo, made by her father, Bartolo. This wine still leaves me speechless.

Our fourth visit was to Giuseppe Mascarello e Figli, one of the Langhe’s oldest and most respected estates. It was hard to believe that this building was once a place where ice was stored and sold, not wine. We met Mauro, his wife Maria Teresa, his son Giuseppe and his daughter Elena upon arrival. Elena guided us through the cantina and led us into the tasting room where we tasted through a series of the outstanding wines, including Monprivato Riserva Cà d’Morissio.


Our next meeting was with Roberto Conterno, of Giacomo Conterno. Every single wine that was presented was breathtakingly beautiful and seamless – ripe, silky fruit, refreshing acidity and incredible complexity. I was in love with both the Cerretta and Cascina Francia, but my absolute favorite was the 2008 Barolo Cascina Francia Riserva Monfortino.

Our last visit of this unforgettable trip was in Serralunga, at Giovanni Rosso. We were greeted by Davide Rosso, himself. We also met with his winemaker, Andrea and were given samples of his outstanding wines. Davide gave us a grand tour of his palatial new cantina as well as his vineyards – including a newly acquired hectare of Vigna Rionda (in 2011). Before we left, he graciously gifted each of us with a bottle of wine: the 2010 Barolo Cerretta and the 2010 Barolo Serra.

I have had the privilege to travel to many exotic and beautiful locations in my life, but I must say that our time in Piedmont was, without a doubt, one of my most memorable trips to date. We were in one of the most beautiful places on the planet – the photos truly do not do it justice; we were privileged enough to meet some of the world’s best winemakers, and we had the chance to have tasted their unbelievable wines. Personally, I’m counting down the days until we are able to return next year…


Read day one of Vanessa’s trip here.

Category: Italian Wine