“A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine,” said Antheme Brillat Savarin.
I am a dedicated trencherwoman. I love my food and wine, and am one of the least likely candidates for teetotalism, vegetarianism, anorexia, Atkins, food combining or any other absurd form of life-denial. London, not Paris, has the best restaurants in the world. England, not France, boasts the top wine tasters, so I am well placed to eat my fill. Phil likes his food too.
But what a lot of twaddle is talked about food and wine. Wine first. I have been on a wine tasting course and I know that not all language used about wine is pretentious: flinty, mineral, farmyard, apricot, damson, cherries, gooseberries, leathery, woody, mushroomy, tannic, acid, balanced, finish, crisp, buttery, oaky, flabby – all these words and more, mean something.
Yes, I admit that a good wine needs to open up, you need to chew it round your mouth and tannin cuts through red meat. However, when somebody tells you that the grape has “sulked on the vine”, you know they are showing off. Here are a few more examples from the Tim Atkin in the Observer:
'There are few things more pleasant in life,' claims Serena Sutcliffe in her Wines of Burgundy, 'than trying to decide if the Bienvenues, the Bâtard or the unbelievable Chevalier is reminiscent of hawthorn, blackthorn or May blossom.'…
There may be more pleasant things, but I wouldn’t like to say either way.
If this tasting note sounds more than a little pretentious, what about the sort of thing published by Robert Parker, America's leading wine guru? Here's Mr P's information-rich description of a Barossa Shiraz with a flammable 16.5 per cent alcohol. 'This wine, which lasted four days in the bottle before I decided to pass the balance through my bowels, displays an opaque black/purple colour and exotic coffee, chocolate, Asian spice, roast duck and blackberry and prune liqueur-like aromas. To say the wine is unctuously textured is an understatement. This wine looks like 10-W-40 motor oil.' Believe it or not, he gave the wine 99 points out of 100….
Different nations describe wines in different ways. The French, for example, are very keen on the term sous-bois (undergrowth). They are also fond of sensual terms like séducteur, viril and tendre. Mind you, they never get as racy as the male Australian lecturer I once heard describe a wine as 'long, firm and full in the mouth like a penis'.
Mwwwmmphh. So this is why professional wine tasters spit, rather than swallow. And how does he know?
And now to food. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, whose extended tea-making rituals featured in this column a few weeks ago, warns against a kitchen that boasts basil and tells us to get with the programme:
Sea kale is the new asparagus
Brussels tops are the new greens (it's a Europe thing)
Parsley is the new basil
Haut Savoie is the new Serrano (which was of course, the old Parma)
Tatsoi is the new Mizuna (which is still the new rocket)
Breadsticks are the new baguettes
Papardelle is the new ravioli
Agen (oil) is the new olive (oil)
Mousse is the new ice cream
Pears are the new apples
Juice is the new wine
Tequilas are the new single malts
Potatoes are the new tomatoes
Gravy is the new jus
John Dory is the new sea bass
Fish is the new meat
Meat is the new bread
Bread is the new cheese
Cheese is the new chicken
Chicken is the new fish
The prize, however, must go to his assertion that mushy is the new al dente. This may not be good news for Phil, above. For more on this phrase and a sideways (or sidewalk) look at naughty pasta, see this exchange here. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.