One of my favorite wine and food pairing quotations is from a book titled London at Table: Or How, When, and Where to Dine and Order a Dinner, and Where to Avoid Dining, published in 1851 at the peak of the Industrial Revolution. This was a time when the word “Victorian” was being used as a self-expression with a new generation of wealthy businessmen and wives looking for status. An ideal strategy to get higher on this ladder was to host lavish, entertaining events at home or regal restaurants. Many families began hiring servants to assist in food preparation and service. And traditional buffet-style dining shifted to stately seated dinners with multiple-course processions. This opulent style of table dining allowed for, and arguably called for, each food course to be served with a different wine.
With this new style of entertaining came the need for the creation of wine and food rules, or etiquette. Writers laid out these rules and some of the creators were even considered the “experts.” As you can imagine most of these rules were not presented as suggestions but stern instructions on what to do, and most without explanation. These etiquette-eager newcomers took to the direction without misstep.
London at Table was one of these rule books.
My favorite quotation, making me smile each time I read it: “In order to give the cook fair play, the fish should never be served with the soup, it’s a distinct and important course.”
The author goes on to point out vulgarisms to be avoided, “With white fish, one glass only of Hock or a Moselle Cup (a punch, mixing Riesling and sherry) With salmon either claret or port.”
“Champagne may be served throughout to the females at the table, as it’s a favorite with the ladies, a prevailing weakness of the day,” but even so never with the roast.
Of course, today we know the rules have become more relaxed but many still stand in the way of great food and wine combinations. Over the next few weeks of columns we’re going to explore some changes in food and wine pairing rules, starting with some fun homework to better understand why the rules are not always so simple.
The homework: Send me your best nontraditional pairings and your thoughts on these.
Grilled Salmon and Pinot Noir
- 2011 Stemmari Pinot Noir, Italy (about $9 retail)
- 2010 Renteria Russian River Pinot Noir, California (about $40 retail)
Chinese Egg Rolls and Pinot Gris
- 2011 Adelsheim Pinot Gris, Oregon (about $14 retail)
- 2011 Trimbach Pinot Gris, France (about $27 retail)
Popcorn and Champagne / Sparkling Wine
- NV Piper Sonoma Brut Sparkling, California (about $15 retail)
- NV Roederer Estate L’Ermitage, California (about $45 retail)