1. Unloved but oozing with potential – the wonderful world of dessert wines

    If you’ve downloaded our Great British Summertime App you’ll notice that along with the 105 recipes there are suggested wines to drink with each dish.  Wine blogger Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary and founder of Revolution Wine Tasting carried out the wine matching for us and here he gives more advice on an often neglected topic, wines to drink with desserts. 

    Blog post by Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary for Great British Chefs  

    Being both a foodie and a wine lover, I am never shy to partake in a spot of food and wine matching. There is something about having the chance to take an already winning dish to the next level by complementing it with the right wine that just gets me excited.

    For me, one of the most important things when it comes to food and wine matching is to have fun and be creative. There are, of course, certain general principles that can be followed (more on this below) but I find more often than not that trial and error is the best approach. And never be afraid to experiment with weird and wacky combinations – you would be surprised how often they come off!

    One of my greatest challenges in this area came recently when Great British Chefs asked me to provide the wine descriptions for their latest App. For those of you who are not familiar with the Summertime App, it is a collection of 105 summer recipes from 21 of Britain’s top chefs. My task was to suggest a style of wine for each of the 105 recipes – effectively playing the role of an e-sommelier to dishes created by the likes of Marcus Wareing, Shaun Hill and Richard Corrigan. Needless to say, a lot of fun!

    But one of most fun aspects of being involved with the Summertime App is that it contains loads of really creative and innovative dessert recipes which meant that I could showcase a number of sweeter styles of wines. Sweet wines, in my view, generally get a hard time of it here in the UK so I really enjoyed the opportunity to show just how diverse and impressive the world of sweet wine can be.

    I accept, of course, that a sweet wine is not appropriate for every dish but a well-made dessert wine or sweet fortified wine can be just as much of a show stopper as any still or sparkling wine and should not be too hastily overlooked as a partner to a dessert or cheese dish.

    The trick with pairing a sweet wine is to use it in one of two ways – either to complement the sweetness of the dish or to act as a contrast to it. But, as I say above, experimentation is the best way forward, so rather than harp on about the theory of what constitutes a winning pairing, here are my wine suggestions for a selection of desserts from the Summer App so that you can get an idea of why certain sweet wines go well with certain types of desserts.

    Christoffer Hruskova’s Milk ice cream

    Whilst this may not be the world’s most innovative dessert, we all love a good scoop of gelato so I thought it merited inclusion. A really great match for this dessert (and which would also work really well with vanilla ice cream) is a glass of unctuous and syrupy Pedro Ximenez Sherry from Spain.  The sweetness of the Sherry would match the sweet dessert while its dark and sticky character would act as a wonderful contrast to the clean and pure flavour of the milk ice cream.


    Shaun Hill’s Chocolate torte

    For some reason, chocolate and wines from the Muscat family of grapes seem to have a special affinity for one another. It follows that a great wine choice for Shaun’s torte would be a Moscato D’Asti from the Piedmont region of Italy.  This wine is made in a sweet and lightly sparkling style which would make it just the thing to freshen your palate between bites of this seriously chocolatey dessert.

    Nathan Outlaw’s Chicory marmalade tart with blue cheese, picked walnuts and pears

    This dish is a tricky one to pair as there are a lot of contrasting flavours at play – bittersweet chicory marmalade, sharp pickled nuts, salty blue cheese and the natural sweetness of the pears. My suggestion would be a vintage or tawny Port from Portugal. The sweetness of the Port would work really well with the sweeter elements of the dish whilst also cutting through the saltiness of the blue cheese and acidic pickled nuts. As I say above, it’s all about complement and contrast!

    Richard Corrigan’s Passion fruit and mango parfait

    Whenever I come across tropical fruits in a dessert, I think immediately of late harvest German Riesling. These wines are often only 6% or 7% in alcohol but are known for having a luscious, tropical fruit character and nectar-like sweetness, making them the perfect match for a dessert such as this.  

    Greg Malouf’s New Season Kent Strawberry Granita and Arabesque Wafer

    This dessert provides the perfect opportunity to get creative with your wine match. Kent is now home to a number of England’s finest wineries so why not keep things local by pairing this dessert with a glass of strawberry purée topped up with an English sparking wine – my English take on a Strawberry Bellini!  

    Frances Atkins’s Rose Petal Pannacotta, Damson & Lavender Viennese Shortbread

    The trick when pairing a wine for this dish is to find a wine that is sweet enough to sit happily alongside the pannacotta and shortbread whilst not overpowering the dessert’s floral qualities. I think that a Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise (which is produced in the Rhone region of France) would be just the ticket. It is lusciously sweet but also has a delicate floral quality which would allow it to become great chums with the rose petal and lavender in this dish.

    Hopefully this brief selection has given you a taste of just how much potential sweeter wines have to offer. They may not be seen as the most fashionable choice but if you have a sense of culinary adventure and enjoy playing around with exciting and innovative flavours, I would really urge you to give them a go!

    You can find my recommendations for all the other dessert recipes in the Summer App by downloading it but in the meantime I would love to hear any suggestions from you as to your favourite dessert and wine pairings. Cheers!

    Blog post by Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary for Great British Chefs 

    Let us & Alex know your favourite dessert & wine pairings over on Great British Chefs Facebook page.

  2. A toast to the sparkling future of English wine!

    English Wine Week runs from Saturday, 2nd June and continues until Sunday, 10th  June 2012. The week will be celebrated in many vineyards around England through tastings, guided tours and tutorials.  Great British Chefs asked wine blogger Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary and founder of Revolution Wine Tasting to give us the low down, on “British” or should that be “English” wine

    Blog post by Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary for Great British Chefs 

    In the month that sees the Queen celebrate her Diamond Jubilee and the start of Euro 2012, I thought I would chip in with my own show of patriotism by profiling the ever-improving English wine scene.

    Bread and Cheese and Wine
    Photo by Food Stories

    Despite attracting a lot of positive media coverage recently, it seems that for a lot of people the jury is still out when it comes to English wine. But, in fact, the story of English wine over the past couple of decades is really not so different from that of England’s cuisine.

    Just as the food scene in Britain has undergone a recent revolution, giving rise to numerous destination restaurants and award-winning chefs, a similar revolution (albeit on a smaller scale) has been taking place in a number of our wineries, as many winemakers have raised their game to unprecedented heights, moving from the ranks of amateur to that of the professional.

    Wine Tasting by Tiki Chris

    Photo by Chris Osburn

    This has not only led to an increase in the amount of English wine being produced (which is up a staggering twenty-five per cent in the last ten years) but also has crucially resulted in a rise in the quality of the wine being made. But don’t take my word for it – you only have to look at the raft of awards that English wines have received over the past few years, the latest being a Gold Medal for Cornwall based winery, Camel Valley, at the prestigious Decanter World Wine Awards. You can even now find a range of English wines stocked at most of our supermarkets here in Britain.

    So, what is it that has caused this seismic shift in the fortunes of English wine? One of the key factors to the success of English wine has undoubtedly been the decision to plant grape varieties that are suited to our climate and soil. Fifty percent of the wine produced in England is sparkling and one of the aces up our sleeve is that certain areas across the South of England have a climate and soil type that is very similar to that of Champagne. Both regions benefit from south-facing slopes, chalk-based soil and Champagne is only marginally warmer. It has even been suggested that if global warming continues at its present rate, England’s climate will be better suited in twenty years time to growing Champagne style sparkling wines than Champagne!

    Photo by Eating East

    Unsurprisingly, a number of wineries in the South have already cottoned-on to the fact that if they plant one or more of the Champagne grape varieties (i.e. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier), they stand a great chance of producing world-class sparkling wines. Denbies, Nyetimber and Bolney Wine Estate are all great examples of wineries based in that area that have taken full advantage of this to great effect.

    2689 delicious wine
    Photo by imcountingufoz

    While the growing conditions in England may favour a sparkling style of wine, we should not overlook the good progress that is also being made by the still wines. The white wines – often made from either the Bacchus or Ortega grape varieties – are coming on strong and their tart and zesty character often make a welcome accompaniment to fish or seafood. A number of good rosés are also being made and make for very pleasant quaffers on a warm summer’s day.

    Of course, it would be misleading to say that it is all smiles and sunshine. The red wine is generally speaking not yet up to scratch, many of the still whites continue to be overpriced and our unpredictable climate means that any given vintage is never far from disaster. But, the important thing is to focus on the positives – English wine has made huge strides over the past few years and with a little help from global warming I really believe that its future potential is limitless. So, if you are not familiar with English wine why don’t you a give it a try – you may be pleasantly surprised!

    p.s. if you want to know why I refer to “English wine” and not “British wine”, drop me an email to alex@revolutionwinetasting.com and I’ll be happy to explain! 

    Blog post by Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary for Great British Chefs

  3. Offal: Is it Time to Reconsider?

    Our final look at  Nose to Tail Fortnight, we have an interesting guest blog post for Great British Chefs, by Alex Down, aka  The Riesling Revolutionary.  He gives his thoughts on why we should re-look at offal and also recommends some wines to make the most of these often neglected cuts of meat.

    3rd Course: 2nd Course: Fergus Henderson's Deviled Kidneys on Brioche

    Fergus Henderson’s Deviled Kidneys on Brioche - photo by ulterior epicure  

    Blog post by Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary for Great British Chefs

    “Nearly anyone – after a few tries – can grill a filet mignon or a sirloin steak. A trained chimp can steam a lobster. But it takes love, and time and respect for one’s ingredients to deal with a pig’s ear or a kidney properly. And the rewards are enormous.”

    Anthony Bourdain in the Introduction to Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking


    This year, London Food Link’s Ethical Eats is pioneering for the first time the “ Nose to Tail Fortnight ”. The idea behind this concept (which runs from 30th April to 14th  May 2012) is to encourage restaurants across London to feature more offal and other less popular cuts of meat on their menus in an effort to make meat consumption more sustainable.

    So, does this mean that we are facing the prospect on the Tube each morning of hearing our fellow Londoners waxing lyrical to each other about the tasty offaly gems that they had devoured the previous night? As a big fan of offal, I would love it if we did. But, sadly, it seems unlikely due to the fact that these cuts are hugely neglected nowadays. It could be that this is symptomatic of a society that appears to be becoming increasingly disconnected with where its food comes from and how it is produced. But whatever the reasons for the lack of demand for these unloved cuts, the simple fact of the matter is that, for the majority of people, the idea of eating liver or kidney or tripe does not hold the appeal it once did.

    Personally, I find this a real shame because if we look back at our culinary heritage here in Britain over the past fifty years, some of our best known dishes have relied heavily on the use of offal. The likes of brawn (rolled pig’s head), chitterlings (pig’s intestines) and faggots (variety of pork offal wrapped in caul) can all be regarded as classics.

    Faggots from Lunchtime Express Menu at The Gilbert Scott 

    Even the late Keith Floyd remarks in his autobiography, Stirred But Not Shaken, that as a lad growing up in Somerset he would eat faggots without fail every Thursday:

    Thursday: the day for faggots – made from the lights, liver and heart of the pig, all of it minced, wrapped in caul and then braised in water with sage and onion – and served with peas”

    Admittedly, the likes of lamb’s brain terrine or rolled pig’s spleen may not sound like the most appetizing of dishes, but when they are cooked with love and respect, they can be utterly delicious.  To my mind, offal presents a great opportunity, not only for restaurants, but also for domestic cooks to be creative in the kitchen and reconnect with some of Britain’s most traditional dishes. Also, thanks to its perceived unpopularity, much offal can often be found at bargain prices, which always comes as good news!

    So, in an attempt to get the taste buds going, here are four of my favourite offal inspired dishes (plus wine suggestions) that I have eaten recently while either dining out or at home:

    Photo from Eats, Treats & Leaves

    1.      Deep-fried calves’ brains served with sauce gribiche. Crispy batter, mild creamy brain, sharp pickle and caper driven sauce. The textures and flavours in this dish make it a real winner. Try serving it with a white wine with good acidity, such as an English sparkling white or dry German Riesling from the Rheingau. 

    2.      Meat ragù with chicken livers. Every Italian I speak to has a different version of this brilliant meat sauce but I find that the addition of the chicken livers to the beef/pork/veal gives the sauce a lovely richness. Try serving it with an Italian red such as a Tuscan Chianti Classico or a Barbera from Piedmont.

    Fergus Henderson’s Deviled Kidneys on Toasted Brioche - photo by ulterior epicure

    3.      Devilled lamb’s kidneys on toast. This is a cracking combination. The cayenne pepper and mustard powder gives the dish excellent background heat and the toast soaks up all the meaty juices. Try serving it with a hearty, peppery red wine such as an Australian Shiraz or a Syrah from the Rhône in France.

    4.      Calves’ sweetbreads with potato and olive cakes. Unlike the offal used in the previous three dishes, calves’ sweetbreads can actually be quite pricey. But they are delicate and delicious and this combination with the rich and creamy potato cakes makes them well worth trying. Try serving them with a rich and full-bodied white wine, such as a Pinot Gris from Alsace in France.

    Offal may not be to everyone’s tastes, but if you are a fan, the Nose-to-Tail Fortnight gives you a great opportunity to get people talking about and trying these underrated cuts. There is no doubt in my mind that offal has the potential to make a comeback. But what do you think? What are your favourite neglected cuts?   Let us know over on Great British Chefs Facebook page.

    Blog post by Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary for Great British Chefs

    For a chance to win a copy of Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail Eating (closing date 14th May 2012) visit this link.

  4. Carnivores, ahoy! Time to reassess what’s on your butcher’s slab?

    It’s National Butchers Week.  With high streets up and down Britain in seemingly rapid decline, has there ever been a more important time to support your local butcher?  For years, the butcher’s shop was synonymous with the local community but nowadays it seems that many of us are turning our backs on these skilful artisans in exchange for the convenience of the supermarket. Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary explores the delights of his local butchers for Great British Chefs including a recipe for Pig’s Head - non carnivores look away now.

    Blog post by Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary for Great British Chefs

    The good news is that the recent domestic food revolution appears to have sparked a renewed interest in going to the butcher.  Hit TV shows like Channel 4’s The Fabulous Baker Brothers and best selling books such as The River Cottage Meat Book and Jon Torode’s Beef have certainly played a large part in bringing the buzz back to the butcher’s shop.  The underlying message is a simple one – if you are serious about your meat and serious about living by the “eat seasonal, buy local” credo, you cannot afford to not be visiting your butcher.

    As a shameless carnivore, I have always enjoyed going to the butcher and having moved around over the past few years, I have got to know quite a few of them.  They all bring something different to the slab, but the one I look forward to returning to the most is J. Heath & Son in Eastbourne.

    What I like about Nigel Heath and his team is that they keep things simple and honest and let the meat do the talking. There is no flashiness, no Wagyu steak or Kobe beef.  Instead, you will find warm smiles, first class butchery and top quality British meat, which is frankly all that I could ask for from my butcher.

    But one thing that has struck me recently as I have stood in the queue in Nigel’s shop is that the majority of his customers tend to go for the same old thing.  There are always exceptions to the rule, but on the whole it seems to me that 4 or 5 cuts/types of meat are ordered time after time – mince of some sort, chicken breast, lamb chops, pork chops and sausages. I know, I know - the important thing is that these people are supporting their local community and buying well reared flavoursome meat.  That is true, but I still feel that it is a bit of shame to go for the old favourites when you have so many interesting beasts and unusual cuts in front of you.

    If I were a butcher, I think I would really enjoy the prospect of someone asking me for something a little more adventurous than “a bag of mince and a few rashers of bacon”.  So whenever I go and see Nigel I like to keep things interesting.  I’ll give you a recent example.  The beast in question? The pig.  The cut?  The head.  Well, half a head to be particular. 


    I really urge you to ask your butcher for one of these and to have a go at home.  I can tell you from experience that nothing provokes such a “marmite” reaction like serving a pig’s head at a dinner party.  When I bring the dish to the table, the reaction usually falls into one of two camps: either a gasp and a look which says “this guy has issues” or a wide smile and a nod of delight and admiration that I have brought such a noble and unusual offering to the table.  In any event, I urge my guests to put aside whatever squeamishness they may have, grab a fork and dive in – more often than not they find they like it.  Personally, I like to attack the snout first; neither fat nor meat, its unctuousness texture and deep porky flavour wins me over every time.   

    So here is how it’s done.  It is a quite simple process really.  (Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a starter).

    Step 1: Wash head under cold water to remove any “nasties”.  Brain, tongue and eyes should have been removed by your butcher. 

    Step 2: Commandeer a razor (preferably not your Mach 3 but one of those orange disposable Bic jobbies) and start shaving your friend’s face to remove any remaining hairs or whiskers.  Now the head is ready to be cooked. 

    Step 3: Brown off the head in a frying pan.  Set aside in large, deep baking pan.  Brown off onion, carrot, celery and garlic and transfer to the baking pan.  

    Step 4: Add to baking pan a couple of bay leaves, some thyme and rosemary, half a bottle of white wine and enough chicken stock so that the head does its best “alligator in the swap” impression (to borrow Fergus Henderson’s phraseology).  Season well.

    Step 5: Cover with grease proof paper and pop in the oven at around 180C for 3 to 4 hours.  Whip off the grease proof paper for the last 30 minutes to make skin is nice and crispy.

    Step 6: Remove from oven and rest for 10 to 20 minutes.  Time to serve up your porky friend and let him meet your guests!

    As for the wine, my pick would be a red with good acidity.  I think a New Zealand Pinot Noir (preferably from Central Otago) or a Northern Italian wine, like a Barbera from Piedmont, would be just the ticket.

    The great thing about the pig’s head is that it not only brings a little theatre to your cooking but also reminds us just how delicious and versatile the pig is.  From the tongue to the trotter to the tail, there is barely an ounce of this wonderful beast which you can’t eat.  Be sure to let me know how you get on!  What’s your favourite part of the pig? How do you like to serve it?  Let us know on Great British Chefs Facebook Page.

    Blog post by Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary for Great British Chefs

  5. Mustard Lovers Unite - Great British Mustard Bash

    On 11th March, foodies throughout the land will descend upon the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray to take part in a celebration of a gastronomic staple – mustard in The Great British Mustard Bash.   Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary loves mustard and explored the origins of this traditional condiment for  Great British Chefs.  Discover more here…..

    Blog post by Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary for Great British Chefs

    The inaugural Great British Mustard Bash was conceived by Rosemary Jameson, the founder of the Guild of Jam Makers, and aims to give professional mustard producers, as well as amateur enthusiasts, the opportunity to fight it out in an attempt to win the coveted prize of a commissioned commemorative mustard jar!  Entrants can enter their mustards in one of four categories – namely, Artisan (professional), Novice, Wholegrain and Smooth – and all entries will be judged on appearance, colour, consistency, aroma, flavour, cover and container.

    The Great British Mustard Bash claims to be the first festival of its kind in Britain and what better setting for it than Scalford Hall, one time home of Colonel Frederick Colman, descendent of arguably the greatest of all British mustard-lovers, Jeremiah Colman, who founded Colman’s Mustard in 1823.

    Sadly, I will not be able to attend this great event, but as a big fan of mustard I thought I would seize the opportunity to celebrate this King of Condiments.

    Many regions throughout the world are known for producing a particular type of mustard.  The French Dijon mustard immediately springs to my mind with its smooth and creamy texture, which lends itself particularly well to accompanying meats and roast vegetables.  Then there is the Bavarian sweet mustard or süße Senf (a personal favourite of mine), which is very grainy and heavily sugared and is the perfect compliment to the German veal sausages. And let us not forget the US yellow mustard (such as French’s or Plochman’s), without which no hotdog would taste quite right.  

    Of course, there are numerous other mustards out there and everyone has a favourite, but here in Britain, we have our own mustard which has undoubtedly earned itself a place in the condiment Hall of Fame.  Bright yellow in appearance and fiercely hot, Colman’s has become one of the most iconic British domestic culinary products of recent times.

    Adorning countless sandwiches and roast dinners throughout the country for decades, Colman’s was until relatively recent times the only mustard readily available here in Britain. But, nowadays, in addition to this international superstar, there have emerged a number of British producers who are making some really interesting, high quality mustards meaning that we do not necessarily need to look overseas for our mustardy variety.

    One such company is Tracklements.  Tracklements was formed back in 1970 when founder William Tullberg, disillusioned by the range of mustards available in Britain, made the decision to make his own mustard with little more than the help of a coffee grinder and a few chums. Today, Tracklements has established itself as an award-winning condiment producer with a purpose built facility in Malmesbury in Wiltshire. They grind all of their own mustard seeds and since 2003 have sourced all of their yellow mustard seeds from a farmer just 2 miles from their factory!

    With mustards ranging from the traditional (Hot English, Wholegrain) to the unusual (Spiced Honey, Beer, Horseradish), Tracklements certainly has a diverse range.  So, I thought I would put these mustards to the test, together with the help of a few dollops of Coleman’s, to re-live some of my top mustard-based classics:

    Rare roast beef sandwich with Colman’s. When canvassing views on this topic, this was the combo that got the thumbs up time after time. Here I have attempted to combine sandwich and roast dinner by wedging the rare roast beef, hot Enlgish mustard and rocket inside a Yorkshire pudding. Bliss!

    Cornish Rarebit by Nathan Outlaw

    Welsh Rarebit. I love this dish. It is dead easy to make and a good dollop of Coleman’s together with a generous splash of Worcestershire sauce gives this creamy, cheesy classic the oomph that it needs to take it from contender to champion.

    Honey mustard glazed ham by Josh Eggleton

    Honey mustard glazed pulled pork and coleslaw. This combination works brilliantly with pork. I often see recipes which suggest coating the outside of pork belly or shoulder of pig with honey or some kind of fruity jam (e.g. apricot). So why not spiced honey mustard! The sweet, grainy mustard combines with the fatty, giving pork and crunchy slaw to create a mouthful of heaven.

    Quail Scotch Eggs by James Sommerin in Great British Chefs App

    Pork Pie / Scotch eggs with mustard. Nothing says a British picnic like a wedge of pork pie and a scotch egg.  A good dollop of mustard cuts through the rich and fatty sausage meat like a dream.  For these, I like to have both hot English and wholegrain mustards to hand.

    Sausages and Wholegrain Mustard Mash. You will rarely find a pub throughout Britain which does not have sausage and mash on the menu.  Done badly it can be bland and forgettable, but with good quality produce and a hit of wholegrain or horseradish mustard to bring the mash to life, this is comfort food at its best.

    The fun thing about mustard is that everyone has an opinion. Like it or loathe it, this hot and feisty condiment usually provokes a reaction.  As you can see, I have no problem nailing my colours to the mast.  You’ve now got my top food and mustard combinations. Are you a fan of any of these or do you have a favourite of your own? Let me know on Great British Chefs Facebook Page

    Blog post by Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary for Great British Chefs

  6. Riesling, the ultimate food-friendly wine

    With Chinese New Year around the corner, many of you will may be eating out in Chinese restaurants or planning Chinese dinner parties.  Many people find themselves poring over wine lists particularly in Chinese or Indian restaurants thinking “What shall I choose, what’s going to go well with something that’s full of spices" and then probably going for a lager or beer instead. Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary could be of help. He’s blogged for Great British Chefs about the food friendliness of Riesling. 

    What wine might go well with Crab Cakes by Martin Wishart on Great British Chefs site?

    Food & wine.  There’s a lot of discussion about it & Riesling may not have the greatest reputation here in the UK but I urge you to cast aside the stereotypes and give it a go - it is a true food-friendly wine and really has the potential to make a worthy companion to your next meal! 

    Let’s face it, we foodies have never had it so good.  20 years ago, most of us had to rely on the likes of the late Keith Floyd to travel the world for us in search of culinary adventure. But nowadays, for a few quid we can hop on a flight and hours later be merrily sipping and munching away in our gastronomic location of choice. And what more, through the globalisation of the produce market, we don’t even need to leave British shores to experience exciting and exotic flavours and ingredients, as many of them are now widely available in our supermarkets and restaurants.

    Whilst I support the current trend to “buy local” and support local growers and producers, one has to admit that the arrival in the mainstream over the past few years of exotic ingredients such as galangal, wasabi and holy basil has signalled exciting times for chefs and domestic cooks.  In addition, the arrival of these new and exciting ingredients - many from Asia and the Indian Subcontinent – has also created huge potential for unusual and innovative food and wine pairings.

    Admittedly, finding the right wine to match a dish is not always an easy task. There are, of course, certain old favourites such as Roquefort and Sauternes, Chablis and oysters, Port and Stilton which have stood the test of time. But as we become more creative with our ingredients so we need to rethink our wine choices - a bottle of claret may go well with your roast lamb but what about when faced with a fragrant and spicy beef Thai salad?

    It’s fair to say that some wines suit certain types of food better than others but if there is one grape variety that stands out from the pack in terms of its versatility and food-friendliness, it has to be Riesling. Many people think of Riesling as a sweet German wine but this is not always the case. In fact, Riesling is a wonderfully versatile grape and is produced in many parts of the world in many different styles ranging from the bone dry to the lusciously sweet.  It is this range of sweetness levels and diversity of flavours that makes Riesling uniquely placed to compliment not only traditional cuisine but also more exotic flavours.

    For example, Australian Rieslings are usually very dry and often exhibit intense citrus notes which make them excellent partners to seafood, shellfish in particular. But they can also pair very well with sushi and sashimi. Look for a Riesling from the Clare Valley or Eden Valley which are particularly good growing regions for Riesling in Australia.  Top producers include Jim Barry, Grosset, Mount Horrocks and Pewsey Vale, to name but a few.

    The Rieslings of Alsace in France tend also to be dry but are fuller bodied and richer than their Aussie counterparts. This weightiness together with their high acidity makes them particularly good companions to fatty foods such as pork belly or roast goose. There are many excellent producers of Riesling in Alsace but look for the likes of Trimbach, Hugel, Zind Humbrecht and Schlumberger which are widely available in the UK. 

    Fragrant Asian Hotpot by Marcus Wareing - pair with an off dry German Riesling

    And then there are the German Rieslings. German Rieslings can range from the bone dry to medium sweet to very sweet which makes them food-friendly across the board. The drier Rieslings go particularly well with fish and white meats (think Coq au Riesling!) but, for me, it is the off-dry category which is hugely underrated. An off-dry German Riesling (or one from New Zealand for that matter) is the perfect partner for hot and spicy foods. These wines, often only 7% or 8% alcohol by volume, tend to be jam-packed with aromatic fruit which allows them to stand up impressively to spicy and fragrant flavours, whilst a good hit of residual sugar has the effect of soothing the heat of the chilli.  Recommended German producers making both dry and off-dry Rieslings which are available in the UK include Ernst Loosen, Josef Leitz, Dönnhoff, Franz Künstler, JJ Prüm.    

    Riesling may not have the greatest reputation here in the UK but I urge you to cast aside the stereotypes and give it a go - it is a true food-friendly wine and really has the potential to make a worthy companion to your next meal!

    Blog post by Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary for Great British Chefs

    Which wines do you think go well with hot & spicy foods?  Or do you prefer to drink lager, beer or something else with them.  We’re discussing this over on Great British Chefs Facebook Page.