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Canberra Today 4°/8° | Saturday, April 13, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Okay, so what wine goes best with smoke?

“I am partial to the evocation of wood smoke that is subtle yet flavoursome rather than the taste you get when you’ve left the potatoes on the stove for too long.” Photo: Rachel Claire

“I’d never serve a sauvignon blanc with smoked fish. Rarely is this varietal ‘sour’ and often, especially if French, is not fruit forward,” writes wine columnist RICHARD CALVER, who has a weakness for food flavoured by smoke.

I’m hazy about why I very much like foods flavoured with smoke. 

Richard Calver.

It has nothing to do with the fact that my oven needs cleaning so badly that the fumes when its opened often set off my smoke alarm. 

I am partial to the evocation of wood smoke that is subtle yet flavoursome rather than the taste you get when you’ve left the potatoes on the stove for too long. 

To be clear, I’m not talking about the nasty medical condition called dysgeusia where a variety of causes including sinusitis and a rogue virus leave the poor victims with a condition where they constantly suffer from a persistent taste of ugly smoke or metal, a path even further down the pleasure ladder than getting anosmia from the COVID-19 virus. 

I’m talking about that extra piquant flavour kick you get from foods that have been smoked. It is really difficult to describe because it is so unlike the taste that is left in your mouth when the campfire makes your eyes water after the wind changes direction in the middle of Kumbaya. It’s a world away better. 

Remember it’s all just a fireplace without the fire: the smoke is entirely for flavour. As Ricky Gribling in his 1997 book Smoking Food reminds us, before the invention of refrigeration “the sole purpose of smoking food was to preserve surplus quantities against leaner times.” 

Forget taste first as a principle – “when it’s been successfully brined and then smoked, we have enough food for the winter otherwise we die” brings a different perspective. 

This current crush isn’t about death or destruction but the elevation of the taste buds through a punch of brine or salt and spice combined. 

Death may be accelerated by ingesting too much salt, but the expense of most smoked foods now means that the budget is a natural limit to the over-indulgence of this corner of the fancy food world. 

But what of wine with smoked salmon or smoked duck breast, two favourite examples of the benefits to taste of the smoking process? Some assertively framed answers were provided by a January 2023 article entitled “Idiot’s guide to wine pairing with smoked foods”. 

The main proposition is that smoked foods have intense flavours that “tend to suppress the wine, making it taste flat and boring. If acidic wine is paired with intensely flavored (sic) smoked food, then the war of both flavors (sic) can make the pairing pungent.” Agreed, but from that mainstay there follows a list of grape varietals and an assertion about their predominant characteristics that therefore mean they match with a specific smoked food; I didn’t agree with many of the statements. An example: “Chardonnay and sauvignon blanc: These light flavored (sic) wines have a sour fruity taste which pairs best with smoked fish or poultry.”

I’d never serve a sauvignon blanc with smoked fish. Rarely is this varietal “sour” and often, especially if French, is not fruit forward. Similarly, chardonnay can vary from the fantastic minerality of a chablis (which does go well with smoked salmon) or a punchy, oaky buttery style that, in my view, doesn’t suit smoked salmon or other smoked fish. 

For smoked salmon, consider a local rose’, especially a dry Vintner’s Daughter that marries with this fish perfectly. For smoked duck, I must recommend a good NZ (Otago) pinot noir that has both boldness of flavour and a delicate finish. No more advice: I’m burnt out. 

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Richard Calver

Richard Calver

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