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13 May 2014
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Grape vs Grain

Hands up those who think wine goes better with food than beer? Of course wine goes better with food – who on earth could imagine that beer could be best? Well, author, beer-judge and overall beer-lover Lucy Corne does, and when she mentioned this opinion to me, I felt honour-bound to take her up on this and challenge her to a duel. Together with Stellenbosch Vineyards, makers of several lifestyle ranges as well as the delicious top tier Credo wines, we’ve been touring the country, performing our Grape vs Grain debate at a variety of different food and wine shows. The idea is that we have three canapés, each one paired with a wine by me and with a craft beer by Lucy. The audience tastes and sips and then votes for their favourite pairing.
So why do I think wine is better than beer? Well, there are quite a few reasons really. The first reason is that wines have great acidity. A lot of the foods we enjoy can be quite rich and fatty – think cheese, pastry, buttery sauces and cream. A wine with a decent amount of acidity such as a Chenin Blanc or a Sauvignon Blanc can cut through that fat and clean and freshen up your mouth making the food easier to eat. Just be careful if the food itself is high in acidity as this can have the opposite effect on the wine, making it taste flabby and sweet.
Another reason for pairing wines with food is the sheer range of flavours available to us. There are so many grape varieties, made in so many differing climates in so many different ways that the array of fruit, vegetable, flower and other savoury and secondary flavours available to us is endless. You can match these to food in two different ways – either compare or contrast. If you like to put comparable flavours together, then the wine can enhance the food, bringing out hidden nuances and additions. I always enjoy Viognier with a Cape Malay chicken curry, finding the apricots in the curry match the flavours in the wine, whilst the sweet fruit notes soothe the spicy food. If you prefer contrasts, you can look for flavours that would generally go together so matching a steak to a peppery Shiraz replicates the effect of a Madagascan pepper sauce to create a successful pairing.
I could go on and on about the great pairing abilities of wine because so far, I’ve mostly been proved right! Lucy has picked some really great beers, including a pumpkin version which had me worried for a time, but for the most part, wine has won the day. One point which she does have in her favour is the carbonation of the beers she’s chosen. The bubbles do a similar job to acidity but even more thoroughly, cleaning out the mouth after fatty or cloying foods, particularly cheese. But (as we all know) bubbles aren’t the sole preserve of beer so when you are thinking about great matches, don’t forget that sparkling wines can often be very successful with food. At the end of the day, it’s all about fun and personal taste and the best part is – the more you eat and drink, the more wonderful combinations you will find! Happy matching!
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Cathy Marston is the only approved programme provider for the internationally-recognised Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) wine courses which are the most popular and widely-available wine course in the world. For details of the courses – including the stand-alone spirits courses – please go to