We caught up with Jim Bass, Bedruthan’s Beverage Service Manager and resident sommelier. One thing that’s helped to put the Herring on Cornwall’s culinary map is Jim’s expert wine pairings.
While chef George Richardson and team are in the kitchen preparing fine Cornish dishes, Jim slowly considers which bottles will harmonise with the night’s menu. As anyone who’s tried the Herring’s wine flight can attest, the food and drink come together to open new flavours: like cooking, wine pairing is also a creative act. (A wine flight is when each course of a meal comes paired with its own glass of wine.)
“A favourite quote from Michael Broadbent comes to mind,” writes Jim. “‘Drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life’s most civilised pleasures.”
And during this off-kilter time, it’s even more important to take some time to be together and enjoy something special.
The basics of a good wine pairing
Where to begin with wine pairing? According to Jim, it’s all about balance. “Great food and wine pairings create balance between all the elements of a dish and the characteristics of the wine,” he says.
But how do you actually strike this balance between different flavours? Jim explains how the fundamental idea is to create flavour combinations that are either congruent or complimentary.
- A congruent pairing is when the wine builds upon a flavour within the food (Jim gives the example of a “creamy béchamel sauce with a creamy oaky Chardonnay”).
- A complimentary pairing is when the flavours go against each other slightly to create interest (a “creamy béchamel and a zesty Sauvignon Blanc,” says Jim).
Jim Bass’s personal pairing tips
With this basic concept understood, it’s now about following your instinct, nose and tastebuds.
One route forward is to simply experiment. “I would recommend visiting your local wine merchant and purchasing some wines and create some food and wine pairings of your own,” suggests Jim.
But there are a few further insights that can help guide you. There needs to be a dynamic between the food and the wine. One shouldn’t overpower the other. Some wines work better with some foods.
To help guide the way, we asked Jim to jot down his most important insights for new sommeliers:
- The wine should be more acidic than the food.
- The wine should be sweeter than the food.
- The wine should have the same intensity of flavour as the food.
- Bitter wines work best with fatty foods.
- Think about matching the wine to the sauce not the meat.
A few suggested lockdown pairings
Sometimes the best way to understand something is to just try it. These at-home pairings can help you to understand the magic of paired wines. “Sharing balanced pairings is such a joy,” says Jim, “it’s really the favourite part of my role at Bedruthan and the Scarlet.”
+ German Riesling
Don’t feel guilty about takeout: elevate it into an experience. The flavours commonly found within Chinese food pairs well with this perfumey white wine.
Stuffed green peppers
+ Loire Cabernet Franc
Try this one for strong complimentary flavours: there’s an interesting contrast between the green pepper’s hint of bitterness and this French red wine’s slight sweetness.
+ Alto Adige Pinot Grigio
A refined classic: for a particularly crisp flavour, Jim recommends bottles from this sunny patch near to the Italian-Austrian border.