Red wine with Fish…?

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Well, would you? That old cliché about drinking “red wine with meat and white wine with fish” seems to have been around since Moses was a boy. There was a time when most red wines were more full-bodied than whites, but this is no longer always true. A fruit-packed white Californian for example, can have more weight than a light red such as an Italian Merlot.

It has become trendy to serve red wine with fish, but I think a fish meal needs to be quite assertive to stand up to a red wine – even a light-bodied one. Some red wines produce odd metallic tastes with fish. At a rather up-market dinner I went to last year, they trundled out bottles of red for the fish course, but I think they were pushing their luck, for it simply didn’t work. At least, not for me. For one thing, it just looked odd.

Cellar at The Campagnola winery Cellar at The Campagnola winery

The whole palaver of wine and food pairing has created a huge industry of its own and you could fill truckloads of books and magazines on the subject. Of course, it’s all a bit subjective and boils down partly to personal preference and common sense. If in doubt, play it safe. For robust food select a robust wine; for light food, light wines. But there has been enough written on this subject and I don’t propose to add any more. (You just have – Ed.)

Here are two wines that work well with food; both from the Campagnola winery, a family-managed company founded in 1886 by Carlo Campagnola. The winery is in the modest village of Valgatara in the province of Verona – the centre of the Classic Valpolicella zone.

Della Casa Bianco 2010 (white), Italy (Friendship, Bt. 345)

This wine would work well with a lot of Thai dishes provided that they are not to fiery. Spicy curries for example, tend to make this kind of wine taste astringent. But it would be great with light chicken or fish dishes.

“Why?” I hear you ask. Well, there’s a bright, dry tangy mouth-feel with a dash of refreshing acidity so it could make a pleasing contrast with chicken or fish in a creamy sauce. White fish often improves with a bit of acidity, hence the practice of serving it with a slice of lemon. This straw-coloured wine has lovely aromas of sweet fresh pineapple and peaches with an attractive minty aroma in the distance. It’s light-bodied, plenty of fruit on the palate and pleasing dry citrusy finish too. The wine has a light 11.5% alcohol content and apart from the food possibilities, it would make a delightfully refreshing apéritif.

Della Casa Rosso 2010 (red), Italy (Friendship, Bt. 345)

This is a rich warm red, with a pleasing oily appearance in the glass. There’s an attractive fruity aroma – jammy, herby and brambly with hints of spice and pepper in the background. The taste comes as quite a surprise for the wine is quite sharp and lively, with a dash of acidity but very little tannin. The finish is fairly short, dry with a slight hint of citrus. I think the Della Casa Bianco is actually a better product, but if you are having pizza or pasta, this homely wine should work very well.

I know pizza isn’t exactly haute cuisine, but it’s always been a favourite of mine. One of the very best I ever tasted was not in Italy (where they can sometimes be disappointing) but in an Italian restaurant in Bali, of all places. Of course, pizza started out as peasant food. It was sold on the streets of Naples in the sixteenth century and was probably around for a good many years before that. Traditionally, pizza has always remained a simple dish, although it can be surprisingly difficult to find really authentic ones, especially around here.

To my mind, simple food needs simple wine and for pizza, an ordinary cheap Chianti of Valpolicella is just the thing. Anything grander would just feel wrong. It would be like drinking Château Margaux with a bag of chips. But no doubt there are people rich enough and eccentric enough to try just that. Anyway, this lively red would be just the thing for pizza. But not with the fish fingers, thank you very much.