A gastronomic battleground

(by peter & susie)

Over the last two days, we have been closeted away with an expert group of food-and-wine tasters sniffing, swirling, chewing and discussing our way through over 250 wines paired with 10 dishes.

In summary, I think it’s fair to say that these have been two of the most most fascinating, exhausting, surprising and refreshing days of our life so far.

This was all part of our brand new food-and-wine competition, snappily titled What Food, What Wine?

We came up with 10 classic British dishes, from fish’n’chips to apple crumble via chicken tikka massala, and invited wine producers to send in wines which they thought would match particularly well with any given dish.

We then assembled a crack group of food-and-wine experts to help us judge. Included in what was surely one of the finest such groups assembled on these shores were the likes of Gerard Basset MS MW OBE, The Guardian’s Fiona Beckett, Ronan Sayburn MS of Hotel du Vin and The Telegraph’s Xanthe Clay. You can find a full list of the brilliant judges by clicking here.

This week was – finally – competition time.

The judges knew nothing about the wines, which were served in anonymous, numbered glasses, other than whether they were under or over £10. This in our view reflects how most people go about buying their wine – ie as an everyday or special purchase.

The only thing that mattered in this competition was how well the wine went with the dish in question. So we were served flights (ie sets) of wines, all with one dish, and we then rated the food-and-wine match. The best wines were then put forward to a second judging session, in which the top awards (trophies) were adjudicated.

The idea was to identify some great food-and-wine pairings – hopefully throwing up a few surprises along the way – and in doing so help wine drinkers experiment with confidence when it comes to finding wines to drink with their favourite dishes.

It was also a deliberate attempt to judge wine in a realistic context. Wine is often drunk with food so it seems natural to put the two things together when evaluating quality and drinkability. Equally, a wine’s origin isn’t necessarily the most important factor for many wine drinkers – whereas price and compatibility with food is.

The excellent recipes were designed by the wonderful food writer and presenter Jo Pratt, and the competition was run impeccably by the IWSC Group, ably supported by Sensible Wine Services.

We judged the competition in the glamorous surroundings of the Woodlands Park hotel – whose chef Matt Ashton deserves great credit for turning out a series of impeccable dishes to coincide with all the various wine flights.

We can’t wait to see the results, which will be announced shortly via a number of different channels, including this site. But in the first instance results will appear on the competition website, www.whatfoodwhatwine.com

You can also find the full, downloadable recipes on this site as well as details on all the judges, judging process, food and wine tips and much more.

We’ll be reporting back in due course but, in the meantime, you can read Fiona Beckett’s take on the competition (entitled ‘Why it’s tough (but right) to taste wine with food’) a news report by The Drinks Business, and a somewhat shaky (and low-audio) video of Peter interviewed mid-judging (witness the red wine stains).