Pies and wine: training

(by peter)

Eagle-eyed readers of this site will know that Susie and I are launching a new competition this year, entitled What Food, What Wine?

We are very excited about this initiative, which aims to find the best wine matches to go with 10 classic British dishes, from bangers and mash to apple crumble via chicken tikka massala.

We’re taking it very seriously: assembling a crack team of experts (no one has yet turned us down…) and getting into training.

Yes – you read that right – training. Because we need to get our heads round how best to go about judging such a competition as well as starting to calibrate our ratings and build stamina.

Granted, preparation which involves testing out lots of different wines with different foods and then discussing and rating it all, isn’t exactly the Krypton Factor. Like many wine and food lovers, we tend to do it most days anyway – we’re lucky to share our passion and profession in this sense.

The difference is that a bit more rigour and experience is needed to really judge this kind of exercise properly and to be fair to the wines under scrutiny.

So when an invitation came through from the enterprising souls at PR agency R&R to test out some wines from their portfolio with a selection of pies, we cleared the schedule and readied the oven gloves.

Our review follows below. Some general conclusions were:

  • Pies are not the easiest match for wine, given the way the pastry adds different flavours and textures to the filling. And only a limited number of fillings really work well in a pie.
  • Generally, though, the wines in question made a pretty decent fist of the matches – there were few clashes. But there were definitely some disappointments.
  • As ever, it pays to match the dominant flavours of both wine and pie.
  • However, with rich pies and rich wines, it can risk becoming all too much. We found this to be the case with the rich New World reds and the dense, meaty pies.
  • Pieminister makes very decent, imaginatively named pies which have good availability. Some were better than others (see review).

We’ll be posting more reports on our wine-and-food training regime in due course, as well as more details about the competition, which is taking place in June. In the meantime, you can check out the website, which features delicious recipes by food writer and broadcaster Jo Pratt, by clicking here.


Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2010, 13.5% (£9.99, widely available) with the Chicken of Aragon Pie (£3.50, Sainsbury’s)

Wine: Pleasant aromas of peas and passion fruit; herbal and classic but not super extrovert. On the palate, it’s not as punchy as some but approachable in nature: crunchy vegetal and yellow fruit notes. Relatively tangy, but somewhat underwhelming. Would be better value if discounted. 3.5-4/10

Pie: free range British chicken, bacon, vermouth, tarragon, garlic. Very good.

Match: The pungent flavour of the tarragon picks up very nicely on the herbal edge of the Sauvignon. The wine also works with the slightly creamy sauce. But this wine lacks the focus and tangy grip that would have made the match come together even better. Decent match, not outstanding.

Overall match rating: 3 (out of 5)

Vidal Chardonnay 2009, Hawke’s Bay, 14% (£9.99, Oddbins) with the Henny Penny Pie (£3.50, Sainsbury’s)

Wine: Toasty and smoky, with grassy and citrus hints. Quite restrained. In the mouth it has creamy popcorn and peach flavours. Not too sweet or sickly, but equally it’s not the most forceful and enticing. Lacks finesse and follow-through, ultimately. Seems to be playing it safe for broad appeal – which isn’t always a bad thing in New World Chardonnay – but in being unobtrusive it lacks wow factor. Peter: 5-5.5/10, Susie 4/10

Pie: free-range British chicken, field and porcini mushrooms, creamy sauce. My favourite pie. Great name, too, albeit somewhat macabre.

Match: Another match that works well in principle, certainly nothing clashes. The light toasty notes in the wine pick up on the creamy and mushroom flavours in the pie. But again it’s the wine itself that disappoints – we’re left with the feeling we’d have loved to try it with a punchier, more complete Chardonnay, as the dish demands more savoury grip. Still, it’s a very decent match, one we kept coming back to.

Overall match rating: 3-4 (out of 5)

Louis Jadot Combe aux Jacques Beaujolais-Villages 2009, 13% (£9.49, Waitrose, Tesco) with the Heidi Pie (£3.50, Waitrose)

Wine: One of our former Wines of the Week, this bright, cheery Beaujolais has lost a bit of its vibrancy over time but is still a lovely drop. Enticing mix of cherry and darker fruit aromas. Texture is smooth but tangy, with good juicy fruit profile. Great balance and drinkability, no rough edges, very pleasant finish. One for those who don’t like to be brow-beaten by their wine. The best wine in this line-up: works well with or without food. 6/10

Pie: goat’s cheese, red onion, roasted garlic, sweet potato, spinach. (We’re not convinced sweet potato belongs in a pie, because it makes the texture a bit heavy, but the goat’s cheese and red onion is a lovely, classic combo.)

Match: A good match, with both the pie and the wine interacting very pleasantly. But then again this wine would work with lots of dishes – and pies. Overall: moreish and refreshing.

Overall match rating: 4 (out of 5)

CVNE Rioja Crianza 2007, 13.5% (£9.49, Majestic) with the Matador Pie (£3.50, Ocado)

Wine: Earthy red berry aromatics with creamy coconut hints. Nothing too expressive. It shows better on the palate, with creamy red fruits and a gentle nip of tannin. A pleasant mix of youth and incipient maturity. Fine, good but not great, especially at the price. 5.5/10

Pie: chorizo, butter bean, beef, olives, tomatoes, sherry. (Risks seeming like a Spanish broth shoe-horned into a pie, but the flavours are so gutsy and compelling that it works.)

Match: The best match of all. Neither the pie nor the wine was our favourite but the combination of the two was excellent. Both the wine and the pie are improved by the match. And that, ultimately, has to be the point of any wine and food matching.

Overall match rating: 4-5 (out of 5)

Errázuriz Wild Ferment Pinot Noir 2009, Casablanca, 14.5% (£12.99, Majestic, Booths) with the commemorative Royal wedding ‘Kate & Wills’ pie (£3.50, available during March and April 2011 from www.pieminister.co.uk)

Wine: classic traditional Chilean Pinot Noir, showing dark black fruit, oily eucalyptus hints and creamy oak. Resinous and sultry. It’s spicy and warming in flavour, definitely full (which will satisfy some) but really lacking the lightness of touch and elegance that makes for the best Pinot. Almost a Pinot for lovers of Chilean Cabernet! But many will admire it as a rich, edgy, seductive New World red. Hot and slightly short on the finish. Peter: 5.5/10, Susie 6-6.5/10

Pie: beef, wine, bacon, pearl onions, mushrooms, brandy.

Match: The theory is sound, but this was just too much of everything. OK, so we had ploughed our way through a fair bit of pie before we got to this one, but even so the intensity of flavour and richness from both pie and wine were just overwhelming. The pie is so rich that the palate needs refreshing between mouthfuls, not pummelling as this wine does…the Rioja worked much better.

Overall match rating: wooden spoon (0 out of 5)

Grant Burge Benchmark Shiraz 2009, South Australia, 14% (£7.99, Booths) with the Shamrock Pie (£3.50, Sainsbury’s)

Wine: Quite mute on the nose, which isn’t what you might expect. Some mint and plummy aromas emerge. It’s fairly light in flavour but has some warmth to it. Pretty middle-of-the-road stuff, drinkable but bland. You get the sense that, in trying to make this wine drinkable, they’ve lost a lot of the character. Tannins are slightly powdery and it doesn’t convince. Oily on the finish. 3.5/10

Pie: beef steak, Irish stout, gravy.

Match: Another example of the logic of the pairing being sound but it not working in practice. The pie is rich but very savoury – the wine comes up syrupy and sweet. The pairing does neither pie nor wine any favours. But it’s not catastrophic, and fans of Ozzie Shiraz will no doubt find something to like here.

Overall match rating: 1 (out of 5)