Long one of the most disparaged of cuisines, English cooking is having a renaissance of sorts. Granted that’s only if you’re generous enough to acknowledge that there ever was a golden age. For centuries the English aristocracy ate mostly French food as a way to distinguish themselves from the commoners. Despite the traditional disdain of the elite, the derogatory view of English cooking is a relatively recent phenomenon.
During World War II and for a decade later England faced severe rationing of many foods. This limited the national menu and resulted in English cooking becoming the butt of many jokes. In fact, the contribution of English cooking is only slightly less impressive than their contribution to wine.
As I proffered in prior columns, the English have contributed a great deal to the wine world, not the least being the modern wine bottle, rediscovering the cork closure, fortified wines, Claret, dry Champagne and significant others.
Their contribution to the world’s food culture is a bit more modest, yet not as meager as you might think. Let’s take a look at some English classics and their natural wine companions.
Nothing is quite so quintessentially English as fish and chips. For over 150 years these morsels of fresh fish in batter with a side of chips served piping hot with a sprinkle of vinegar and salt has delighted the palates of countless Englishmen.
Beer may be the “go to” beverage for fish and chips but I’m more than happy to be a contrarian here and opt for a nice acidic white. Why? Nothing quite so elegantly and effectively cuts through the grease of this dish and helps balance the palate as a structured white wine.
Almost any nice dry white wine will do but one of my favorites with fish and chips is the Barone Ricasoli Torricella white wine from Tuscany. The 80 percent Chardonnay contribution provides elegance while the 20 percent Sauvignon Blanc contribution provides freshness. This balanced white wine beautifully embellishes any fish and chip experience.
Whether you’re enjoying the common pork pie made with cured meats or the Meltan Mowbray pork pie made with fresh pork these meaty English treats benefit from the right wine. I like pairing these pies with a reasonably priced wine from Languedoc in the South of France. My pick here would be the delightfully fruity and spicy Les Jamelles Syrah Pays d’Oc as this red nicely complements the savory nature of the pies.
Steak and kidney pie is another English icon. The somewhat gamy nature of this dish begs for a ripe and substantial red wine. Good Spanish Tempranillo reds are worthy associates to steak and kidney pies as they accentuate the rich flavors of the dish and assuage any gaminess. One of my favorites is Elias Mora Crianza from Toro, which features lovely black cherry and black current aromas and flavors.
Fish and chips, pies and other English classics all taste better with wine, but what’s the ultimate English dish for wine pairing? None other than roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and gravy.
Wine and beef are one of the most ancient of all pairings. The modern English roast beef dates back to the 15th century or about the same time the royal guards became known as the Beefeaters. So beloved is this dish that Henry Fieldings wrote a patriotic ballad called “The Roast Beef of Old England” in 1731. Also in the 18th century, the French started calling Englishmen “les rosbifs.”
There are of course numerous styles of red wine that match beautifully with roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. But in due respect to the greatest Englishman of the modern era (at least to Americans), Sir Winston Churchill who was passionate about linking the English-speaking peoples, I’ll focus on Napa Valley. Granted, quality Napa reds certainly don’t come cheap but then neither do big hunks of roast beef. So let’s splurge a little.
Napa Merlot, Zinfandel and Pinot Noir reds all can be excellent, but most of the region’s best red wines are all or predominantly made with Cabernet Sauvignon. Replete with concentrated dark and red fruit qualities, the best Napa Cabernets also feature a solid tannic backbone, giving them balance and making them ideal partners to roast beef. The fruit in these wines augments the flavors of meat much like a sauce does while the tannins cut through the fat and aid digestion.
There are too many terrific Napa Valley Cabernets to mention, but one of my favorites is Beringer Grand Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. What makes Beringer one of my favorites is its consistency. While other pioneering Napa wineries have had their ups and downs over the years, Beringer has enjoyed a nearly unparalleled run of excellence since its establishment in 1876. Other fine Napa Cabernets are made by Stag’s Leap, Pahlmeyer and Heitz Cellar.
Where to buy in Shanghai
Wine Residence (55 Wulumuqi Rd S., 3423-9599)
Beringer Grand Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Beringer Founder’s Estate Cabernet Sauvignon