When I first began learning about wine in 2010, I was told by my instructor to throw the book of rules out the window.
“At the end of the day, if it’s something you like? You can pair it with whatever you want,” he told us.
That said, he also taught us the basic and classic pairings we often come across in the culinary world. Pouilly Fumé with seafood. Big, bold “new world” Cabarnet Sauvignons with grilled steak. Canadian ice wines, served in tiny glasses with dessert or cheeses.
I didn’t go very far with my actual wine education, but these classes opened up the world of wine for me in a way I didn’t expect. After this, drinking wine became an adventure. I could have very easily gotten notions about it all. But one thing kept me grounded.
Going home and spending time with my family.
My elderly aunties are a hoot, and they like to drink Pinot Grigio out of a box. My dad likes to drink cheap Merlot out of a box. And guess what? So do I. When I’m with them, I drink what they drink. And I love it. We have the chats and have potluck-style, “anything goes” dinners; drinking the same wine all evening (whether it “pairs” or not). If it’s just me and Dad, he grills steak on the barbecue and I’ll make baked potatoes to go with our boxed Merlot. What I’m trying to say is: your guests – your friends and your family – don’t need to break out the fancy stuff just because they’re visiting. They understand the effort you’re putting in to not only cooking a meal, but making the time to spend with them. Neven’s recipes for this month’s Entertaining at Home are brilliant, because most of it can be prepared a day – or even several days – beforehand. They will give you valuable time to spend with your loved ones.
If you’re entertaining a crowd, it doesn’t make sense to break the bank on fancy wines. Here are a few I found in my local supermarkets in rural Tipperary which are always in stock, taste great, pair well with Neven’s recipes and don’t cost the earth.
Delle Venezie DOC, €7.99 at Aldi
Neven’s starter has so many flavours and components to it - a little something for every taste. When it comes to pairing a wine with his multi-topping bruschetta, you don’t need to stick to one type of wine, either. You could go red here - I would especially like a juicy Pinot Noir to pair with the brie or the beetroot toppings - or you could go with a rose, or a white, as I did with this affordable and tasty Pinot Grigio from Aldi. Italian Pinot Grigios are generally balanced in flavour and make for great drinking either on their own, or with lighter appetisers. Like all of the wines this month, it’s a crowd pleaser and at €7.99, it’s affordable enough to buy several bottles. I would keep them in a tub, on ice, and let guests help themselves - to both the bruschetta and the wine!
DOCG Campomaggio, €12.79, Dunnes Stores
The priciest wine on the list today, I don’t think there’s ever going to be a better match for a lasagne bolognese than a classic chianti. This one, from the Simply Better range at Dunnes Stores, is delicious. It has enough body to stand up to the big flavours from the bolognese, but also enough acidity to cut through the rich, creamy bechamel sauce. Using 100% Sangiovese grapes, this chianti is made using traditional methods and is aged for 12 months in oak casks. For what you’re getting, €12.79 is a steal.
Rose, €7.99, Lidl
For dessert, we have some delicious flavour combinations in Neven’s panna cotta: creamy, zingy, sweet and tart. You could go down the dessert wine route here and opt for a sweet or off-dry Moscato, but these can be hard to find in rural Ireland, sometimes. Something you can always find - and at an affordable price - is prosecco. I think a rose prosecco, like this one which you can regularly find at Lidl, hits all the right notes to enjoy with a fruity dessert. I don’t normally like overly sweet things, and combined with the creamy buttermilk and lemon flavours in the panna cotta, this extra dry bottle of bubbly cuts through the richness and complements the berry compote beautifully.