“Man has been accorded by a kindly nature four stout companions to sustain and console him on his terrestrial pilgrimage. They are wine, spirits, fortified wines and beer. These drinks provide the solace, relaxation and stimulus that a man needs if he is to complete with equanimity his arduous and often arid journey.” – Alec Waugh
Wine well-paired with food is a delight, transforming the gustatory experience of both. Today’s post takes a pairing menu from 1886 and attempts to translate the excerpt for the contemporary (wo)man, though truth be told we hold much in common with our dining companions of the past…
Our journey starts with the glass…
When visiting a local museum the other day, I noticed they had a collection of various wine glasses circa the 1800s. My original plan was to photograph these and include them in the post. However, when I made my way back to the museum, the exhibit hall was closed for a private affair…poo poo. So, I bring you instead a collection of images carefully curated from around the web (Well, curated at the very least…).
Now you’re probably thinking, “How on earth did these delicate glasses survive 200 years when my glasses meet their bitter end every single time I host a tasting and Bacchus pays a friendly visit?” Answer: Mystery to me. My glasses come in bulk cases.
But we digress…
Let’s continue our journey into the past. Imagine your dainty wine glasses etched with intricate patterns, your friends gathered around the table, a lovely repast planned. And, oh! How the wine will flow!
But wait, which wine?
The question isn’t which wine, but rather wines, because even 200 years ago, pairing wines with your meal was a ‘thing’, and not a little thought went into the process. Check out the multi-course French Bill of Fare for a complete overview of what you might be drinking. From Chateau d’Yquem to port and Champagne, you would be in for quite an evening!
Rather than cover an entire eight course meal, let us focus instead on wine and nut pairings. Something simple. As host, you can serve these in the afternoon when guests unexpectedly drop by. They can be an appetizer or even a dessert. Further, nuts are truly a godsend when attempting to accommodate the milieu of contemporary dietary restrictions: vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, dairy free, paleo-friendly, healthy fats, not a shellfish, not an avocado, beet, tomato, or other one-off fruit/tuber, no refined sugars or artificial coloring, and 100% organic … Whew! (This was the list at our New Year’s party. Yours?)
Nuts. Versatile, socially acceptable foods. Unless, of course, you have a nut allergy.
Hmmm… Well, at least there’s still the wine! Let’s continue.
This excerpt is a trove of nut and wine pairings, to include:
- Walnuts & Madeira (This combination is absolutely acceptable)
- Filberts (hazelnuts) and sherry
- Salted almonds and sherry
- Salted chestnuts and Chianti or Baroli
- Hickory nuts and sherry
- Nuts, raisins, apples and cider
A quick glance reveals that sherry was paired with several of our nut samplers.
On the Mysteries of Sherry
Sherry is a fortified wine, created by adding distilled spirits to the finished white wine and then allowed to age porous casks. The history of distillation itself is something of story. The Greeks and Romans make oblique references to the process, with Aristotle stating that “sea water can be made potable by distillation, wine and other liquids can be submitted to the same process,” but these civilizations did not distill their wines, perfectly happy with what they had on hand.
This is probably because what they had was pretty darn good. The Greeks and Romans discovered a way to create nonporous terracotta jars, called amphorae, which would allow wines to age. Alas, the secret of amphorae making was lost to history, and it wasn’t up until the end of the 18th Century that we discovered bottles with corks would substitute the function of amphorae.
But in that 1,500 year gap, people were still drinking wine. Obviously.
Distillation was re-discovered by the Arabs, who used the practice to extract perfume from flowers. Islam, however, prevents the imbibing of alcohol. Fortunately for those of us who enjoy a tipple or two, wine-drinking Christians had extended contact with the Moorish culture through the Iberian Peninsula (a.k.a., Spain and Portugal). The art of distillation was applied to our first fortified wine, sherry, in Jerez (sherry/Jerez – see the similarity?), a border town between the two cultures, in the early 1500s.
Prior to the advent of fortification, wines were consumed young. Very young. As within one year. Anything older was likely to only be consumed as a nice vinaigrette (pure speculation on my part). Sherry, and later port, were now exportable to the rest of Europe where they gained immediate popularity. That fortified wines make up the bulk of our list above is probably no coincidence. These wines would last over extended trading routes.
Off to do some trading of my own…
In my quest to bring this list to life, we’ll now head over to my local wine shop, The Art Mart. It can be a challenge to find quality wines in the fly-over states, so this is my go-to source for anything other than your run of the mill, everyday $5 table wine. They have a marvelous selection of boutique wines, with a focus on European wines. This was the first time I’d gone to buy a fortified wine at the shop, and the selection was limited. That said, they had Lustau sherry from Jerez, Spain.
What are the odds?
On to the tasting…
A leisurely weekend mid-afternoon with another mom friend, both of us neophytes when it comes to anything other than cooking sherry. The original plan was to enjoy the English walnuts and salted almonds (Remember that if your nuts look a little moldy, stick them in a colander and shake them over some burning sulfur before sending them out to your guests. They’ll never know!), but the walnuts were unremarkable. The salted almonds, however, were a phenomenal pairing.
Sherry + Salted Almonds = New Favorite
The salt helped cut through the oak and mellow out the alcohol. Wow! This is a fantastic social drink; something to sip and share (perfect for two moms raising teenage daughters), but not every day. For that, there are other wines…
After all, “a meal without wine is a day without sunshine.” ~French Saying
This post inspired by The Drunken Cyclist’s Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #32. #MWWC32
Other Fun Discoveries:
- “All the nutriment these viands afford…” 1905
- Resolutions on Temperance: “To Uphold Every Vice and Iniquity in the Land…” ~1866
- Grapes, Thus Packed, Will Keep 9-12 Months ~1856
Source: Miss Corson’s Practical American Cookery and Household Management, 1886.