Whatever line of work we’re in, we each have our heroes. That person whose work and style somehow just chimes with you, draws you in, makes you lose yourself, inspires awe and sweet jealousy in equal measure. Mine is Wine Writer, Victoria Moore.
No other writer can capture the essence of a wine or place with such analytical yet evocative accuracy, without resorting to an excessively high word count or use of florid descriptive terms. To me, her columns have always had that ‘Derren Brown’ factor, particularly to my younger, aspiring Wine Journalist self.
I have crystalline memories from when I still lived at home with my parents. Every Saturday morning I would pull out the Weekend section from their copy of The Daily Telegraph, park myself in front of the Aga and read Victoria’s column aloud. We’d be transported en famille to the flint-stoned vineyards of Chablis, the steep terraces of the Duoro Valley and the arid, red earth of Spain’s Priorat region. Her magic dust would stay with me throughout the day, giving me tall dreams of one day being able to achieve something similar myself.
When I heard Victoria was releasing her second book back in March, on food and wine pairing, all my poker chips were in. If there was ever a subject that needed the ‘Moore’ treatment, it’s this one. Let’s be honest, we’re generally baffled by choosing wines to go with food, and that’s not our fault. ‘Definitive guides’ have been barking out contradictory advice forever, and please don’t get me started on the term, ‘as a rule of thumb’…
At not an insignificant size, The Wine Dine Dictionary might look like a formidable tome, but like a Nobu Bento Box, it’s concise, appealing and vividly-coloured inside. ‘It’s structured like a foreign language dictionary‘, clarifies Victoria. This is the first sentence she’s been able to utter through my fan-boying obsequiousness when we first meet, which I tone down so she can continue. ‘People still get nervous about wine, and when it’s paired with food it can become something so deep and intricate that it loses its relatability. I even think the word ‘pairing’ sounds too specialised. I just like to write about it in a breezier way, letting people know that a Chianti goes well with the Lasagne on page 118, for example‘.
With a seemingly exhaustive list of food and wine matching options sprinkled with anecdotes from an impressive list of Winemakers, I was fascinated to know what her research looked like. ‘I’ve had in it mind to write this book for years, so with every press trip, dinner and Winemaker interview I’ve always squirreled away certain nuggets to include if I ever got around to writing it’. It was important for Victoria to include other voices, which is why her book is punctuated with vignettes from Winemakers depicting their most memorable food and wine pairings.
So then, what are some of Victoria’s own favourite matches? ‘Crab meat and Albariño, the subtle sweetness of the crab meshes so beautifully with the peachy vivaciousness of the Galician white.’ I can’t resist asking what her match from hell might be, but end up feeling like the question was a rather silly one as Victoria answers, with complete poise, ‘when you can’t taste the wine properly with the food, or vice versa.’ Then, without missing a beat she adds, ‘Oh, and anything matched with chilli tastes harsh and flat’. I suddenly feel redeemed.
Despite a whole psychological side to drill down into, requiring a Diploma in the Psychology of Tasting to understand (which Victoria happens to have), the emphasis of The Wine Dine Dictionary is on wine and food matching as subjective and fun. It’s a book that helps you avoid the potholes in the road, a wine and food ‘Spotify’ that empowers you to start trusting your own sense of taste by doing your own research. So, with only two occasions for ‘culinary investigation’ each day, as A.J. Liebling rightly pointed out, I think we’d better get on with it. Don’t you?
❊ The Wine Dine Directory by Victoria Moore is published by Granta, RRP £15.