At home or at work, finding the perfect wine to match a dish is a fine art – in his latest book Wine & Recipes, wine consultant Raul Diaz uses his Chilean heritage and experience of visiting over 100 countries to inform a colourful and insightful look at wine-and-food matching. Apart from featuring some dazzling recipes the book attempts to lead you into making some smart pairing choices, advice which can be used as a basis for on-site training.
“When I paired dry and off-dry white wines with cheese. It was a big moment. White wines have great acidity, good fruit concentration but they don’t normally have oak treatment, tannins and high alcohol content. These wines are more flexible than red wines when it comes to pairing them with cheeses,” Raul Diaz says.
A Chilean-born sommelier, Raul Diaz became a WSET-certified wine educator and now runs his own business, Wine Training School. He has been a TV wine presenter for Sunday Brunch, Channel 4 for several years. He is UK Ambassador for VDP German wines, and in 2018 received the award for Rioja Communicator of the Year. Apart from writing Wines & Recipes, Raul Diaz was shortlisted as a finalist for Wine Education in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2020.
Peter Dean: What has Lockdown been like for you?
Raul Diaz: It has been a real challenge for all of us in the industry. We had to stop teaching our face-to-face WSET courses at Wine Training School for months. Then we started with online courses in order to stay connected with our students. The virtual tastings – informal one hour sessions wine tasting – had been really popular since the beginning of Lockdown. Also, I have been advising lots of customers to buy specific wines that they can enjoy at home. The good thing about the Lockdown is that I could finish the book without any rush.
Yes, congratulations on writing Wine & Recipes. Tell us all a little bit about the book.
The diversity of wine and food found throughout the world is astounding. When it comes to wine and food pairing, there are some basic ‘rules’ that can help guide us to successful matches. Understanding the interrelationship between wine and food helps to enhance our enjoyment of both. Ultimately you will develop your own personal preferences but always the goal remains the same: to enjoy a delicious glass of wine with a tasty dish.
Wines & Recipes is not intended as a textbook or manual: it’s a practical guide with information presented in a fun and straightforward manner, placing more emphasis on wine than on food.
What made you want to write this book?
I am not a professional chef. I did, however, start cooking at a young age. Cooking nutritious and delicious food has been an essential part of my daily life for a long time. By profession I am a wine expert with more than 15 years experience.
I have spent much of my career tasting a wide variety of wines and pairing them with food. I wrote this book to share that practical knowledge with readers in a very accessible way.
Who is it aimed at?
The book is an invitation for everybody that has an interest in wine and food. Although we all grow up eating food, we don’t all grow up learning about wine. Wines & Recipes offers an opportunity to learn about different wines and how best to pair them successfully with food. The wine and food pairings in the book are there for the reader’s enjoyment and as guidelines. My advice would be: “Don’t be afraid to get creative and have fun experimenting with different combinations of your own choosing.”
Is it purely consumer-focused, or do you think members of the wine trade (sommeliers eg) will benefit?
The book was created to help people understand the interaction between wine and food. I believe that both consumers and members of the wine trade can benefit from it. If you are at home the book can be a very good starting point. If you a member of the trade, the book can be a very relevant tool to train your staff on a regular basis.
When we eat food and drink wine together, the food has a notable effect on the way that we perceive the flavours in the wine. If we understand the general principles of this interaction, we can enhance our enjoyment of both the wine and food. The book has some simple guidelines that will help the readers to make some smart decisions about good pairings, but everyone has different sensitivities and preferences.
How do you want it to be used?
This book is a practical guide to wine and food pairing. I have organised it so that each grape (or in some cases wine style) is paired with a recipe – for example, a Sauvignon Blanc makes the perfect pairing with a Ceviche. The grape or wine profile faces the recipe, providing you with all the relevant wine information alongside the instructions for preparing the dish. I have kept the structure of the wine profiles simple and relevant. Each one has key information about the grape or wine style. You can see the country of origin, other countries where the wine is grown, the main regions and famous appellations. All criteria are organised alphabetically.
When you are thinking of a pairing – what comes first the dish or the wine?
I derive great pleasure from harmonious pairings. Each time I think about a particular wine, I dream a bit about its country of origin, the location of the vineyard and the people. Very quickly this leads to craving foods that pair well with that wine. A great combination can heighten the enjoyment of both the food and the wine.
Why is that?
Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of travelling extensively, visiting over 100 countries. In each place I have visited, I have enjoyed soaking up the unique aromas and amazing flavours of the local cuisines.
Because of your heritage many of the recipes are Chilean. Were you tempted to make it completely Chilean recipes?
I am very grateful for my Chilean roots. This book contains several classic recipes from Chile that I hope that the readers will enjoy as much as I do. Although I was born in Chile, I have also lived in many other places. My cooking is a melding of my Chilean heritage and the influence of these diverse cultures. Over time, I have also become aware of the difference it makes to eat healthily. Consequently, it’s important to me to create and share recipes that are good for you, in addition to being delicious.
You don’t tackle blends in the book – why is that?
I wanted to keep the information accessible to the readers. Grape varieties on wine labels had been the biggest revolution since the 80s. The book showcases 41 grape varieties and nine wine styles – this is because, while you can recognise wines by the grape variety anywhere in the world, in Europe the appellation systems (specifically defined areas for growing grapes and making wine) mean that wines are often named by their region, rather than by grape variety.
What is the most perfect food & wine pairing?
Grilled trout, cucumber and apple salad with Riesling. Trout is delicate, has great texture and can be good value. In this recipe, the goal is to allow the flavours of the fish to shine by not adding anything too strong to the mix. The high acidity and aromatic character of Riesling makes a fabulous partner for this tantalising dish.
What is the worst food & wine pairing you have experienced?
I think that – to be honest – it has been several times in my life when the quality of the wines was very poor, and the cooking was mediocre. Luckily, it was not at home!
What has been the most surprising food & wine pairing, and why did it work?
When I paired dry and off-dry white wines with cheese. It was a big moment. White wines have great acidity, good fruit concentration but they don’t normally have oak treatment, tannins and high alcohol content. These wines are more flexible than red wines when it comes to pairing them with cheeses.
Artichokes – so what would you pair with them?
A nice glass of Marsanne/Roussanne blend from the Rhône Valley. This blend can produce wines with some nice body and lovely flavours of orange and apricot. They can be deeply coloured wines that, with age, develop a honeyed and nutty component with a waxy texture. Perfect for the Artichoke!
What are you working on next/ where can we next expect to see you?
I am hoping to start teaching all our WSET courses face-to-face again at our beautiful location the 5-star Corinthia Hotel in Central London soon. There are also several projects related to the book. Watch the space!
Wines & Recipes is published by Merken and is available now priced £30 by clicking here.