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Should restaurants offer a ‘soft drink’ pairing along with their wine recommendations?
I’ve noticed a recurring theme cropping up during the month of October – acquaintances giving up booze. I have several strong-willed friends who are embarking on either get fit routines, pre-Christmas slim downs or charity ‘sober for October’ fundraisers. Now I am in awe of their fortitude but would personally rather join a gym than give up wine. Not that I am a raging alcoholic – rather a gluttonous foody and what perplexes me about this abstention is what they drink with their food if not wine?
Now I am not suggesting that wine should be taken every night, but even with the simplest dishes, Mr R and I have fallen into rather a habit of pairing wines that we have found enhance the food. When making a seafood risotto, a glass of crisp Viognier is de riguer in our house. Chilli demands an Argentinian Malbec and Spag Bol has to be Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
Water is of course a default soft drink but how dull to think that is the only choice available for diners when spurning the grape. With 17% of the UK reportedly tee-total I find it actually quite puzzling that there aren’t indications on dining menus as to which soft options would be best with a particular dish. I decided that it was a public service to carry out some research for my deprived friends and find out what soft drinks could be successfully matched to food and would effectively help the flavour of the dish rather than mask it. The results (which are a mixture of trying it myself and online research) were both obvious and surprising!
Apple Juice – lends itself to anything porky of course but I also found a recipe for shrimp and pea risotto which recommended apple juice as an accompanying drink and it worked exceptionally well.
Cranberry Juice – a good partner with lamb. I tried the children with it for a Sunday roast and though I still had my traditional Rioja to hand, the Cranberry was really very pleasant. Make sure it is the unsweetened variety.
Elderflower Bubbly – as long as it’s not too fizzy or syrupy, Elderflower is a great alternative to white wine especially if diluted further with soda water. A good choice with seafood but surprisingly it also paired very well with the cheese course we served up Sunday. The cheeses were all quite hard and fruity however so may not work as well with a sloppy epoisse.
Cucumber Water – I had this recently at a spa day lunch with a Pad Thai and my fellow guest also drank the same with a noodle dish and reported that the fresh and surprisingly strong flavour really helped enhance the nutty spice of the asian cuisine. I concurred!
Ginger Fizz – I personally pair ginger with scotch but according to Susy Atkins of The Telegraph it also works rather well with panna cotta so it may also be the case with other creamy deserts. In another twist I read online that it can be a great alternative to beer when eating a spicy curry – helping to combat the heat in the dish.
St Clements (orange and lemon) – Gabriel David, the owner of Luscombe Drinks believes this classic soft fruit juice is a great compliment to food dishes, from a herby steamed mussel dish to a salty gammon steak. They have a lovely range of handmade luxury fruit juices which unusually all come with tasting notes and food recommendations.
Traditional Still Lemonade – great with mid-week pasta. Better with tomato based dishes than a carbonara and needs to have high lemon content but a lovely tangy alternative with a med veg dish.
So my research shows that as long as you choose wisely and stick to more sophisticated juices (lets face it at approx £2.99 a bottle these extravagant ‘presses’ still come up much cheaper than the most basic plonk) a spell off the booze may not be quite as dire as first thought. It’s not enough to encourage me to give up booze for a month, but I may consider allowing Mr R a little time off being designated driver – occasionally.
Have you any soft drink/food pairing recommendations to make? Let us know and comment below!
By Mrs Robinson
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