Ask Bob

I bought a bottle of Montana Pinot Gris recently and was surprised to read “The wine was clarified the traditional way using dairy and fish products. Traces may remain.” Since when have dairy and fish products been used to make wine? – J Simmons, Tauranga

Recent changes to wine labelling laws now require winemakers to include any products used in the winemaking process that may potentially cause an allergenic reaction. Dairy products such as casein and fish products like isinglass have been used for many years to clarify wine. Clarifying a wine is generally carried out at the end of the winemaking process and before bottling. The additive is mixed into the wine and allowed to settle to the bottom of the tank or barrel. It carries with it suspended solids in the wine so that the final wine is bright rather than dull. Clarifying a wine not only makes a wine look better, it may in some cases extend the wine’s life. The wine is subsequently racked into another tank and often filtered to remove the clarifying agent. Allergen labelling is a precaution against the unlikely possibility that a residue of the fining agent remains in the wine.

Can you settle an argument? During a chat about food and wine matching one of my friends claimed that no wine can match a chocolate dessert while another says that Cabernet Sauvignon is the thing to have with chocolate. Who is right? – K Lee, Parnell

In my view they’re both wrong.

Chocolate desserts have one thing in common: a strong flavour and plenty of sweetness. To match the strong flavours of chocolate you need a very full-flavoured wine. The wine needs to be slightly sweeter than the dish. Sweetness in food reduces our perception of sweetness in wine. If the wine is too dry, it will clash with the sweet dessert, making the wine taste bitter.

White chocolate tends to be sweeter than dark chocolate which can be quite bitter. Milk chocolate falls somewhere between these two extremes.

A luscious and very sweet dessert wine, such as Villa Maria Noble Reserve Riesling (tastings) will suit most white chocolate puddings.

Dark chocolate desserts present even more of a challenge. They need a wine with at least moderate sweetness plus enough weight and flavour to mask the bitterness in the chocolate. Australian Liqueur Muscat or Liqueur Tokay is the perfect choice.

Milk chocolate desserts can be partnered with port or, even better, sweet Spanish sherry made from 100% Pedro Ximénes, the grape that is traditionally used to sweeten sherry and occasionally to make a rich, treacle-like wine.

I get headaches when I drink red wine, presumably from the preservatives used in them. Can you recommend a preservative-free red wine? – E Andrews, Christchurch

Red wines have a natural preservative, tannin. As a result they generally need less of the added preservatives, sulphur-dioxide or ascorbic acid, than white wines. The likely cause of your headache is red wine’s natural preservative, tannin, and not the added stuff.

According to a paper published in the British Medical Journal titled “Red wine drinker’s headache syndrome”, a component of tannins stimulates the production of histamines when we drink red wine. A small percentage of people have an adverse reaction to histamines and get headaches as a result. The paper suggested a remedy. If you take half an aspirin one hour before you drink red wine it will help suppress the production of histamine.

I recommended this cure to five friends. Four claimed it was a miracle while the fifth said it didn’t work. It’s certainly worth trying. Good luck.

First published in Taste Magazine NZ – Aug 2005.

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