What’s the best wine to pair with furred game? An app developed by a Birmingham food lecturer will tell you in an instant, writes Food Critic Richard McComb
It’s a phrase capable of striking fear into the heart of a nervy, inexperienced diner.
You are entertaining a new lover, or more terrifyingly, a table of business associates. You need to act the part, not look a twit. The sommelier schmoozes up to the table, his jacket lapels studded with insignia celebrating the depth of his varietal knowledge. He can sniff a chilled gamay at 200 yards.
And he asks: “Is Sir/Madam ready to choose the wine?”
The alarm bells, which started ringing when you were handed the encyclopaedic wine list, are making your ears bleed.
Panic no more, for Birmingham food lecturer Amy Hollier has come up with a vine idea. She has developed a new app, Wine Find, that gives novice wine-drinkers and aspiring enthusiasts a solid grounding in pairing wines with food.
For 69p and the investment of a small amount of time, it is possible to transform your knowledge of grape varieties and drinking styles in order to get the best out of the dining experience.
Amy, a former operations manager at Simpsons restaurant in Edgbaston, is a food service lecturer at University College Birmingham and takes wine studies and a senior role in training budding waiters and waitresses in front of house service.
The app, developed in partnership with Halesown-based Smartphone Media, works as both a training tool for hospitality students, a point of reference for industry professionals and a bank of knowledge for anyone who loves food and wine but isn’t sure how to get the best out of both.
The beauty of having a “portable” app is that diners can check for recommendations while sitting in a restaurant.
If you don’t want to let anyone else in on where your amazing knowledge of the flavours and the food-matching potential of sangiovese, petit verdot and mourvèdre comes from, simply excuse yourself from the table, nip to the loos and hit Wine Find on your iPhone.
Amy saw a gap in the market after discovering that the majority of wine apps were American-based. They were great at matching zinfandel to hot dogs but not so helpful with recommending what to glug with rabbit stew.
Amy’s app, incidentally, has a comprehensive section of “furred game” (as well as “feathered game”) including venison, hare, wild boar and rabbit (for which she suggests wines made with mourvèdre and cabernet franc grapes or a syrah-based Cornas from the Rhone).
Explaining her motivation for the project, Amy says: “People are always phoning me or texting me and saying ‘What is a nice bottle of wine?’ and ‘What will it go with?’ and I thought there must be a way round it.”
It took six months to collate the information for the app, which was launched last month. Amy says she was under pressure to make sure Wine Find is 100 per cent accurate and up-to-date as it is branded by University College Birmingham and will be used as a teaching aid and revision guide by students.
The app’s main focus is to provide a comprehensive guide to matching wine with food – and food with wine.
If you have a particularly fine bottle of rosé Champagne, the app will suggest food pairings (summer pudding and raspberry pavlova).
Similarly, if you are puzzled as to what to serve with a more unusual dish, say octopus, the app will do that, too. For the eight-armed sea creature, Spain’s albariño and viura get the nod from Amy.
There are a number of nifty additional features to Wine Find. A “flavour wheel” allows users to hit a section highlighting a specific taste (mineral, savoury, nutty, herbal etc) and access a list of grape varieties that best much a sub-group within that flavour profile.
So, if you fancy a wine evocative of spice, you hit that tab on the wheel and you get a number of choices of spice – such as liquorice, pepper and cinnamon – and a corresponding breakdown of matching grape types. For liquorice there is zinfandel; for pepper, shiraz, grenache and grüner veltliner; and cinnamon throws up tawny port and Madeira. There is an “Ask The Expert” feature, which allows users to email Amy and get personalised suggestions, and you can create your own wine label library and upload the pictures and your comments directly to Facebook or Twitter.
My first entry was a bottle of Philizot & Fils Champagne Brut from Aldi. It cost £12.99. And that’s one of the other big attractions of the app. It cuts through some of the lingering snobbery that continues to plague the appreciation of wine.
Amy, who will be regularly updating the app, recognises that teaching wine studies is a “minefield” and has no time for condescension.
“There is a lot of snobbery,” she says. “Some people who know a bit about wine reel off loads of information and they baffle you.
“But wine should be accessible. Wine is about socialising and enjoying what you are drinking. A lot of effort goes into making wine so it is nice to find out more about it.”
Prof Ray Linforth, UCB principal, who backed Amy’s project, says: “Alongside being a fun, lifestyle app for wine enthusiasts, Wine Find will be a very useful educational teaching tool to help hospitality students improve their knowledge and ultimately enhance their confidence when advising diners and creating menus.”