One thing will never change. Food and wine need each other. Restaurants have always been more than simply a place where we go to eat, and hunger is only ever a small part of the equation. We are seeking the total experience: of food, of people, and of wine.
For bistronomy chefs and restaurateurs it is an obvious and necessary synergy to marry food and wine in unexpected and exciting ways. If bistronomy shakes up the ossified world of French haute cuisine, then it makes sense that its approach to wine breaks down the ferocious expense and acrid snobbery that often goes with its selection and drinking. It presents another opportunity to take diners on an adventure: to disarm any preconceptions and introduce them to pairings of food and wine to which most other menus or wine lists would not lead them.
Bistronomy promotes the power of food and wine and the capacity of each to strengthen and enrich the other, to create an inimitable sensory experience. The approach is based on an understanding that the overall taste of a dish is more important than its constituent parts and that finding the right balance in a dish, and the right balance between a plate of food and the most appropriate glass of wine, is more exciting than anything else. It places an emphasis on establishing personal connections and a strong sense of place through the dishes the chefs plate and the wines they source, while seeking to establish an easy, coherent balance of flavour and texture.
With the exception of a few grape chasers, the bistronomy wine list is by and large seen as a tool to be used, not an oeuvre to be admired. Like the food menu, the wine lists are short, sharp and approachable; yet they still parlay the philosophical approach with spirit and concision. They’re not necessarily about pure harmony between wine and food: there is significant focus on their combined forces and capacity to create something of a discourse about food and wine matches designed to both challenge and excite. The objective is to offer a range of wines that are much wider in geography and style than those offered by other restaurants. Any restrictions are self-imposed and physical rather than geographical, so the choice is broad and deep. Collections are often eclectic and built on the clean, the unusual, the vanguard and wines distinctly grounded in terroir. There are controversial choices that might split the room. The wines are stylistically unique, ranging from big boisterous flavours, hugs rather than a tickle, to light delicate varietals tasting of refined English garden parties and freshly mown grass lawns.
‘At the table, for me, wine defines a meal as much as what is on the plate. It guides my seasoning and vision for a dish, and it helps me bring all the elements of cooking together. I love it.’
It is a natural progression, from understanding and caring about where food comes from to learning how grapes are grown, taking an interest in soil health, and all the flow on effects this has for the marriage of food and wine. Much has evolved in the way winegrowers manage their land. Organics, and even the more philosophically evolved practice of farm management, is no longer regarded as fringe. Bistronomy tends to celebrate wines that challenge. From those made following ancient winemaking traditions to those that follow a ‘whole bunch’ philosophy (where the winemaker includes all the grape stems in the fermentation as well as the berries). The openness enables listings of microvineyard selections, not just single vineyards but wines from rows within blocks. There are orange wines, biodynamic wines and wines based on wild yeast fermentation — where great attention is placed on when the grapes are harvested to maintain natural acidity — natural selection theory and a preference for the natural wine movement. It offers a design and pace that realises wines go in and out of style; that our tastes fluctuate; and that it is important to be aware of and open to new sensory experiences. Taste shouldn’t stop.
The wine list echoes the economic sensibility of bistronomy, working with the food to help create environments rather than temples of gastronomy’ with lists and price points that don’t act as if they are trying to pat you down for cash. They are broad, bold and unafraid to challenge the more pedestrian palate. There is a serious and genuine concern to correct the misconceptions many harbour about wine; such as price, vigneron, and the role of the sommelier. The wine list is no longer there to intimidate, but rather to delight: it’s about giving people the confidence to state their opinions and feel free enough to do that. It should be entertaining, not intimidating; fun, not fraught with indecision; all the while directing guests towards a pairing of food and wine that is as close to ideal as possible. In reality, it is so much more than this.
The bistronomy wine list places the unusual in a digestible narrative, one that is sharp, humane and always progressive. The relaxed nature of this approach to wine and the fun that it can create for the diner appeals to the growing number of people who know about wine and the even greater number who want to learn more about it. It meets the swelling ranks of those who might crave the differences in each vintage, celebrate nuance and desire wines that make them think, laugh and feel. It is an interconnection between the kitchen, the floor of the restaurant and the customer. It is crucial. And exactly what we need to ensure restaurants are humming with humankind.
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