Defining delicious


As Victoria Moore publishes her new book, The Wine Dine Dictionary, she talks to Sophie Thorpe about the horror of pairing, and the need for a new approach to food and drink

“I spend half my day thinking about what I’m going to have for dinner, don’t you?” Victoria Moore, the decidedly petite author of The Wine Dine Dictionary peers at me curiously, almost in disbelief that there could be another way to pass one’s time.

Over the past decade, Moore has – through her wine column in The Telegraph, not to mention her first book How to Drink – been making wine and wine writing accessible. Her new book, a rabbit hole that I’ve been regularly disappearing into, tackles food and wine pairing, or as she terms it “happy eating and drinking”.

“I don’t like it when people have rules around drinking,” Moore tells me. “The area of food and wine matching is fraught with the idea that there are rules, and this word ‘pairing’ comes up, which is one of the most dispiriting words ever. It fills me with horror.”

While I’m of a similar breed to Ms Moore, living from one meal (and bottle) to the next, the search for the “perfect pairing” can seem exhausting. It is often made to seem elusive, an exclusive and un-masterable art, reserved only for those with the finest noses and most skilled palates.

“We’re quite happy to talk about how different foods and different flavours go with each other – as long as they’re on the plate,” Victoria says. And it’s true, perhaps the rise of the celebrity chef, the swathes of cooking shows and rise of the small plate has democratised food – but wine is still waiting in the wings. Kept off screen, the masked bottles are robed in a false mystery.

Victoria’s easily navigable Dictionary deciphers the code, gently and humanly providing inspiration for ingredients and bottles. As one might expect, the first half translates over 400 food entries into bibulous options; the second half transposing grapes and a few select appellations onto edible counterparts.

“In a way the most difficult thing was trying to organise the back of the book [the wine-dine section], because most classical wines are blends. At what point does something pivot its way out of a grape variety and into its own wine?” As a result the guide isn’t limited to grapes or appellations, but combines both, for example, with Bordeaux listed under Cabernet Sauvignon, but Pomerol and St Emilion sneaking in their own entries.

It’s a moreish read, littered with recipes and titbits from winemakers around the world – suggestions of what they enjoy most with their wine, and sometimes how to make it. There are plenty of familiar names – from Andrea Mullineux and Mario Fontana to Randall Grahm and Alvaro Palacios, picked because Victoria enjoys their wines, but also to guide readers to good bottles. It’s reassuring to see the obvious not avoided for the sake of intrigue (such as smoked salmon with English sparkling wine, as suggested by Brad Greatrix), although there is plenty of excitement within the book’s pages too.

Moore has been planning the book for years: “I just had to write it in the end to stop it banging around in my head.” It could have been a never-ending project, but at 120,000 words (almost double the original brief), and when the deadline came (the second time), The Wine Dine Dictionary was declared done.

Sitting on my desk, this is a book that I couldn’t help dipping into, drifting from entry to entry, drooling and hungry. But it walks a wonderful line, appealing to both expert and enthusiast with its tone, the winemakers’ notes providing a face for the bottles and flavours – a human note that helps, perhaps, to peel back a layer of wine’s mystery.

The Wine Dine Dictionary is published by Granta Books, priced at £20, and available in our shop at 63 Pall Mall. Join us on Wednesday 7th June, from 5 to 7pm, when Victoria will be in-store signing copies.