The Life of Wine

 |  August 29, 2013

As I was standing in 7-Eleven waiting for my foot-long spicy hot dog to warm up in the microwave and wondering what the devil to write about in this month’s column, my eyes came to rest on a half-bottle of well-known Australian chardonnay gathering dust next to the cigarette rack. The rack is cleverly designed so the cigarette packets cannot be seen by the young or the impressionable. But once the slats are lifted, the shelves becomes a kaleidoscope of blues, reds and greens, rotting teeth, mouldy toes and something horrific that looks like it may once have been used by its owner for breathing.

And then it struck me. There are plenty of articles written about food and wine matching, but not so many (if any!) on pairing a glass of something delicious with the ideal cigarette. The problem appears to lie in the fact that cigarettes have been scientifically proven to kill people. But when I asked a friend, “What goes well with wine?” the answer was: “Cigarettes. Cigarettes go well with all wine.”

Although sticking anything in one’s mouth, lighting the end of it and sucking is generally seen as a bad thing, it seems cigarettes really are the nadir of the smoking world. After all, it is perfectly acceptable for one of Chiang Mai’s more exclusive hotels to send me an invitation to spend a few thousand baht enjoying a selection of Cuban cigars with a range of single malts, yet I wait in vain for a summons to suck down a pack or two of Marlboro Menthols during a vertical tasting of Chateau d’Yquem.  

Cigars are less consciously linked to the malignant results of smoking than cigarettes, probably because most of us can’t afford them in bulk or don’t have the several hours of free time needed to smoke one. They are also the accepted peccadillo of Hollywood behemoths like Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro and, erm, Charlie Sheen, and few people would bat an eyelid if someone were to spark up a Cohiba Esplendido over a glass of port, whisky or brandy.

Pipe smokers also get better-than-deserved press as affable, avuncular types indulging in a hobby rather than a heart-stopping addiction. I’m quite frankly fed up with sitting down with these guys and ending up in an argument about how a bowl of Drucquer’s The Devil’s Own smoked in a Sixten Ivarsson Oliphant is always going to be quite a different pipe smoking experience than a pinch of Aged Burley Flake out of a Dr. Grabow full-bent rustic.

As I don’t not want to advocate smoking of any kind, dear reader, I have decided, for the sake of posterity, to take it on myself to investigate on behalf of your pink, shiny lungs which fags go best with which wines.

Let’s kick off with that old favourite, the Marlboro Light. This timeless classic has been thickening arteries across the Land of Smiles for decades and is probably one of the cigarettes in Thailand that pretty much pairs up with anything. But if I had to choose, I’d say these cheeky lung-ticklers are a perfect partner for something light and red. Perhaps a Pinot, a Beaujolais or a Zinfandel. 

Sauvignon Blanc, with its distinctive notes of freshly mown grass and cat’s wee, needs a lung-dart that is sweet and mild. I found the New Zealand Sauvignon I was quaffing to be perfectly set off by the freshly-brushed-teeth-taste of an L&M Menthol. 

Cabernet Sauvignon, with its unmistakable hints of blackberry, pencil shavings and spice, needed something a little more industrial. Because this particular grape often elicits heady notes of tobacco on its own, it is important not to cancel this out with a poorly considered coffin-nail pairing. Cabernet is often rather big and deserves something with a bit of a punch. Anything in a red box with Thai script on it, like Krong Thip, is probably carcinogenic enough to tame this bad boy. The great thing about a hefty, tannic red is that those embarrassing nicotine stains on one’s teeth are soon no longer noticeable under an alluring veneer of black.    

Chardonnay was a bit tricky, as I needed something to complement its creamy, buttery oakiness. Something flowery, delicate and classy was in order. Lite-Up or Mild Seven went rather fabulously with the chilled Meursault I had chosen. 

While conducting my research, I didn’t want to simply stick with the 7-Eleven staples, so I spent some time in the mountains puffing on tobacco rolled in banana leaves with a couple of farmers. Now, this really was a tricky one. Following quite a heated argument about whether the perfect accompaniment to the smoke would be a Mouton Rothschild ’45 or a Latour ’61, we decided that there was actually no better pairing for these hand-rolled stroke-inducers than a glass of Hong Thong as the sun sets peacefully over the rice fields.