Food and Wine Pairings IV: Regionality

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about regionality when it comes to food-wine pairing. My theory is this: that if you are cooking a dish from a certain region, using ingredients from that region, then a wine grown there will pair well with the food.

I came about this idea not through reasoning, but through experience. Trying to find some charcuterie and cheeses to have with leftover wines at a wine tasting, I’d originally just bought a selection that I’d liked. But the winner was some leftover Sancerre, which is sauvignon blanc from the Loire in France, with my favourite goats’ cheese, a Clochette. Some northern Italy salami went very well with the dregs of a Chianti Classico, also in northern Italy. This got me thinking- it this a particular example of foods and wines that work, or a general trend? Since then I’ve been experimenting with regional pairings, for example duck confit in south-west France, a Valpollicella from northern Italy with spag-bol, or even Normandy cider with a Normandy apple tart.

In some sense, the idea of pairing a food with a local wine might seem obvious, and why wouldn’t it? Firstly, you might expect the regional cuisine to evolve with the regional wines. Until recently, when logistics allow for people to eat and drink whatever wine they want, you would drink the wine that was produced locally, with the food that was grown locally. Winemaking styles and preferred grape varieties would be chosen based on how much people enjoyed them, which would likely include how well they paired with local food. Perhaps history has already figured out this for us.

A selection of Italian Foods and Wines

A selection of Italian food and wines.

Secondly, there are climatic factors which would make you want to pair food and wine regionally. ‘Terroir’ is the French phrase for the expression of the landscape in the climate, soils, altitude, and so on. The idea of ‘terroir’ is usually applied to growing of grapes, but there is no reason that it shouldn’t be applied to other produce of the region. In the same way that southern Italy wines are soft and fruity, we see tomatoes from southern Italy are fruity, ripe, and sweet. This will likely extend to milk and cheeses as well- the grass cows or goats eat will be affected by climate and soils too. Loire goats’ cheeses are austere and subtle, as are their wines. So far, so good.

However, food-wine pairing is never quite that simple. The biggest thing that makes food-wine pairing tricky is considering every part of the meal. Take my porcini and scallops tartlets, for instance. Porcini mushrooms, crispy bacon, chestnuts- the main flavours in the dish- are all things that might make you think of pairing an northern Italian wine, as these ingredients are often found there. But then you’ve got a creamy mushroom sauce and puff pastry, which are fatty, and so need a lighter wine with acidity- back to the drawing board. In the end I went for a pinot noir from Burgundy, falling back on food-wine pairing experience, rather than ploughing ahead with something regional.

Furthermore, for many regions, there is quite a lot of variation just within those regions. I am continually shocked at just how much Argentian Malbec can vary, from restrained, low-alcohol wines, to high-alcohol fruit bombs. But when you think about how much altitude varies- and the temperature changes that go with it- it’s not surprising the wines come out so different. Wine-making styles may have changed as the market has changed, and so the time-evolved food-wine pairings may just not apply anymore, at least unless you know exactly what is coming out of the bottle you’ve bought. Similarly, food styles are evolving very quickly with globalisation. Just looking at the spread of Indian cuisine in the UK, or the hotch-potch of cuisines we see in the USA, I would guess that changes in viticulture can’t keep up. Don’t think that it can be difficult to source proper ingredients too. If you are using local British tomatoes to make your lasagne, you will get a different flavour profile than had you used Italian tomatoes.

A selection of French food and wines.

A selection of French food and wines.

Finally, the idea of regionality is only really helpful, though, for countries that have a wine-growing tradition. If you are looking for something to pair with an Indian curry, or Thai cuisine, the ideas here don’t really take you very far. But is there a way you could take some of the principles here- looking for a wine growing country with a similar climate, for example- to get a good wine pairing? I have to say, I’m not so sure. I’ve recently become a fan of pairing the Argentinian grape ‘Torrontés’ with curries, with it’s acidity, florality, citrus flavours, and lack of sweetness, it makes a great match. Can I somehow justify that Torrontés has a similar ‘regional flavour’ as something that might come from India, or Thailand? Any link would be pretty tenuous. In my experience, for regional cuisines without regional wines, you have to fall back on other food-wine pairing principles.

Overall, I think this idea works well, if you restrict the application to more traditional fare. If you are cooking something very traditional, like the southern French ‘cassoulet‘, in a traditional manner with local ingredients- great, go for a Languedoc bottle, or other southern French wine. But as you move away from this, perhaps using beans sourced from somewhere else, and British vegetables, the wine-pairing may not do as much for you. I suppose, though, that’s all part of the fun. Experiment, have fun with food-wine pairing, and see what works and what doesn’t. At the end of the day, if you don’t like the food you are eating, or the wine that is going with it, it’s not worth putting the effort in.

If you are interested in food-wine pairings, check out my other posts on food-wine pairings, Food and Wine Pairings: The Blind Tasting Black Tie Dinner, and Food and Wine Pairings II: Wines for a Wedding, and Food and Wine piarings III: Creating a meal around sweet wines. Also, The Wine Society has a great section on food-wine pairings, and a good food-wine matcher.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Food and Wine Pairings V: Thoughts from an expert | oxfood

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