Food and wine pairing doesn’t necessarily require sommelier-level expertise, nor chemist-level abilities to calibrate a wine’s acids, tannins, or alcohol added to a dish. Not that a somm couldn’t lend a hand, but in a pinch, there’s a shortcut. The “what grows together goes together” approach isn’t just a philosophy, it’s a practice that delivers.
Centuries ago in the Old World, people ate and drank locally by necessity, not because it was trendy to be able to cite which farm, butcher, or dairy your goods came from. What was nearby was what you had to work with. It makes sense that communities designed wines to work with the local fare, tailored recipes to work with the local wines, or created dishes utilizing regional wine within them. A great example: classic French Boeuf Bourguignon—or Burgundy beef—made with regional Burgundy wine and local beef.
These days, we don’t have those challenges. From my Los Angeles condo I can have pretty much anything in my grasp—from Korean BBQ, to pupusas, to a simple salad. Not everyone’s home has the breadth L.A. does, but in general, modern humans have no need to worry if the grapevine growing next door will pair well with what’s growing in the garden or being raised in the barn.
While the expansive variety of food and drink we can often source is liberating, calling on classic regional pairings as a springboard is inspiring. The pairing of dishes and wines from the same place really puts me in situ, as they say in the art world (it means “in its original place”), even if I’m just ordering into my little apartment. Despite our current horticultural climate, you can’t always find the exact regional wine to go with your meal. Consider this your guide both to geographically enmeshed pairings, and how to remix them to meet your needs.
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1. Classic: Chèvre & Sancerre
Chèvre is made from goat’s milk. It’s an undeniable friend to Sancerre, made of sauvignon blanc. Both made names for themselves in the Loire Valley, particularly from the village of Chavignol. Goat cheese can be quite earthy, some might even say goat-y, and a little nutty. Sancerre’s refreshing grassy notes partner with the hearty and earthy flavors of the cheese—plus the high acidity lightens the creamy and buttery nature of a chèvre.
Hailing from the Abruzzo region of Italy, pecorino wine (not the cheese!) mirrors the Sancerre’s all-important crisp acidity and minerality, with a slightly richer and more floral edge. Plus, it will be fun to throw company for a loop when you mention you are pairing chèvre with pecorino—and why no, this is NOT a cheese-on-cheese pairing!
2. Classic: Asparagus & Alsatian Dry Muscat
Asparagus is notoriously hard to pair with wine. It contains a compound that can make wines taste weirdly metallic or overly vegetal, and can grossly exaggerate the aromas that come with oak-aged wine. The solution is found in Alsace, where dry muscat and asparagus are best friends with shared terroir. A dry muscat will be crisp and a touch floral—think orange blossoms—and have a richness that resists becoming vegetal in the face of asparagus. If anything, the asparagus tempers the wine. Try it. You may be surprised as I was.
Remix: Vinho Verde
Vinho Verde wines come from northern Portugal and are typically blended—not to mention bargains—with low alcohol and a hint of effervescence. They are refreshing, can show floral notes depending on the blend, and the light bubbles cut through any interference that may come from the asparagus. Home run at an amazing bargain.
3. Classic: Truffles & Barolo
By truffles, I mean the type that grow in the ground, not the chocolate treats. Truffles can be incorporated into, or shaved onto a variety of dishes ranging from risotto, to pizza, to French fries. Whatever you add truffles to, one thing is for sure: The truffle will likely take the lead in terms of flavor and aroma. Barolo, which is made of the nebbiolo grape, grows in the Piedmont region, like many truffles. It is likewise able to overtake the senses with its high acid, alcohol content, and tannins. Put the two together, especially in a rich dish, and they partner in a dance that must be tried to be believed.
Xinomavro, from Naoussa, is the nebbiolo of Greece. Enough said. But in case that isn’t enough, I’ll add that it has the same nature, with all the right stuff from the high tannins to the earthy and floral aromas that make a Barolo dance. It definitely keeps up with truffles.
4. Classic: Parmigiano Reggiano & Lambrusco
Both the cheese and the wine hail from the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. Lambrusco wines come in quite a few styles, depending on which clone is used and how the wine is made, but the deepest and driest of them, lambrusco grasparossa di castelvetro, cries out for a protein-rich foodstuff. Its balsamic aromas match well with the browned nut flavors and the saltiness inherent in Parmigiano. The animal in the cheese pulls out the earthy notes in a richer lambrusco making it more than a fruit bomb, and the bubbles in the lambrusco break down the fat.
Got a dish finished with Parmigiano, or relying on the rind to infuse it with flavor, as many stews do? Savory and earthy wine is where it’s at for a Parmigiano pairing, so I’m gonna stay in Italy, not too far away, and recommend a barbera d’asti or a barbera d’alba. They hit the ripe red fruit and earthy herbal notes with a hit of acid all cheese can use.
5. Classic: Oysters & Muscadet
Oceanside fare, meet oceanside wine! Muscadet is a dry white from the westernmost side of the Loire valley, right by the Atlantic ocean. They boast a hint of briny aromatics, but frequently are bottled as “sur lie” a process means that as the wine matured, it was allowed contact with the spent yeast cells, which adds a richness and body to the wine that won’t be fully subdued by oyster flesh (which I know some vegans eat them I am not there yet). Muscadet mirrors the marina freshness of oysters while adding the light richness of lees contact making a harmonious pairing.
REMIX: Albariño from Rias Baixas
Like Muscadet, this is a wine with a lot of seaside influence with body, also often intensified by lees contact. Albariño can be a bit more floral, but it is in touch with the sea. It hits all the right chords.
6. Classic: Bistecca Alla Fiorentina & Chianti Classico
Made from Italy’s Chianina cattle, bistecca alla Fiorentina is a classic Italian steak dish incorporating lemon and rosemary as finishes. The fat and protein temper the drying tannic nature of chianti classico, made from the sangiovese grape. The herbs in the dish complement the wine’s aromatics. It’s like you can taste the nearby land in both.
Remix: Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon
We’re going to Australia! It goes head-to-head with Chianti in terms of being tannic and powerful. The fruit here will be richer and more fruit-forward. It can be herbal, like sangiovese, although it will veer more in the direction of minty notes given the eucalyptus growing nearby.