I spent the past week traveling around California with Daniele Cernilli, aka DoctorWine.
Daniele is one of the most renowned wine critics and journalists in Italy and he came to California for a series of wine seminars and tastings for both the trade and consumer in conjunction with his book The Ultimate Guide to Italian Wine 2018.
While I was organizing these events, I worked with him to design menus for four meals to pair with the wines. From planning the menus to sitting down for the meals, I absorbed much of the insight he had to share about the importance of food and wine pairing.
Daniele made a point of the fact that Italians eat and drink together. They believe that wine is meant for food and explained that pairing wine and food “is a religion for us.” There are many considerations when it comes to food and wine pairing, and Daniele offered a few key tips.
First, the simplest way to think about food and wine pairing is color. If you have white meats, pair with white wine, pink meats (e.g. salmon) with rose and red meats with red wine. But, here is an interesting point about red meat: what is also important to consider is the time it takes to cook the meat. Daniele explained that the “time of cooking is related to the aging of the wine.” If the meat is grilled and served rare or medium rare, pair with a young red wine. But, if the meat has been cooked for a long time and is more of a brown color, pair with an old red wine.
Usually, you want a contrast between your food and your wine. If you have a fish dish with acidity, then a white wine with a creamier body will be a good pairing. If you have a fish dish with a creamy or buttery sauce, then an acidic white wine will be a better pairing. Contrasting is usually a safe bet except when it comes to sweets. Sweet dishes, such as dessert, pair best with sweet wines.
Acid and Tannins
Acidity makes your mouth water. When you have an acidic wine, it is good to pair with foods where the fat is already inside, such as salami. Tannins, on the other hand, dry your mouth. As a result, tannic wines are best paired with foods with added fats, for example, a braised meat where butter or oil are added. In addition to pairing tannic wines with foods with added fats, you can also pair a tannic wine with spicy food as the tannins are textural and will act like bread does by cleaning the palate.
Based on the wines we were drinking this past week, below are some of the sample pairings that worked best, based on the above rules:
Contadi Castaldi Brut Rose NV Franciacorta DOCG—Located in the north of Italy in Lombardy, Franciacorta is a region for sparkling wine, similar to Champagne. However, Champagne is a colder area and the acidity is intense in the wines. With Franciacorta, the temperatures are a little warmer, so the resulting wine has a bit more body and slightly lower acidity. This makes the wine great to pair with food and we enjoyed it with both a grilled octopus dish with frisee, potatoes, olives, chilies and lemon olive oil as well as with a lobster carbonara with egg yolk.
Colosi Nero d’Avola 2017, Sicilia—Colosi is located on a small volcanic island in the north of Sicily where vines, capers and figs grow. The Nero d’Avola, which sees no time in oak, has aromas of capers. In this wine, acidity is more important than tannins and is a wine that can be paired with grilled tuna and bouillabaisse. For us, the Nero d’Avola paired perfectly with scaloppini piccata, thin strips of tender veal sautéed in butter, white wine and lemon and topped with capers.
I Tre Vescovi Barbera d’Asti DOCG 2015—In Piemonte, in the north of Italy, Asti is the birthplace of Barbera. While Nebbiolo, grown a bit farther south in Piemonte, is known for its tannins, Barbera is about its acidity. And this is a wine that will match with charcuterie. Or Daniele likes to suggest pairing Barbera with barbecue. The Barbera worked very well with a rigatoni Bolognese topped with aged provolone.
Tenuta Bocca di Lupo Castel del Monte DOC 2011, Puglia—This wine is from Puglia in the Southeast of Italy. The grape is Aglianico, often called the “Barolo of the south”. The wine comes from a high-elevation vineyard with rocky soil and produces a wine with texture and both tannins and acidity. This Aglianico, with a few years of age on it, was paired with slow braised lamb shank with white bean ragu, natural jus and gremolata.
Statti Arvino IGP Calabria 2015, Calabria—Located in the south of Italy, between Campagna and Sicilia, Calabria is a region where the food can get spicy. This Statti wine, made of 60 percent Gaglioppo and 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, has evident tannins. Paired with Colorado Wagyu Steak on top of celery root puree and au jus was a lovely pairing.
In the end, the relationship between wine and food is very important and DoctorWine’s tips on food and wine pairing will help enhance any meal.