About the most daunting audience that anyone could face is a group of wine writers, especially if a number of those happen to specialise in food and wine matching so it was with some trepidation that I agreed to lead a tasting on wine and charcuterie in London on Monday night on the eve of the London International Wine Fair.
The subject had been suggested not by me but by fellow writer David Furer, who also writes for this site. At first I thought it was limited in scope but the more I considered it the more it appealed. Charcuterie is normally paired with very simple rustic wines, usually French but what if one attempted to match it with wines from outside France? Possibly even fine wines?
There was a precedent for that. I remember an unusual and highly successful pairing of Dom Perignon with jamon iberico which linked the umami taste of both the ham and the wine. Charcuterie is typically salty, often fatty providing a coating for the palate that allows the wine to shine. A sparkling wine breaks up that fat (in much the same way as a beer). Could other fine wines do the same?
Appropriately enough the tasting took place at Terroirs, the recently opened wine bar that has some of the best charcuterie in town. On our plates we had a Spanish ham, Jamon de Teruel, which was quite delicate in flavour (more like an Italian than a Spanish ham), some saucisson sec from the Pyrenees, some duck rillette and the formidable ‘terrine Terroirs’ which was lavishly seasoned with spices and garlic. Typically you would eat them together but would we find a wine that could handle them all?
Here are the wines we tried, why I chose them (although in a number of instances I asked the sponsoring body for a wine of a specific type and wasn’t sure what I was getting) and how they performed. Skip to the end if you simply want to read our conclusions:
Rosé Carte Noire 2008, Maitres Vignerons de St-Tropez
RRP: 9.99 Nicolas
I thought we should kick off with a southern French rosé as a ‘control’. This was darker in colour and more intensely flavoured than many Provençal rosés with some attractive ripe berry fruit on the palate and a long dry finish, nevertheless it struggled with the very punchy terrine. I liked it better than many of my fellow writers but then I spend a lot of time in the south of France. It ‘felt right’.
Assyrtiko Hatzidakis 2007
9-10 Caves de Pyrène, Waitrose
This wine was suggested by Doug Wregg of Caves de Pyrène who writes their highly diverting wine list. His recommendation for the wine: “Normally octopus but would work well (we think) with the fattiness of rillettes or a jambon persillé (like a supercharged Aligoté)” As it turned out it lacked the requisite freshness and zip - a younger vintage might have been better. (The usual Greek pairing, according to Greek wine-writer Ted Lelekas who was present, is seafood and shellfish)
2007 Riesling IDIG Grosses Gewaechs, Weingut Christmann, Pfalz
35 Charles Taylor
I wanted to include a dry German Riesling, Germany having many fine charcuterie products of its own (though probably rather more that are smoked). This was an exceptionally fine example - too fine, most thought for these particular charcuterie products, especially the terrine though the ham proved a particularly sympathetic foil. There was a suggestion that a wine with a touch more sweetness would have worked better. And, I would suggest, one with a few more years maturity. Worth pursuing this route though
Chapel Hill Verdelho 2007
Supplied by: Lindsay May on behalf of Wine Australia
RRP: 9.49 in independents including Planet of the Grapes, Ongar Wines Ltd, Australian Wines Online, Rehills of Jemond, Badmington Wines
Again I wanted to include something from Australia and thought a Verdelho would be an intriguing choice but the zesty limey character of this very attractive example didn’t work with anything but the duck rillettes (actually a fascinating combination). Better to stick to Thai and other south-east Asian influenced dishes. Australian food, in other words.
Lambrusco Reggiano Concerto
RRP: 8-10 Vinum, Everywine, Harrods, Booths
It seemed to me that an authentic red Lambrusco should be ideal for charcuterie - after all Emilia Romagna where it comes from has some wonderful pork products of its own. And for me it hit the spot perfectly. I loved its acidity, its dark bitter cherry fruit and its gentle effervescence but it’s obviously a ‘love it or hate it’ wine. Some didn’t take to it at all, another group agreed that it was one of the best all-rounders. It was particularly good with the rillettes, though some preferred the Marcillac below.
2006 Marcillac, Cuvee Lairis, Jean-Luc Matha
RRP: 9.99 Caves de Pyrène
I thought we should have a rustic French red of the type the French themselves would drink with charcuterie and thought a Marcillac from south-west France, a favourite wine of the Caves de Pyrène crew, would work well. It was actually the only wine that was positively affected by the charcuterie which rounded it out and enhanced its fruitiness. Most thought it performed pretty well overall - best with the saucisson and the rillettes.
Morgon, Côtes du Py, Beaujolais 2007 Domaine Jean Foillard
RRP: Around 16 a bottle from Caves de Pyrène, slurp.co.uk
I’ve always rated Beaujolais with charcuterie, but thought it would be interesting to have one from the band of ‘natural’ winemakers who eschew sulphur and filtration. Although Foillard is highly rated this was possibly not the best example from an unremarkable vintage - it was a bit funky and feral, so failed to completely engage with our troublesome terrine. Good with the saucisson though.
Isabel Estate Pinot Noir 2005
18.55 Berry Brothers & Rudd
I remember being very taken with the idea of a ‘Pigs and Pinot’ festival I read about so thought it would be interesting to see how a top notch New World Pinot Noir from New Zealand fared with our selection. Better than I anticipated was the answer, particularly with the terrine where its lusciously ripe fruit proved the perfect counterpoint to the spicing. It was also pretty good with the rillettes - less so with the saucisson and ham. Possibly a less classy Pinot would have done an equally good job?
Manzanilla La Gitana
RRP 8.49 at Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsbury, Majestic, Somerfield, Wine Rack, plus independents.
Further proof - if proof were needed - that sherry is one of the all time great food wines. This salty manzanilla sailed through the plate taking every component in its stride, just as it would a plate of tapas. I’m not sure a fino wouldn’t have been even better. Worth trying a dry amontillado or palo cortado too which would have probably worked marginally better with the terrine. Most attendees’ favourite overall.
El Grifo Canari Lanzarote 1997
I’d never come across this rare cream sherry-style wine from Lanzarote but happily Spanish specialist John Radford was in the audience to explain its origins. Most agreed it was quite wrong for the charcuterie (far too sweet) but we reckoned it would have been interesting with blue cheese or a crema catalana. (The website recommends it with good company!)
So what should you drink with charcuterie? Well, the manzanilla sherry got the majority vote as the best wine overall, followed closely by the Lambrusco and a little way behind by the Riesling though it was felt that the quality of the latter was diminished by the charcuterie selection.
If you’re a Francophile I reckon you’d probably be inclined to stick to the usual suspects, rustic and fruity reds having the edge on rosé and whites. The Marcillac was good, though I suspect a fruitier cru Beaujolais might have outclassed it (see the links below).
Individual matches that were singled out were individual pairings of the ham, rillettes and terrine with the Riesling, Marcillac with both the saucisson and rillettes, Morgon and saucisson, Verdelho and duck rillettes and the Isabel Estate Pinot Noir and terrine.
The duck rillettes proved particularly wine-friendly - worth considering serving on their own on crostini as a nibble with an aperitif. A flavourful pâté or terrine is probably also better served on its own, rather than as part of a selection if you particularly want the accompanying wine to shine (though take care if you add an accompanying relish or compote). It can also take a wine with a touch of sweetness.
The ones that got away
What else could we have fielded? Well a Champagne or a cava would have been interesting. Someone suggested a dry Chenin like a Savennières and I’d have quite liked to include an Italian red like a Valpolicella or a Teroldego. Plenty of food for thought, anyway.