The best food pairings with Saint-Emilion
Saint-Emilion is a familiar name on a wine list but what sort of food goes with it best? Sommelier Nathalie Gardiner suggests her favourite pairings.
As one of the four main red wine producing regions of Bordeaux, Saint-Emilion offers the typical Right Bank combination of merlot and cabernet franc. Even though the blend remains the same across the majority of the area, its wines are incredibly varied; by vintage, by class, by vineyard and even by individual plot.
AOCs around the main appellation such as Lussac Saint-Emilion, Montagne Saint-Emilion, Saint-George Saint-Emilion and Puisseguin Saint-Emilion also produce similar wines (often at a more reasonable price) which go with the same type of dishes.
Pairing food with Saint-Emilion is best approached by age and style. Generally, you can’t go wrong with partnering it with local dishes like confit duck or beef entrecôte, but there are plenty of other, more diverse international options too.
Basic Saint-Emilion (Saint-Emilion Grand Cru)
This is your entry-level wine in Saint Emilion; they meet the basic appellation rules, and tend to be more youthful, juicy and simple than your Grand Cru Classés and above.
Duck or game terrine with some quince jelly on the side would be great due to its rich fatty content that balances with the freshness of the wines.
Comté or similarly mild, slightly sweet cheese.
Shoulder of lamb roasted with rosemary or thyme, with seasonal greens
Rich, tomato-based pizza and pasta dishes, such as a pizza napolitana, or lasagne
If you have a Saint-Emilion that has a higher proportion of merlot, spicy Asian dishes like rogan josh, or Chinese or Korean hotpots can work well; just make sure that the wine is fleshy enough to handle the spice
A big ol’ sticky rack of ribs, especially when eaten with hands and sauce dripping down one’s face; seems like a bit of a long shot, but once you try it you will be convinced!
Good quality Saint-Emilion, 2-5 years old (generally within Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé classification)
At the time of writing, the past few years of released vintages of Saint-Emilion have been considered quite varied, so check the vintage on the label. It’s the general consensus that 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016 are the best recent years: with these vintages especially you will want your dishes to be richer, more flavourful and more heavily sauced. This is to keep up with the riper tannins and higher levels of alcohol and greater concentration that has become the norm in the merlot dominated blends of the Right Bank.
Classic Entrecôte à la Bordelaise is, irrefutably, the best dish with Saint-Emilion wines; perfectly cooked rib of beef with the famous red wine and shallot sauce. Serve it with some ceps and you’re on the road to pure joy.
Along the same lines, Beef Wellington (known in France as Boeuf en Croute) is a rich dish that benefits from the power of a good Saint-Emilion
Roast pigeon, preferably served with a thick, rich red wine jus and confit onions (paradise!)
Stews of lamb or game, especially those with slightly more middle-eastern influences, such as tagines.
Chilli con carne (or ‘sin’ carne, as your diet dictates), or other Tex Mex dishes like beef burritos.
Macaroni cheese/mac’n’cheese - a surprise pairing, maybe, but a good one as you can discover here
Tapas of any kind will go well, specifically patatas bravas, pulpo Gallego and croquetas de jamón
Confit de Canard, another classic Aquitanian dish of confit duck legs
Saint-Nectaire cheese, which can be found on any cheese plate in Saint-Emilion despite its roots in the Auvergne, or any other earthy, nutty semi-hard cheese
More evolved, mature Saint-Emilion of 10+ years
(These can be within any class in the entire Saint-Emilion Classification, definitely including Premier Grand Cru Classé, but of high quality)
These wines tend to be more delicately balanced, with tannins that are well integrated. The ripe fruit that was there in its early years will most likely have turned into earthy, mushroomy or dried fruit flavours. Of course vintages are still important but it is better to steer away from those rich sauces that were better with the younger wines.
Any kind of roast bird would be fantastic with an older Saint-Emilion. Christmas dinners are the perfect time to open a beautiful vintage with turkey, goose or partridge, and all the trimmings (especially the bread sauce!).
A mushroom risotto or tagliatelle with creamy morel sauce would be great, since wines that age well still have a freshness that will give some life and lightness to the rich sauces.
Sautéed chicken that is cooked with some more earthy and nutty accoutrements, like cherries and almonds.
A light lamb or veal stew like a navarin of lamb, or if you’d really like to immerse yourself in the Southwest, a Garbure, perfect for transitional months
Duck breasts preferably prepared in the traditional Southwest style - i.e. pan-fried in their own fat
Truffle omelettes - not found often in my experience, but they are a goldmine of pleasure when you come across them. The earthiness of the truffle is perfect for slightly older Saint-Emilions.
Do you have any favourite Saint-Emilion pairings I haven't included here? Do share if you do!
For other Bordeaux pairings see What food to match with red Bordeaux
Nathalie Gardiner is a sommelier and is currently studying for a Wine and Management Diploma at the Cordon Bleu Institute in Paris.
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