Welcome to the final post in this three-part “Did You Wine Know” Country Series. The previous posts were background info leading to this post. In Part I, we talked about the overall wine quality/classification system in France. Part II covered four of 14 wine regions of France. And at long last, in Part III, we’ll jabber a bit about food pairings with wines from the four regions.
- Part I: French Wine Quality/Classification System
- Part II: Key Wine Regions of France
- Part III: French WInes with Food
General Concepts On Food & Wine Pairings
In general, when pairing food and wine, a wino wants to pair in one of the following 3 ways:
- Use the wine IN the food to make a sauce or marinade, etc. Assuming you make a mean sauce, drinking the same wine used in the sauce will be an instant pairing success.
- Complement the flavors of the wine with the flavors of the food. This is basically matching similar flavors – sweet food with sweet wine, fruity with fruity, etc.
- Contrast the flavors of the wine with the flavors of the food. So having a salty dish with a sweet wine, or a highly tannic wine with a fatty/buttery dish.
I know for me, picking out the right food to go with your wine (because, let’s face it – that’s what anyone reading this post is actually doing) comes easily. But more often than not, it’s a bit of a guess. We often aren’t very well-versed in articulating the flavors of wine, or anything really. (For reasons discussed in this post…). So while we know we really like a particular bottle, it’s hard to say, “This wine has these flavor characteristics, and my food has those flavor characteristics, and therefore they will pair well together.” (Note: I wrote that using my “know-it-all” voice – like a local newscaster.) Anyway, part of my continuing journey to better understand wine is to better understand pairings. And in order to do so, I’ve got to improve my ability to articulate the flavors I taste in my glass.
Instead of worrying about if the food and wine are complementary or contrasting in flavors, winos can think about regional pairings. Typically, the wine from a particular region goes with the food of a particular region. “What grows together goes together.” (Note: I wrote that one using my “cheesy guy” voice.) This is easier to do with a place like France than the U.S. There are traditional dishes and foods that are common to certain regions of France that relate closely to the traditional wines of that region. In the U.S., we have traditional regional cuisines that are more like “Chicago Pizza” and “California Cuisine” – not exactly food that is organic to the region. Since we are focused on France, we’ll look at regional pairing for the wines from the four regions of France discussed in Part II. Here goes…
Recap for Part II: Bordeauxs are mostly red blends (usually including cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc), gentle complexity, elegant, not big in flavor.
Remember that Bordeaux is on the west coast of France and became the wine that was shipped off to England back in the day. This and back in the 1100s, the mighty Eleanor of Acquitaine (from Southwestern France) married King Henry I of England. And a strong relationship between England and Bordeaux was born. England got Bordeaux’s wine and Bordeaux got England’s food. You lucky Bordelais!!!” (Note: That was my sarcastic voice… no offense, British friends.) The people of Bordeaux may or may not agree with the fact that their dishes were influenced by the English. But a standard meal in this region includes roasted chicken, roasted lamb, potatoes, green beans. And guess what – it pairs very well with a bottle of red Bordeaux wine.
Wino Aside: I find this historical influence on wine rather interesting… and it also helps me remember that Bordeaux food is tasty, but not complicated. And therefore I should drink Bordeaux wine with tasty uncomplicated food.
For some of my readers, you’ll also be interested to know that one of Eleanor and Henry’s sons was King Richard I – also referred to as “Richard the Lionhearted” – and in the bad classic movie, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, is couuuusin to Maid Marion who becomes the lover of none other than Robin of the Hood!! (Thank you for the correcting my original family tree description, EKF.)
As noted above, lamb is also a classic red Bordeaux pairing. Sheep graze the overall region and feed on the grass between the grapevines. It is said that this gives the sheep an especially tasty flavor.
Other common foods of Bordeaux that pair well with the white wines include Roquefort cheese (which is a sheep’s milk blue cheese) and foie gras. The sweet white wine from Sauternes (a sub-region of Bordeaux) is a great contrast to the Roquefort cheese. The dry whites of Bordeaux’s Graves sub-region pair well with salty seafood like oysters.
Bordeaux Pairings Summary:
- Reds – Simple dishes like roasted chicken, roasted lamb, potatoes, green beans
- Sweet Whites (look for Sauternes on the label) – Rich food like blue cheeses, foie gras
- Dry Whites (look for Graves on the label) – Oysters and other seafood
The Loire Valley
Recap from Part II: This region is spread out and therefore has great variety in its wines, but the general characteristic across the board is that they are zesty and brisk wines. The western coast produces dry whites, the central area produces pretty much all kinds of wines from sweet to dry reds and whites, and easter Loire produces primarily dry white wines and some dry reds.
The western coast of the Loire Valley, being on the water, has a strong culinary culture and tradition with seafood. So it only makes sense that the wines from the western Loire Valley were developed to go with seafood. They are minerally and dry whites that, when paired with a salty seafood dish, bring out the flavors of both the wine and food.
As we look more towards the central and eastern Loire Valley, we find more variety in the white wines where they are made with Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc. These wines are high in acid – they are dry, crisp, and refreshing in flavor, which makes them very flexible with food pairings. This region is along the river and therefore accompanies a freshwater fish dish very nicely. The high acidity complements salads nicely and contrasts with creamy cheeses. They will also pair well with roast duck or grilled salmon. So – basically, try these wines with whatever you want! It’ll probably go!
Loire Vally Pairing Summary:
- Western Loire (look for Muscadet on the label): Seafood, particularly oysters and mussels
- Central and Eastern Loire (look for Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume on the label): freshwater fish, salads, creamy cheeses, roast duck, roast chicken, grilled salmon
Recap from Part II: Burgundy is the easy one to remember – the two primary grapes are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
This region is more inland and less influenced by waterways than Bordeaux or The Loire Valley. Traditional cuisine includes cooking hens/roosters, rabbits, snails – the food that we often think of when we think of French dishes. Slow cooked braised beef stew is also a traditional Burgundian dish (boeuf bourguignon). Any of these dishes will go beautifully with a Burgundian red. The whites of Burgundy will also pair well with many of these dishes, but try it with lobster drizzled with butter (wait – does anyone not drizzle butter on their lobster??)
Burgundy Pairing Summary:
- Reds: hens, roosters, rabbits, snalis, slow cooked beef stew
- Whites: snails, lobster, hens, roosters
The Rhone Valley
Recap from Part II: Red Rhone Valley wines are big and spicy!
The Rhone Valley is in southeastern France. Since these wines are big and spicy, they will pair well with the earthy, gamy flavors. Try Rhone reds with roasted lamb – it will accompany the intensity of that gamy/earthy flavor. Rhone reds will also pair beautifully with strong cheeses (blue cheese, goat cheese, etc) and charcuterie plates.
Winos… All of this barely touches the surface of the wines of France (remember, this covers only a little about only 4 of the 14 regions). And even less of the surface for wine and food pairing. But I hope you feel like you have a slightly better sense of French wines… I know that I have plans to hit up the wine shop and try some of these combinations. But the bottom line with any wine is – if you like it, drink it! And then experiment with it – try that wine with different dishes and see how it brings out different flavors of wine. Try a wine with a seafood dish and a roasted chicken dish and see what happens. There are no rules with any of this – just a whole lot of experimenting to figure out what makes your palette pop with delight!
Au revoir, Winos!