The Italians do it best. Or at least in terms of regional food and wine, they’re certainly hot property at the moment. London restaurants Bocca di Lupo and the Polpo clan are bright and buzzing Italian offerings in a sea of drab pizzeria chains, serving up small plates ranging from crostino to fritto misto and battuto from their respective Italian regions. Yet where it gets really exciting is when these flavour-packed dishes are paired with wines from their local area, exacting a beautiful harmony between the flavours, textures and aromas.
In Rome last summer I was given a short history of the local Lazio region’s food and wine, while working my way through an interesting yet delicious Roman meal. The local wines were produced to complement the full-flavoured carbohydrate and protein-heavy dishes traditional of the Lazio region, with my fritto misto starter of lightly battered offal being a perfect example of the local cuisine. Paired with a crisp, dry white of mouthwatering freshness and a good fruit character to stand up to the richness of the dish, it was my tastiest food and wine match of the evening. On their own, the dish and the Lazio white could be slightly challenging in their characters but together the course found a perfect balance, one where you consume a whole plate of fritto misto and half a bottle of wine before you’ve even realised.
As much as I love the Old World and its bazillions of appellations and indigenous grape varieties, it’s interesting to look ahead at newer wine growing territories. A winemakers’ lunch at London’s The Providores restaurant afforded the perfect opportunity to taste and match wines from Waipara’s Pegasus Bay and Waiheke Island’s Man O’ War vineyards with New Zealand fusion cuisine. It is an understatement to say that my taste buds were excited by the glorious match of Pegasus Bay’s ‘Bel Canto’ Riesling 2009 and a dish of “Smoked Dutch eel with bacon, pea and iceberg fricassee, wasabi mascarpone and Jerusalem artichoke crisps”. My word. A lot more intricate than the hearty Roman dishes I experienced in Italy and a medley of flavours danced over the palate, with the ‘Bel Canto’ Riesling’s stone fruit and floral characteristics adding an extra dimension, while the wine retained enough acidity to still be food-friendly.
So, what about good ol’ Blightly? Here in the UK there is undoubtable skepticism regarding English wine but Champagne-alikes from Nyetimber and Biddenden are showing that the industry’s future could be a bright one. After matching pork pies with a variety of drinks and finding that second to Waitrose’s Cox’s apple cider, Moet’s brut rose Champagne was (surprisingly) the best alcoholic match, I started wondering as to whether some of the English sparkling options could go well with pork pies or local cheeses? What about a Gamay-style English red with cold cuts of meat? If anyone can make a delicious dessert/fortified wine to go with Yorkshire Parkin then I’m sold. Yes, UK winemakers, this is your challenge.