Strange, but good: when food-wine pairings surpass the limits of imagination

Jul 2 2021, 08:28 | by Lorenzo Ruggeri
Here is a series of wine pairings that we invite you to try with a totally unbiased mind

Suprising food-wine pairings

Our journey linked to the Villa Sandi Contemporary Wine List Award is at its last episode. Finally, events in person are back and we will very soon resume awarding the brightest and most user-friendly wine lists around the world, personally enhancing the work of sommeliers and managers who are leading the recovery of the sector. The last stage is dedicated to something different, to some unthinkable wine pairings on paper. Much like those unlikely couples at first sight, but who manage to find a completely unexpected, surprising, blatantly happy alchemy. Here is a series of wine pairings that we invite you to try with a totally unbiased mind.

Let's start with a rock 'n' roll pairing: buffalo mozzarella and Moscato d'Asti. The first time we tried it as a joke, we were totally surprised by the result. The intense note of hay and the sweetness of the mozzarella blend perfectly with the aromatic character of Moscato, prolonging an unforgettable mouthful in terms of intensity and depth of flavour. Even a Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Extra Dry is perfectly suited to pair with mozzarella, in this case with the help of its bubbles that help degrease the palate even more. More classic, but always successful back to Moscato, in particular Moscato Fior d'Arancio, paired with oysters, in this case in a sweet-savoury match, with a citrusy rhythm, which is not easily forgotten.

Peppery mussel stew and Chianti Classico. Put that way, it does sound strange. But think of the fleshiness of the mussels, their firm texture, their intense flavour. Now imagine the floral character of a high-altitude Sangiovese, aged in steel and concrete, subtle in aromas but with an energetic tannic texture. Lower the temperature of the Sangiovese a few degrees, add a few turns of the black pepper mill to the mussels and the pairing is done: a high-intensity match that at first makes you turn up your nose, but then won't let you stop. In general, Sangiovese lends itself very well to spicy dishes, especially where there is black pepper or spicy chilli, offering a versatility in the kitchen that has not yet been fully explored.

Marsala Fine or Superiore Dry and Pizza quattro formaggi. Italy produces a number of oxidative wines of simply crazy level. Unfortunately they are increasingly rare and difficult to find, with their unique charm. Imagine a fragrant pizza topped with four different cheeses, with gorgonzola pulling the strings for intensity and aromatic depth. In the glass we have a young Marsala, think of a Fine or a Superiore Secco, served quickly from the fridge. A wow match, with toasted notes of dried fruit and spices to naturally lengthen the different flavours of the cheeses, breaking and relaunching the mouth in unique fashion. An airy and fragrant bite of the crust, the thin Roman version is preferable in this pairing, makes the marriage even more convincing.

Tortellini in broth and Orange Wine. Tradition would require for the Lambrusco a Sangiovese di Romagna, with elders pouring a drop of wine directly into the plate to flavour the broth and naturally segue into the glass. In our experiments, we were very surprised by the results when we paired bone broth with orange wines, whites macerated on the skins, served at a much higher temperature than the usual still whites. Do not opt for extreme macerated orange wines like, say, 23 months of maceration on the skins, but rather a lighter tannic touch which breaks the flavour of an intense and fatty broth (like made with capon) very well, reviving and enhancing the appeal of the tortellini very well. An unusual pairing of character, reinforced in the case of wines with a strong flavour, think wines of the Italian Karst or the Collio Goriziano.

Oven-roasted suckling pork and OP Cruasé or Franciacorta Rosé. Moving on to main courses, absolutely to try on a classic roast suckling pig with potatoes is classic method bubbles where Pinot Noir rules the game. The aromas of succulent red fruits invite the next bite, the bubbles caresse but also have intensity and depth to keep up with the flavour of the meat. The pairing is perfect for a marriage of flavours and texture, supporting the palate in freshness and gustatory tension. Once tried and appreciated, it's difficult to go back to the classic pairings with still, full-bodied red wines. The pairing is strongly recommended especially when enjoying a tasting menu, because the palate will be clear and clean, ready to continue.

Dessert and spumante Brut. We like to joke, but not that much. We will never, ever try dry bubbles, even a Brut or an Extra Dry, with dessert. We just don't like the metallic taste!

by Lorenzo Ruggeri

You can find out more about the Villa Sandi Contemporary Wine List Award here

Read previous installments of the series:

How To build a contemporary wine list

Everything you need to know about the Italian Method

Bubbles as a lifestyle

How to cook with wine

The real enemies of wine at the table

The contemporary sommelier

Five native grape varieties we are ready to bet on

It was the yar… snippets of modern history of wine in Italy

The most common mistake with wine: the wrong serving temperature

All wine formats

The Villa Sandi Contemporary Wine List Award

The Villa Sandi Contemporary Wine List Award is the prize we reserve for the most current, brilliant and user-friendly wine lists in our Top Italian Restaurants guide, dedicated to the best of Italian dining in the world. While waiting to resume awarding venues around the world, we’re offering an educational journey through the multi-colour ‘Jurassic Park’ that is Italian viticulture. We’re proposing a series of themes, with practical advice and suggestions, published every week on our international website

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