“If it grows together, it goes together”

Andrew Polmear takes us to France and Spain and the vineyards of the Andes and… Oh, just take us somewhere

It’s four years since I wrote about pairing food and wine. I mentioned then that it’s not a bad idea to pair food with the local wine, since wine styles have developed to go with food. Some acidic Italian reds aren’t much fun to drink alone, but you understand them when you drink them with a pizza.

However, there’s a school of thought that takes this further; which says that “if it grows together, it goes together”. The idea is that if food and grapes have been subjected to the same climate, grown on the same soil, at the same altitude, they’ll match, not because of human intervention but as a natural thing. It’s nonsense, of course. You don’t find many British writers keen on the idea for obvious reasons, although stout and oysters go rather well. In France and Spain however, wedded as they are to the idea of terroir, the idea is met with nods and smiles. So let’s put it to the test. Ton Colet, a Spanish sommelier, has put together a list of pairings to illustrate the principle that “things grown together go together”. I’ll pick three from his list.

Sancerre and a Crottin de Chavignol goat’s cheese. A Sancerre is a full bodied Sauvignon blanc. “Crottin” means horse dung but the cheese is so called because of its shape not its flavour. It does have quite a tang and goes wonderfully with the wine. But the case that they go together because they share the same terroir falls apart when you think of other food from the area that doesn’t go with the Crottin at all; andouillette, for instance. A Sancerre would be hopeless against the power of that appalling dish, even if made with pork that grew up within sight of the vineyards.

How about Beef and Argentinian Malbec? That sounds good – until you realise that they are from completely different terroirs. The vineyards are on the steep slopes of the Andes, cooled at altitude and fed by run-off from the snow. The cattle are down on the plains of the Pampas, a rich agricultural area that would be hopeless for making wine.

Last try: red wine from Priorat in north east Spain and truita amb suc, the local dish. The wine is made from grenache and cariñena grapes. The dish is made from eggs, garlic, spinach, beans, more garlic, cod, paprika, parsley, almonds, yet more garlic and hazelnuts. Yes, the wine is so powerful it can cope but so could any heavy red. An old-style Aussie Shiraz would be fine. 

Want to think about a few more classic pairings that come from the same area? Fino sherry and spanish ham; an albariño white from Riaz Baixas on the Atlantic coast of Spain and fish; boeuf bourgignon and pinot noir, the grape of red Burgundy.

Ton Colet concludes “Nature is wise, giving us access to pairings with such a deep sense of place”. I think that’s fanciful; but humans have learnt to make wine that goes with their food; or even learnt to make food that goes with their wine.

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