Beyond the borders: a modern take on Piedmont wine pairing

The Langarolo are typically isolated and individualistic people, they are dynamic but for much of history were tightly anchored to both culture and tradition. Piedmont has been home to serious winemaking tradition since the Middle Ages. Early references to Nebbiolo wines were documented in 1266 and in 1303. Despite early celebratory references, for several centuries farmers were at the mercy of middlemen, the wines of Barolo were sold for as little as $0.70 a bottle and were scarcely known further than 10 miles from La Morra. Beyond its winemaking, Piedmont has a cuisine unrivalled elsewhere in Italy. Arguably defined by a notable need for self-reliance, local game, cattle and root vegetables are cooked for long periods on low heat, developing flavours slowly and resulting in rich, warming and hearty dishes. Carlo Petrini, the visionary founder of the Slow Food movement, is from Bra, a town in Piedmont. As in most of Italy, native vines are abundant and though Nebbiolo rules, a handful of varieties, including a number not native to the region, are synonymous with modern Piedmont. However, though certainly content, for much of history the Langhe farmers were poor. Revolutions begin on empty bellies and the 80s brought with them unimaginable change. A small but significant economic boom, the rise in global consumerism and a small band of rebellious winemakers brought global acclaim to Piedmont. The region’s wines are these days truly international; however, common wine pairings remain mostly wedded to its own food. I asked some of the UK’s most exciting, vibrant and talented sommeliers, chefs, and wine lovers to offer a fresh, diverse and global take on Piedmont wine pairing.

Dolcetto and slow-cooked mutton curry

Sonal Clare, The Wilderness Birmingham, GQ Sommelier of the Year 2018

Throughout lockdown, I spent a lot of time cooking from my heritage roots so curry has been ever-present on my home menu. Having been lucky enough to try some of the most amazing wines in the world I found myself thinking why can I not drink some of these bottles of wine with my curry? I was fortunate that Josh at WOTGV approached me, I know he has been dribbling over some of my cooking and is keen to delve into the realms of Indian food and wine.

I visited the beautiful region of Piedmont a few years ago, for pleasure and business of course! I was fascinated by the food, the wine and the window shopping! I loved how amazing native food and wine complemented each other so well! But as Chris Tarrant used to say on Who wants to be a millionaire …”we don’t want to give you that! Why can’t wine of origin be tailored to work with other cuisines? In England we are so fortunate to have restaurants which bring together influences and flavours from around the world and an international wine list representative of this illustrates how well we are educated in the food and wine scene. It is one of the reasons sommeliers come from across Europe to England. They have amazing knowledge of their regional/national wine but might lack the opportunity of having international wines to work with.

Anyway, as an avid fan of Italian wines, pairing Piedmont wines and curry was something I was happy to entertain myself with. The dish I’ve paired with this 2019 G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d’alba from Loki Wines is a slow-cooked mutton curry. I was looking for lower acidity with a bit of tannin structure. With layers of spice, aromatics, slow-cooked tomatoes, and fresh coriander, the flavours are complex, so a more simple wine is a likely choice to complement the meal.

Dolcetto has fruity approachability with good acidity which works well with the spicy tomato sauce, which helps retain tangy freshness. The slow-cooked onions and vegetal flavours from the spices allow the wines’ tannins and herbal notes to integrate really well. The mutton, which has been slowly braised in the sauce, offers ample texture to work with the dryness of the wines. In Piedmont, they enjoy boiled meats such as Bollito Misto as regional specialities. I boil my mutton to tenderise it as well. This could be one of the reasons why the dish works so well.

Barolo and Red-red

Audrey Annoh-Antwi, Sommelier

Last year I decided I would take a deeper look into my Ghanaian heritage. So, I started to learn my mum’s tongue, Twi, and indulge in cooking foods of my Ghanaian heritage. I expressed this interest to my mum, she was very pleased and suggested we should try and cook together. So before various lockdowns conspired to keep us apart the first dish we cooked together was red-red. It became one of the first dishes I cooked without her supervision. Once the cooking started my sommelier instincts came into play. I started matching wines with the Ghanaian dishes that I cooked. One thing led to another and Josh at WOTGV asked me to write about pairing foods of my heritage with Barbaresco and Barolo.

Barolo-food-pairing

The first thing that entered my mind when asked to suggest such a pairing pair was the thought that this is rather auspicious as I had a Barbaresco already. Then a minor panic set in. Nebbiolo has many things going for it but in the face of some of the foods I love, I saw a challenge. High alcohol is a well-known accelerant of heat in the face of spiced foods. High tannins and spice are a combination that has the reputation of leading to a bitter edge and harshness in red wine. Nonetheless, where there is a challenge there are also hidden gems. The process went like this, I already had Barbaresco so after some research I bought a Barolo. Then I chose the dishes, bought the ingredients, and finally tried both wines with each dish. Here are the results.

Red-red is a tomato-based stew that includes black-eyed peas, onions, ginger, scotch bonnet chili, and palm oil served with moreish sweet fried plantain. I paired this with 2015 Giovanni Rosso Barolo. Firstly 2015 was considered a generously fruited vintage which was assuring. The wine is described by Giovanni Rosso as “easy drinking … perfect for any situation”. I was intrigued to see how ‘easy’ a Barolo could be and would this ease allow it to pair with an earthy, fruity, musky mouth coating dish. The wine was typical in its pure red-fruited charm, rosy notes, and tannins that while apparent were friendlier. Its high acidity cut through the mouth-coating texture of palm oil. Generous red fruit contrasted nicely with the earthy muskiness of black-eyed peas and seemed to support the fruitiness of fried plantain. 

While a concern had been the fire of scotch bonnet being turned up and tannins becoming harsh, there were no conflicts. The tannins gained a slight edge but remained silky. And I must confess I only used three-quarters of a scotch bonnet so while the dish was hot it was not quite flames.

Barbaresco and Zoe’s Goat Ragu

Audrey Annoh-Antwi, Sommelier

I came across the Goat Ragu recipe in Zoe Adjonyoh’s Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen. Zoe’s Goat Ragu is rich, robust, fragrant, and smoky with guinea pepper adding a lifted, slight juniper botanical lean with earthy astringent spices like nutmeg, bay leaf and rosemary.

Barbaresco according to the Oxford Companion to Wine is mistakenly considered the junior of Barolo in ‘terms of the power…of its wines’. Dante Rivetti Barbaresco Bric’Micca (grown on the Cascina Micca vineyards) is a very powerful robust wine. I admit I bought it on a whim when Berry Bros & Rudd were having a summer sale and neglected the magnitude of what I was putting in my basket. It is aged for 24 months in large Slavonian oak casks and small French barrique then bottle aged for 12 months, bear in mind Barbaresco minimum ageing requirements by law are a total of 26 months (9 in oak).

The Barbaresco had a sturdy red cherry and plum fruit profile, with lingering rose, cinnamon, clove, and soil. A robust wine perfect for full-flavoured goat meat. The depth of slow-cooked tomato and woody spices brought out darker plum in the wine and the mossy sweetness of guinea pepper brought an earthiness to the fore. The velvet tannins sat well with the meaty richness of the dish. My only regret is that only had one bottle of Dante Rivetti Barbaresco Bric’Micca 2015. There is no reason why these wines would not pair well with an aromatic mildly spiced jollof rice.

Langhe Nebbiolo with Posta Negra, Braiibroodjies and Egusi soup

Henna Zinzuwadia, Sommelier Akoko Restaurant

I love pairing Nebbiolo, in this case, Villadoria, Bricco Magno DOC Langhe Rosso, 2013, with Posta Negra, a traditional Columbian dish of flank or skirt beef in black sauce served with white rice, plantain, and fresh salad. Having the opportunity to work alongside chefs from various backgrounds, I’ve found this dish pairs particularly well due to the meat and black sauce (made with coca-cola, wine and sugar as the main ingredients) reducing the tannins to a velvety texture, with the brightness of the acidity cutting through the richness of the dish. Although light in colour, the profile of the wine is intense and aromatic, thus needing something hearty to match.

Piedmont-wine-pairing

While working as the sommelier for Akoko, a Western African fine dining restaurant based in Fitzrovia, I’ve come across some great ingredients that make for a stellar pairing. Egusi soup is particularly traditional in Nigerian culture and is usually eaten with pounded yam. Egusi, the western African term for melon seeds, are high in fats and protein. When grounded up and added to thicken the soup, it’ll bring down the robustness of tannins and also pair wonderfully with the perfumed and floral notes found in Nebbiolo. I usually like to add roasted mushrooms and aubergine to make this veggie dish flavoursome and to help balance the acidity. This time around I paired with Langhe Nebbiolo Simane, Reverdito.

Now for all us cheese lovers that find comfort in a cheeseboard and bottle of Nebbiolo, Pio Cesare Nebbiolo 2016 to be precise, let’s take it up a notch and do things the South African way. Braiibroodjies are cheese, tomato and onion toasties cooked over an open fire and then it is braai’d (barbequed). It is usually served as a starter before dinner, making it the perfect snack to have when paired with a wine that has a lot of red fruit notes, big tannins and high acidity. South African cuisine captures the diversity found in the country’s population with many different communities contributing to their signature dishes. Having explored a lot of their wines, it felt only right to check out the cuisine as it has proven to be so delicious when paired with this style of wine.

Moscato d’Asti with Malaysian Sambal, Curry and Laksa

Guan Chua, Chef, Host and Blogger at theboywhoatetheworld

Moscato d’Asti is a DOCG sparkling wine made from the Moscato bianco grape and has been cultivated in the province of Asti, northwest Italy, and in smaller nearby regions in the provinces of Alessandria and Cuneo for many hundreds of years. Although Moscato has been cultivated and made in the area for some time, modern production of Moscato d’Asti as it is known now began in the 1870s. Moscato d’Asti was the wine that winemakers made for themselves. This low-alcohol wine could be drunk at noontime meals and would not slow down the winemaker or his workers. After the workday was done, the Piemontese tradition of long, multicourse evening meals gave Moscato d’Asti the purpose of a digestif. With global foods in mind, this wine can be repurposed to serve as a more diverse pairing option.

I find spicy South East Asian food can sometimes be tricky to pair with wines (most fuller bodied / high tannin reds are obvs all a no go!). I find the demi-sec sweetness that Moscato D’Asti has stands up to and complements the spice, palm sugar and acidity used in Malaysian dishes such as sambals, curries and Laksa broths. The low-ish ABV and spritz also makes it good for quenching the heat!

Timorasso and Sushi and Boiled Bacon, Cabbage, and Potatoes in Parsley Sauce

Bert Blaize, co-author Which Wine When, owner Bottles n Jars

Timorasso an ancient, indigenous Piedmont grape. The 2010 vine census found only 129 ha in total. Like most regions, Piedmont followed consumer trends – planting fashionable Chardonnay and digging up Timorasso vines. At one point this rare grape was close to extinction. Thanks to the dedicated work of Walter Massa of VignetiMassa, this grape is now more fashionable, many Barolo producers including Borgogno & Vietti are now replanting Timorasso. They’re rediscovering their heritage and as Elena Penna of Vietti said to me when I met her ‘it’s a more authentic expression of Piedmont. 

Wine made from Timorasso makes big full-bodied whites that remind you of an aged rich Riesling. They tend to have good natural acidity and are packed full of complexity and refined tropical fruits. Winemakers tend to make these wines mineral-rich with lots of savoury notes to balance out the fruit. A perfect pairing with these wines would be sushi. The acidity cuts through the richness of the fish and the tropical fruits complement the exotic flavours. On this occasion, I chose Derthona “Timorasso dei colli tortonesi” by Borgogno, available at Bottles n Jars.

Chris Madden of Quality Wines Farringdon

Being of Irish background, we grew up on a lot of hearty foods; lots of stews and slow-cooked rib-sticking stuff. Our family favourite was always boiled bacon and cabbage, cooked in the bacon water, with potatoes and parsley sauce. It’s the kind of thing that works perfectly with a younger Timorasso. The weighted, ripe apricot and green apple profile coupled with fresh acidity and a sort of green almond vegetal crunch thrown in for good measure.

Non-traditional varieties and Chicken Samosa

Sonal Clare, The Wilderness Birmingham, GQ Sommelier of the Year 2018

Ceretto is one of the finest wines in piedmont; their age-worthy Barolo’s are absolutely fantastic. But for me I thought their Langhe DOC Monsordo Rosso from Champagne Company was an intriguing wine. Focusing on the terroir; but with grapes not native to the region; this Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah blended wine brings on a real modern approach to this winery.It’s really elegant and oozes that Bordeaux nose; inky, blackcurrant and viola notes with a hint of liquorice. Really herbaceous elements come through but the palate was silky smooth. Tannins were pretty fine as it had a lovely note of chocolate and spice on the palate.

I actually had this with chicken samosas! It was a snack my mum had made for me! Cooked chicken thigh meat that had peas and spices added to it; cumin, chilli and coriander. The pastry also had some spices in like fenugreek seeds and coriander seeds and as they were deep-fried this actually works tremendously well with the characteristics in the wine. The crisp pastry worked really well with the savouriness of the wine. My favourite and a classic match with Samosas is serving it with tomato ketchup! And again this really brought the wine into a new sphere! It’s what makes matching food and wine really exciting. Small little adjustments to the dish to complement the wine.

All I need now is to throw some White Truffle on my samosas! Any takers???

One thought

  1. And I have to leave another comment, because posts like these are fantastic! A lot of folks who drink wine casually search diligently for optimal food pairings, but are often left unclear on what specific recipes or exact dishes may work beyond typical western (often French or Italian) fare. I’ll make sure to point folks here for some inspiration if they’re drinking wine from Piedmont. And next time I come across a white truffle, I am definitely going to try it on a samosa. Cheers!

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