Wine-loving countries

In much of Europe wine-drinking is a way of life. The local wine is enjoyed alongside the local food and there’s no great desire to explore what is unfamiliar. A Frenchman in the Rhône would no more think of drinking a Muscadet from the Loire than he would an Australian Chardonnay. There’s no reason why you should follow suit, but you may well find that the tried and tested combinations are hard to improve upon.

France

Although French cooking is a byword for haute cuisine, the food the French themselves most enjoy is quite rustic and specific to their region. In areas where there is seafood (the Loire and southern France) there are plenty of crisp dry whites to go with it. In inland areas such as Burgundy, the more robust meat dishes of the region such as coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon are cooked with and accompanied by the local wine. In Alsace the creaminess of the sauces finds an echo in the rich spiciness of a Riesling or Pinot Gris. Everywhere in France there is charcuterie and everywhere a simple fresh red or white to wash it down.

In southern France the cooking is dominated by the vivid Mediterranean flavors of tomato, garlic, olives and anchovies, all quite pungent and challenging to wine. Crisp dry, earthy whites and rosés* handle them best and reflect the ‘summery’ mood of the region. More robust dishes respond to spicy reds based on Syrah and Grenache, the kind you generally find in the Rhône and the Languedoc.

*These wines are also good solutions for other Mediterranean cuisines such as those from Greece, Slovenia and Croatia.

Italy

Who doesn’t eat pizza or pasta? Italian food is well loved all over the world as is Italian wine which in general are wonderfully food friendly and flexible.

Neutral Italian whites such as Pinot Grigio, Orvieto and Soave work with a wide range of antipasti, risottos, pastas such as spaghetti Carbonara, seafood salads, squid or fritto misto mare, scallopine and osso buco. In fact, about the only thing that defeats them is richly sauced meat or game (with which you need something like an Amarone or a Barolo).

Fruity, slightly sharp Italian reds such as Barbera, Chianti and Valpolicella are equally good with pizza and richer pasta dishes, as well as with the grilled and roasted meat dishes the Italians love.

Spain and Portugal

The Moorish influence is quite noticeable in Spanish food. Flavors such as saffron, garlic, pimento and chili make it spicier than you might expect. Dry whites, rosados (rosé) and, in the south, fino sherry, all go well with these ingredients and with seafood dishes such as paella. The superb grilled lamb you find all over northern Spain is a perfect foil for the country’s famous oak-aged reds like Rioja and Ribera del Duero.

Portugal shares a broadly similar cuisine, but with more emphasis on seafood. Dry whites, such as the local Vinho Verde, serve well.

Spicy, oriental and fusion food


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