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Wines from the South of France: Solving difficult pairings

Posted on: June 12th, 2012 by Tom Peiffer No Comments

Ham and other cured meats are notoriously difficult wine pairing entrees.  This is not only because of their saltiness, but also because of their baked-in smoky flavors.  These powerful essences easily overpower nearly all white wines and many reds as well.

So when you’ve got ham (or other smoked entrée) in the oven and filling the room with aromas before your next feast, what about the wine?  Not to worry, this pairing is where some European wines excel, especially those from Southern France.

With a centuries-old tradition of gourmet meals featuring cured meats, the French have perfected the art of creating Syrah blends.  Some of the most powerful European red wines available are made from Rhone Varietal grapes.  But because of their bone-dry body, stony raisin fruitiness, and raw power, the pure Syrahs from the Northern Rhone Valley are not nearly as capable cured meat partners as their blended cousins from the South.

Created with a combination of Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsult, Grenache, and many others in lesser proportions, wines from Southern France’s Chateauneuf Du Pape region are custom-made to work with cured meats.  In addition, Chateauneuf’s lower cost competing region, Gigondas, employs similar grapes that also pair very well with this cuisine.

These blended wines typically exhibit a muted bouquet of dark berries, spices, and a distant earthy component that ranges from gamy to fresh baked bread.  What makes them so interesting is that their flavors open up and change slowly as they are enjoyed with food.  But they are most famous for a prominent “blast” in the mouth that happens soon after the first taste.  This contributes to their pairing potential with cured meats and their acidic base rides right along with the meat’s fat content.

You can pick up a variety of Chateauneuf Du Pape wines locally at AZ Wine, AJs, Bevmo, Total Wine, and Costco (they even have one under their Kirkland label).  But expect to pay over $30 (these can easily go over $100) for one that will reward your palate.  Look for Nerthe, Vieux Telegraphe, or Beaucastel.  They represent special occasion wines from the region, and as such, are not cheap.

The lower cost alternatives, Gigondas wines, are priced starting just under $20 and go up into the $70 range.  Ask the wine store staff to suggest these because the brands on hand change all the time.  Total Wine has quite a few available right now under their “Winery Direct” program.

For a tasting treat, compare the wines from the two regions and note the differences.  Some people can really tell them apart and insist that one or the other is the best value.  Whatever you think, these are great wines to cellar away for future celebrations.  They just age on and on.

Chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes before serving (60-65 degrees).  Take some time out to enjoy these wines that are also intricately woven into the history of Christianity, as represented by the artistry embossed on every bottle.

Article by Tom Peiffer, Phoenix Wine Shopping Examiner at Examiner.com

View more of Tom’s articles on Examiner.com by visiting his writer’s page.

About the Author - Tom Peiffer

Tom has been an avid wine consumer and collector for over 20 years. This pastime has taken he and his family on many visits to wine growing regions, including Arizona. During these excursions, with the accompanying tastings and lectures, it became clear that there is no "magic bullet" wine. For each wine contains its own character, strong points, and weaknesses. Sharing these experiences to help anyone purchase locally available wines is his goal.

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