Don't follow conventional wisdom when pairing wine with charcuterie

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If you were to spend a couple of hours Googling what wine to pair with charcuterie, conventional wisdom would suggest medium- to full-bodied reds -- exactly the wrong kinds of wine, according to wine expert Joshua Wesson. He explains what you should really look for.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper: I'm the person who has the charcuterie or the pork belly for dessert at a restaurant. What's your take on wines with charcuterie?

Joshua Wesson
Joshua Wesson

Joshua Wesson: As amazing an array of producers as you can find right now for artisanal charcuterie, there's not the same amount of wisdom out there when it comes to pairing cured meats with wine.

In fact, the default setting if you were to spend a couple of hours Googling that question would be medium- to full-bodied reds, which are exactly the wrong kinds of wine. They're wrong because when you have a lot of alcohol and a lot of structure in a red wine and then you start tasting foods which are salty, the salt can exaggerate the alcohol and blow the wine up right on your palate.

The conventional wisdom, the little there is out there, is not so wise. You've got to replace it with something that makes a little bit more sense and tastes better.

LRK: What would that be?

JW: I think whenever you're having foods like charcuterie that have salt, fat, savory spices and textures that can run the gamut from silky and moist to really, really dry and intense, you've got to look for beverages that are refreshing, that can cleanse the palate.

That means wines that can be chilled, wines that are low in alcohol and high in acid, sometimes wines that are a little bit sweet, and sometimes wines that have a few bubbles in them. That is really pushing you in a direction more toward white and rosé, fizzy rather than still and certainly low in alcohol rather than high.

I love prosecco with all kinds of charcuterie. I love not terribly complex sparkling wines coming from just about anywhere with all different kinds of charcuterie. Probably my favorite would be Lambrusco from Emilia-Romagna, Italy, sparkling red wines that are just absolutely amazing with just about any kind of charcuterie you put in front of them.

But I also love modest white wines that don't have any oak -- things like sauvignon blancs from New Zealand, albariños from Galicia in Spain, chenin blancs from Loire Valley or South Africa. One of my favorites just as a go-to white wine for charcuterie: off-dry rieslings from the Mosel in Germany. Fantastic kabinett rieslings are just amazing with all different kinds of charcuterie, especially prosciutto.

LRK: I spent a little bit of time in Emilia-Romagna. When you eat prosciutto Di Parma in Parma, they serve it with a local white, they call it frizzante, a lightly sparkling sauvignon blanc that has a touch of sweetness. It's like drinking spring.

The point is there's no red on the table. There are people there who would never serve you butter and bread with your prosciutto, fruit with your prosciutto or anything red.

JW: I think that's wise advice. That kind of wine, off-dry sparkling white wine, is just perfect. You don't even have to have bubbles, just an off-dry white wine would be great.

Rosés go very well with a lot of charcuterie because they're red wines that think they're white. You can chill them of course. They usually have beautiful mouthwatering qualities coming from the fruit or coming from the acid.

I don't mean to throw red wines under the bus. But if you're going to drink red wine with charcuterie, you best find red wines that are made in a lighter style that are modest in alcohol, that don't have a lot of tannin and that can be chilled slightly. Things like Beaujolais or pinot noirs, especially pinot noirs coming from cool climates. I had a very, very delicious one from Erath, an estate pinot noir from $18-19 from Willamette Valley in Oregon. It is just delicious with charcuterie.

Probably my all-time reds come from Beaujolais, France. Last week I was drinking a Trenel Cote de Brouilly, which is a lighter style cru from Beaujolais for about $15-16. It is insanely good with pates, salami, mortadella, rillettes and lomo. It was one of those goes-with-anything kind of wines.

Wesson's wine picks for charcuterie:

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