Wine and food pairings have always been about celebrating the combined experience. That goal is often reached by selecting a wine that either complements, contrasts with or balances the food, often using acid to tame something that by itself is quite rich. There have been historic pairings through the centuries that still seem to go so well together. In Italy, the Emilia region west of Bologna is known for balancing its fattier pork dishes with the bubbles and crispness of local Lambrusco wine. Meanwhile, east of Bologna, Romagna grows beef that pairs better with its robust red Sangiovese wines.
Here in the Brandywine Valley, quality family-made wines have been available only for the last two or three decades, and no such historic wine and food pairings exist—yet. So we asked some Chester County vintners which of their wines they might pair with local foods over the holidays.
Every celebration needs to start with a sparkling wine, and a few good ones are produced locally. At 1723 Vineyards in Landenberg, Ben and Sarah Cody make theirs from cabernet franc and chardonel, a relatively new and interesting hybrid grape. “The current 1723 blanc de blanc is fairly dry as far as sparkling wine goes,” says Ben, who recommends pairing it with smoked trout spreads, stuffed mushrooms and baked crab dip. “With about five grams of residual sugar per liter, it’s going to pair really well with anything fatty and savory.”
Earlier this year, Kyle Jones opened his Acadian Wine Company tasting room in West Grove, buying what had been Kreutz Creek Vineyards when Carole and Jim Kirkpatrick decided to retire. He’s not new to winemaking, having worked in other Pennsylvania cellars, and he loves to cook. One of his creations is a dish made with locally raised pork and a fruit glazing. He pairs it with a standard Acadian riesling, which is a tad sweeter and fruitier than his dry version. “The acid is there to match the salty and fatty flavors, and the sweetness also balances the salty taste,” says Jones. “The big tropical fruit notes are elevated by the pineapple or peach glazing, and any added clove or nutmeg would add to the synergy.”
Game meat is a standby at many rural holiday tables—especially rabbit. For those who don’t do fall hunting, it’s available at some local butchers. “I remember my grandparents in Italy would raise them for meat,” says Carley Razzi, who co-owns Penns Woods Winery with her father, Gino.
Razzi pairs her rabbit with Penns Woods’ pinot noir. “It has a low tannic structure, much like a French-style pinot noir,” says Razzi. “The welcoming acidity and bright red fruit in the pinot perfectly balance the mild, almost sweet flavors in the rabbit.”
Anthony Vietri has been patronizing local cheesemakers at his Va La Vineyards in Avondale since it opened more than 20 years ago. For the perfect sampling, Vietri chooses three. “The fresh goat chèvre with honey from Shellbark Hollow Farm in Honey Brook is a creamy, soft cheese produced from Nubian goats and marinated with a local honey,” he says.
Next comes Seven Sisters, a cheese made by the Farm at Doe Run. “It’s an award-winning raw cow’s milk cheese—mild, with cave-aged Gouda-style flavors,” Vietri says.
Finally, there’s the Lanchego, a raw sheep’s milk cheese by Wakefield’s De Glae Organic Farm. It’s made with a vegetable rennet and washed in organic extra-virgin olive oil.
For a perfect pairing, Vietri suggests his La Prima Donna, a blend of Italian and French white grapes with some extra skin time to enrich its flavors. “We’ve served it in the tasting room with the Shellbark chèvre and honey for almost 20 years,” he says.
Family gatherings in the chill of winter demand comfort food. For its popular shepherd’s pie, the Whip Tavern uses ground lamb from Atglen’s MacCauley Suffolks sheep farm. Lele Galer’s vegetarian version incorporates local portobello mushrooms, vegetable broth and Indian spices. “I’d pair it with our Galer Grüner Veltliner or Red Lion Chardonnay,” says the owner of Galer Estate Vineyard and Winery in Kennett Square.
With a little practice, Brandywine Valley wine and food pairings may well become standard holiday fare.