I often get e-mails or phone calls from friends and blog followers, asking for advice on wine choices, or whether I have tried a certain wine that is being sold for a low price on one of those bargain wine websites. This week, I got a notice on my cellphone, as a Facebook notice, that I had been tagged in a comment from one of my friends. The message read, “Charcuterie.... Missing Madrid... Jim Newcomb.... Where are you when we need you? I can't decide Wine Flight".

Well, I don’t know what the wine flight choices were, but I can certainly make some recommendations. 

The first course of action is to understand what “charcuterie” is. Then we can use that information to determine what types of wines would work best.

Charcuterie is basically cured meat. This meat can be salted, smoked, or brined. The word is French, but its’ origins come from the Latin for “caro” or meat, and “coctus”, or cooked.  Prior to the advent of refrigeration, the idea was to preserve the stock of meat over the course of many months. Until the use of nitrates for preservation, salt was the preservative of choice.

The meat is usually pork, but can be made from any type of protein (seafood, poultry, beef, or game meats). The most common type of charcuterie is “forcemeat”. Forcemeat is a mixture of ground meat and fat, along with a variety of spices.  The meat can be coarse, or pureed into a smooth emulsion. The most common forcemeats are salami (brined, salted or dry cured) or sausages (raw meat in casings that need to be cooked, usually by boiling, grilling or smoking).

Another style of charcuterie is “mousseline”. In this style the meat is much lighter in texture, and made from leaner cuts of meat. The meat is usually blended with cream or eggs, adding to the mousse-like texture of the final product. The most common would be Pâté and terrines. Pâté is considered the finer textured of the two, and usually is made from liver.

There are many types of charcuterie, and this article is not meant to cover each style or production process. A basic understanding of what charcuterie generally is, helps us to determine what the best style of wines might be for pairing. There are a couple things that we find in common for charcuterie: salt, and fat. The additional variable is the curing process, spices used, proteins used, and the curing process involved.

Let’s look at salt first. Salty foods need a wine that can contrast, or counteract the saltiness. This is accomplished with sweet, acidic, or sparkling wines. The salter the charcuterie, the sweeter the wine need to be. Now, to be clear, we aren’t looking to pair a dessert wine with our salami, all we need is a touch of residual sugar in the wine. In this case, the most likely candidates would be Riesling for white, and Beaujolais (Gamay) for red.

Our second common component is fat. Fat will coat your mouth, so we need something that will cleanse the palate. This can be accomplished either with a sparkling wine, or an acidic wine. I find that most sparkling wines have a tough time holding up to some of the “heavier” flavors of pork or beef based charcuterie,  so usually avoid the sparkling route (but it can be very nice with lighter pâtés and terrines). The choice to cover the most bases would be higher acid grape varieties. In this case, our previous two choices of Beaujolais and Riesling would work, but we can add a couple more choices: Chenin Blanc and Barbera. We now have four wine choices that would work with most any type of charcuterie. Add some spicy components to the charcuterie, and you might also consider Gewurztraminer, or even a blend from Cotes du Rhone.

These are by no means the only wine choices. If you know your wine varieties, and their general profile, you can experiment in good faith. Also remember that local wines, usually work with the local products. So, try to determine where the style of charcuterie was developed, then look for wines from that region that might fit the bill. But most of all, don’t worry about it. Experiment, and have fun!

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