Ever since the late 1990s and the advent of Molto Mario and his in-house salumeria at Babbo in Manhattan, extreme house-cured charcuterie has been embraced by chefs across the nation with seemingly unrivaled zeal. (Ever wonder why so many of them make "duck prosciutto"? It's because hanging ducks take up much less space than a pig's thigh in a restaurant's walk-in refrigerator.)
Houston is no stranger to the salt-cured stuff: In 2010, the Houston Press's own Katharine Shilcutt was nominated for a James Beard Award for her superb article on the subject.
Salt-cured, you say? Yes, salt. Therein lies the rub (pun intended).
Whether commercially produced or the result of the blood, sweat, and tears of one of our favorite local chefs, the main ingredients in charcuterie are pig fat and salt. And while the tannins and acidity of well-made wine are always up for the challenge of fat, they can often be overwhelmed by the cured meat's saltiness.
In my view, the key to pairing with salumi (as the category is called in Italian) is earthiness in the wine. I may be an unabashed sycophant when it comes to Burgundy, but I'm going to reach for some earthy old-school Bordeaux or some Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley when I serve cured swine in my home. As much as I love Barbaresco from Piedmont, Italy, I'll probably pull the cork on a Barbera from Asti, where the stony, unforgiving soil makes for wines rich with umami flavors. And back here in the U.S., elegant Willamette Pinot Noir just won't do: Give me a bold Carignane from the Alexander Valley or even an old-vine Zinfandel (but no fruit bombs please!).
What wines do you like to pair with your favorite extreme house-cured meats?