Emilia-Romagna is strange. The train departure board could be a poster announcing a stadium tour of gastronomic rockstars – Parma, Bologna, Modena – and yet… as far as wine goes, the region is mostly known for its sweet fizzy Lambrusco.
Don’t get me wrong, you can find some excellent Lambrusco; there is nothing better than a dry, chilled sparkling red with Parma ham and Parmigano Reggiano when the temperature is hitting 35 degrees. At those time when the heat is reducing the world to the absolute essentials: cheese, ham and wine. Maybe a few words and a siesta.
But admittedly, there is something of the soft drink to Lambrusco when it is simple, cheap and sweet and served in a carafe.
So, you may ask, what are you saying? Has Emilia-Romagna had a food and wine matching FAIL here. ITALY??? Are you really saying that? That is what a recent What Food, What Wine – a UK food and wine matching competition suggested: there were no trophies for good matches for Italian wine. A big fat zero on the international scoreboard.
Scusi, un momento. Italian wine? And that’s the problem right there. Italian wine does not exist. Italy is too complex and regional to have a notion of “Italy”. The local wines are nano-gastronomic machines working together at a sub-primal level.
On my first night in Parma, coincidentally in the Piazza Garibaldi (the man responsible for unifying Italy a mere 150 years ago), a local suggested I try a wine called Gutturnio - a still red wine, dry and tannic that develops a baroque perfume once the protein and fat of the cheese and ham “sucks up” the dry tannins. Don’t ask me for UK stockists. This is an ultra-local wine, our waiter was happy to tell us, made by a maverick artist in the hills of Parma.
Perhaps on reflection, the Italian contingent was not organised well enough to compete in this competition. That would not surprise me. Also, where is the Slow Food movement when you need it? The organization of “Italian wine industry” is in stark contrast to food – the Consorzio of Parmigiano Reggiano and Parma Ham, who are one of the first European organisations to protect their identity, production and marketing of their regional products.
In my opinion, this was a silly outcome and says nothing about Italian wines ability to match with food.
Food and wine matching can be incredibly easy and also incredibly difficult. Easy: when it’s about natural local products around a table with friends. A block of Parmigano Reggiano and a few slices of ham and a simple Lambrusco or sparkling Malvasia. And yet, it can also be difficult as you like, by searching for seriously local wines with deep, symbiotic relationships with the local food. This makes Italy, is it even necessary to say this?, one of the world’s deepest food cultures.
How can we approach this idea of food and wine matching in the UK if we don’t have access to these local wines?
Even if we can not find the exact “match”, at the very least we can slow down and think about what we put in our mouths, where it comes from and, to share food and wine with love. Nothing strange about that.