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Wine with Food: what to drink with pork

Pork dishes in four Michelin starred restaurants (clockwise from top left): Duke of Berkshire barbecued pork ribeye, baked potato, sorrel at Northcote; Iberico pork, ajo blanco, boquerón anchovies, eggshell and cinders at The Man Behind the Curtain; Iberico pork at Ametsa with Arzak Instruction; Smoked Linderöds pork, pine-tree shoots, asparagus, homemade cream cheese, ransom, apple purée, smoked black pudding at Ekstedt. (See links to the reviews in the paragraph below for full details of the dishes.)

I’ve reviewed four strikingly good, but very different restaurant meals since August: a lunch in London, dinner in Stockholm, lunch in Leeds and dinner in Langho, Lancashire. As it happens, all four have one Michelin star, which proves nothing but gives an idea of the level of dining we’re talking about. The thing that struck me as I uploaded my photos for the last of the reviews was the significant role pork had played. Each of the meals was a set menu and in each case pork was the only meat, even when there were multiple savoury courses (no fewer than 10 at The Man Behind the Curtain, Leeds). The one tiny exception was Ekstedt in Sweden where, in addition to a main course of smoked Linderöds pork, we’d kicked off with an appetiser of smoked reindeer heart, lingonberries and herbs (delicious).

I can remember (just) the days when finding pork on a restaurant menu was unusual, or there might be one pork option. Back then pork was cheap, there wasn’t the wealth of flavoursome breeds we have now, and nor was there today’s variety of cuts, some of which, emerging out of recession-led frugality, became ultra trendy (think belly and pulled pork).

It got me thinking about wine matching. The great thing about pork for the wine lover is its versatility. You can drink it with red or white. I prefer red, but fairly rich, full whites work well. Avoid high acidity unless you’re serving pork with fruit in some way (such as apples, prunes or peaches), in which case a complex Sauvignon fermented with wild yeasts and an element of oak is an option. Otherwise, Chardonnays (from Hawkes Bay in New Zealand for example), white Châteauneuf-du-Pape, blends of the white Rhône grapes Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier from anywhere, Roussillon whites and modern, oaked white Rioja are worth thinking about.

"If you're a Bordeaux nut, aim for Merlot-based wines, especially Pomerol"

As I say, I prefer red. There’s lots of choice, but a go-to wine for roast, pan-fried and grilled pork dishes is Pinot Noir, new world rather than Burgundy, although if the pork is cooked and served very simply, a good Burgundy from a properly ripe vintage and some maturity can work.

Pinot Noir, with or without the pork, is a personal favourite, but so are the crus of Beaujolais. Wines such as Morgon, Juliénas and Moulin-à-Vent work very (as they do with a great many other foods). Look out for the stellar 2015 vintage, although really these deserve another year before they're broached.

If you’re a Bordeaux nut, aim for Merlot-based Right Bank wines, especially Pomerol, rather than Cabernet-based Médoc. If you’re a fan of full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon wines from elsewhere, you just need to be aware that the flavours can be strident with a subtle dish and that a more mature wine will work better.

For richer, slow-cooked or more intensely flavoured dishes, look to bigger wines based on warmer climate grapes such as Grenache, Syrah/Shiraz, Monastrell and Cariñena: they could be new world or old (such as Priorat). Argentine Malbec is another option and is an appropriate match for cassoulet, if firmer, drier, local French wines such as Cahors and Madiran don’t appeal. With cassoulet I also like the cut and contrast of a really good cru Beaujolais, as I do with rich pork sausages such as cotecchino.

What did we drink with the pork dishes in the four restaurants? I'm glad you asked: Chilean and South African Pinot Noirs, Californian old-vine Grenache and, in Leeds, Krug Grande Cuvée. It was a Krug lunch and the Grande Cuvée took Michael O’Hare’s intricate iberico pork dish, garlic and anchovy in its stride, but a Pinot Noir wouldn't have gone awry.

Photographs by Joanna Simon

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