The United States has one of the most diverse arrays of regional cuisine of any country in the world. From Texas barbecue to New England clam chowder, regional favorites are usually a reflection of not only the people who live in those places but the geography and surrounding environment as well. Not to be left out are regional drinks, such as sweet tea in the South, bourbon in Kentucky, and green juice (well, green everything) in California. But here, we’re talking about wine.
If you want to create your own wine pairings with U.S. regional cuisine, you should be happy to know I did all the leg work (read: eating and drinking) for you. Here are my five favorite regional dishes from across the U.S. that are paired with a wine from one of the best wine regions in the country.
Chardonnay | Lobster roll
Northeast regional cuisine revolves around seafood that, for the most part, is not available anywhere else in the world. The variety of clams alone is impressive, from steamers to little necks, cherrystones and quahogs. Heck, New York City was practically built by oysters. And throw in hard-shell lobster from the shores of Connecticut all the way up through Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, and you start to see the scope of the unique ingredients this region has to offer.
Speaking of the Homarus americanus, nothing embodies Northeast cuisine more than the lobster roll. Whether choosing the cold version, with the lobster dressed lightly in mayo, or the better way (IMHO), warm with butter, a chardonnay has enough body to stand up to the chewy texture of the lobster but not too much oak or alcohol that it dulls the subtle salty and sweet flavors lying underneath.
You know, on second thought, you’re better off having one of each lobster roll…
Cabernet sauvignon | Texas BBQ brisket
It is nearly impossible for me to choose a favorite type of barbecue: St. Louis and Kansas City make my favorite ribs, and the Carolinas make my favorite sauces and pulled pork, but if I had to pick only one to eat, it would be Texas BBQ brisket.
Picking a wine pairing for this was a no-brainer: The cabernet sauvignon has everything you want in a wine to go with a perfect brisket. The heavy tannins help it stand up to the crusty bark on the rim of each slice, while its darker fruit profile settles in nicely next to the smoky flavors from the low and slow cooking process. The spice-tinged vanilla flavors from this bottle’s extended oak aging process also integrate seamlessly with the smoky, peppery brisket.
Sparkling wine | Gumbo and fried oyster po’ boy
A simple wine and food pairing suggestion to remember is that sparkling wine pairs well with spicy dishes and fried foods. Perhaps nowhere else in the country is this advice more useful than in New Orleans.
The layered complexity of the region’s cuisine can make wine pairing more difficult than usual because of the large variety of bold ingredients present in many of the native dishes. With a seafood gumbo, the slightly sweet, ripe fruit from sparkling wine helps temper some of the spiciness from the broth and the Andouille sausage while amplifying the more subtle flavors, such as the shrimp, garlic, and okra.
This bottle is also a great pairing with a fully dressed oyster po’ boy. The bubbles match the texture of the fried oyster, while its brioche notes hook up with the crusty French bread and the crisp acidity helps keep the pickle, tomato, and mayonnaise in line.
Sauvignon blanc | Beef enchilada
Many people think that Tex-Mex and Southwest cuisines are interchangeable, but there are differences. Tex-Mex is considered a combination of American ingredients, such as yellow cheese and ground beef, and prepared with Mexican influence from across the border; Southwestern food comes from Spanish colonizers, cowboys, and Native Americans centered around the spices and chiles unique to that region.
A few grape varietals and styles of wine pair well with both, and sauvignon blanc is certainly one of them. The tropical fruit flavors from the wine lighten up a beef enchilada smothered with cheese and a red sauce while still allowing the subtle spices from the ground beef and salty flavors from the cheese to work their way through.
Pinot noir | Mission burrito and French dip
The burrito might be synonymous with California cuisine, but far fewer people are aware that the French dip sandwich was also created in California, in Los Angeles, at either Cole’s or Phillipe’s.
Unlike the aforementioned enchilada, which requires a fork and knife, the Mission burrito is a handheld, rather large, press-steamed tortilla filled with beans, rice, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, shredded lettuce, jalapenos, and your choice of protein. It is served wrapped in tinfoil to ensure structural integrity and to keep your hands free from burrito runoff.
In terms of pairing, a pinot noir has a fresh, crispy structure with good acidity and soft tannins that allow the variety of flavors and textures in the burrito to express themselves as they peek out through the comfy blanket of dusty red fruits and earthiness that are hallmarks of this bottle. This wine is also great with a French dip, as it allows the flavor of the roast beef to be the star while still leaving room for the sandwich’s more subtle components, such as the provolone cheese and au jus.