When you think of pork, you might think of country style pork chops or smoky pulled pork sandwiches–but did you know that wine pairings are a way to enjoy your meal even more?
While we often might think of wine pairings with more formal dinners, such as wine pairings with salmon or wine pairings with dark, rich meat like lamb, certain wines actually go quite well with pork, too, of all kinds.
If you’re still in doubt, look no further than the High Plains Wine and Food Foundation annual Cork and Pork Festival, which was held this June. Located in Lubbock, Texas, the annual event features wine, food, and dancing.
In the tradition of a Texas barbeque, a whole pig is roasted by an acclaimed team and served to attendees, with proceeds going to Meals on Wheels, a non-profit organization (with local chapters spread across the nation) dedicated to helping seniors facing both hunger and isolation. The powerhouse organization teams with local communities and even presses for initiatives and legislation.
To get people to come out, the spectacle of a full pig is teamed with a wholesale auction, local music, and wine supplied by McPherson Cellars. Together, it’s truly a night of not only celebrating, but giving back to the community.
But does wine really pair with pork? If you enjoy wine and you also eat pork but have never paired the two, you may be missing out. In this article, we’ll tell you everything there is to know when it comes to finding the best with pork pairings.
What are the different cuts of pork?
In order to understand the best wine pairings, first, let’s dig into all the different ways pork can be prepared. If you eat pork, chances are you’ve had it prepared at least a handful of ways, but it’s important to be aware how cut and preparation method impact what wine pairings you should gravitate towards.
As a general rule, the bottom half of the pig is both fattier and tougher than the top half. Because of this, the bottom meats, such as pork belly, are slowly roasted, while something like loin does not need to be. Let’s dive right into the most common cuts of pork:
- Pork Shoulder: Pork shoulder is actually the same thing as butt (but does not indicate the behind of the pig, but rather comes from a British term). It’s tougher and fattier but prized for roasting, barbecuing, and braising, partially because layers of fat produce robust flavors as the fibers are softened.
- Picnic Shoulder: You may not recognize the name of this cut of meat, and it is not used as widely, but more for what are called ‘cracklings’, which are normally served more as a side as opposed to an entree. It’s fairly fatty and should be either braised or smoked.
- Spareribs and Ribs (and Babyback): Spare ribs are located on the front of the rib cage, and also called the brisket, producing a good deal of meat. More popular, directly across the rib cage, are what we refer to as pork ribs. It’s one of the most popular and versatile of cuts, which can be grilled, smoked, baked and of course, barbequed. Ribs have a balance of more fibrous muscle and fat. They are known to be succulent and moist if prepared correctly.
- Ham Hock: Also known as front hock, ham hock is almost always served with something like collard greens or added to a green soup and typically are both brined and smoked. It tends to be a rather tough cut, consisting of tendons and skin and located just above the feet of a pig.
- Pork Loin: Pork Loin is a very tender cut that runs on the backside of the rib cage and usually provides a large portion of meat. Pork loin is almost always served as a roast and has a mild but distinct flavor and rather lean meat.
- Pork Chops: Pork Chops, another of the most popular cuts of pork, can be served boneless or bone-in and are a fairly lean cut of pork that works with grilling, pan-frying and roasting, often served alongside hearty dishes such as mashed potatoes or fried apples. It’s enormously popular–ten percent all pork consumed in the United States is from pork chops. Pork chops do include T-bones, center cut, and Iowa chop, among other varieties.
- Sirloin: Sirloin looks like an oddly shaped form or pork chops and best served both grilled and marinated. It’s one of the leanest and tender cuts of pork but also easily becomes tough and dry when it’s cooked too long.
What flavors are commonly used to accompany pork?
As you’re likely well aware, what flavors accompany pork depend largely on what cuts you select. Method of preparation does impact flavor a good deal because pork is mostly fairly mild meat that takes on the flavors of sauces and the way it’s being prepared. The most common flavors and sauces you’ll find with pork include:
- Barbeque Sauces, from sweet to spicy and smoky. You’ll also find some mustard based, yellow barbeque sauces. Barbeque sauces mostly commonly accompany pulled pork and ribs of all kinds; they often are paired as well with grilled pork of all cuts, for a sweet smoky finish.
- Savory, earthy flavors accompany many leaner cuts of meat. Mushrooms and other root vegetables, as well as mild gravies, are favored for pork chops and sirloin.
- Sweet glazes are a favorite for center cut pieces of ham (think honey glazed ham and pineapple flavors) but they also are sometimes used for a popular lean cut like pork chops. Fruity flavors, especially citrus, can be used with pork belly.
- Fruit sauces, like apple sauces and even cranberry sauces, are also a favorite, with chops for dishes like sweet and sour pork.
- Herbaceous rubs are often used for pork roast and pork tenderloin. Seasonings include a blend of sweet, hot and smoky elements–for example, brown sugar with paprika, chili powder, cumin, and garlic.
Overall, the flavors accompanying pork fall into one of the following categories: sweet and fruity; smoky; and earthy, though many combine these basic flavors.
Does pork go with wine? I thought pork and beer went together.
Yes, pork does have many pairings with wine. Beer is often used in pork recipes for specific types of flavors–for instance, Beer braised pork and beer with BBQ are two of the most common ways. But as for most pork dishes and enjoying your pork as an entree, wine can actually be a natural pairing.
Wine pairs well with a variety of seafood and meat and pork are no exception. But not just any wine pairs well with pork. The key to finding the best wine pairings with pork is to focus on a few basics, then think about what how it’s been prepared, then, finally, what glazes sauces or seasonings accompany it.
How do I find the best wine with pork pairings?
Now that we’ve discussed the different cuts of pork, as well as some simple rules to follow when it comes to thinking about how we pair wine with pork, it’s time to get a bit more specific. To make it as easy as possible, we’ll have several different factors so you understand what goes into making the best wine pairings.
At the end of this section, we’ll then give you a summary of some basic rules, and finally, suggest some specific wines to pair pork with.
- Should you pair pork with red or white wine? The general rule of wine pairing, with several notable exceptions, is that red wine pairs with red meat, and white wine pairs with white meat and white fish and seafood. Technically even though when cooked some pork, like porch chops can appear white, it’s technically pink meat. While both white and red wines can work in various cases, a general rule of thumb is that light red wines work for pork, so long as they are not overbearing.
- However, with some cuts of pork, a sparkling white wine with a touch of sweetness like a sweet Riesling works, as does bolder, dry wines with a smooth finish, like Chardonnay. White wine either needs a touch of sweetness or a smooth richness to it.
- What level of the body do I want in my wine? Body refers to the mouthful, or how heavy your wine feels in your throat as you drink. Light bodied red wines work the best with most pork dishes and cuts because pork has a softer, less pronounced flavor than some rich red meats, such as lamb. Too full-bodied of wine would overpower the somewhat delicate sweetness. There are some exceptions, but for most cuts that are seasoned simply as baked, broiled or roasted, light body red wines such as Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, and medium-light body red wine such as Cabernet Franc.
- For white wines, you need a fuller body that still stands up to the richer notes in pork–that’s why oaked Chardonnay is a favorite. However, if you’re serving lean pork with a sweet glaze, you can go for a light and sweet sparkling wine.
- How dry should my mine be? With most pork dishes, you want to go for a moderately dry wine most of the time, but a sweeter wine if you want to enhance a pork dish with a sweet glaze or with fruit. Most pork dishes do best with a wine that is not completely bone dry (avoid, for instance, Sangiovese, which tends to be very dry) but has a touch of sweet undertones, just like pork, which is mostly savory but has a touch of sweet undertones.
- What about acidity? You want brighter acidity when pairing with most pork dishes. That brighter acidity brings out pork’s naturally sweet notes and doesn’t get lost under the richer, more savory notes. A medium to a high level of acidity, whether you’re opting for red wine or white wine, is the best way to go.
- What about the level of tannins? Tannins give you a dry, or puckering sensation when you drink. In general, red wines are higher in tannins than white wines. You want to mostly look for medium-low to lower tannins for pork. Too high of tannins can prove overpowering especially if you’re serving pork fairly plain. While there are exceptions to the rule, going lighter of the tannins is usually a better bet.
- What kinds of flavor notes should I look for? What flavor notes you look for does depend on how the pork is being prepared, which is where we get a bit more in terms of variability.
- For BBQ pork, including pulled pork and ribs, light, playful berry flavors are the way to go. Lambrusco, for instance, is a sparkling red wine that elevates the sweetness of the BBQ and also provides lift to the heavier notes. This is best for a tomato based BBQ sauce, especially those with a touch of sweetness, but it will work with tangier renditions as well.
- For pork served with a cream-based sauce or gravy, look for a smooth, creamy wine with a touch of oak. Chardonnay fits this bill–go for a Chardonnay with a tint of acidity, but one that emphasizes richer flavors like oak and vanilla; steer clear of wines that are overly fruity or bright for pork with creamy sauces.
- For spice rubbed pork roast, or most any pork roast, look for white wine featuring stone fruit. Something like Pinot Gris, with bright acidity and peach flavors with sweet undertones, work well with pork roast or slow roasted pork in general. Roasting pork for a long time produces tender pork, with surprising sweetness. Wines with stone fruit flavors and a punch of acidity complement that without being overly sweet.
- Pork chops with apples, or pork with fruit, look for something with a touch of apple and peaches or pears but higher levels of sweetness, like a sweet Reisling. The bright acidity lifts the entire dish and gives it an accent but the sweetness and the flavors in the wine bring out the best in pan-fried or fresh apples.
- For honey glazed ham, opt for richer cherry flavors. A wine like Pinot Noir works best with a rich but sweet ham. The festive but richer fruit flavors work well because it enhances and matches the sweetness of the glaze and ham, but also the richer notes.
- For most grilled pork, opt for a wine with smokier and slightly earthy notes, like Grenache. Grenache, which features berry flavors like strawberry and raspberry, also is known for smoky accents like tobacco and anise, which holds up to the more powerful, smoky notes of the grill.
Can you summarize some of these rules?
As you can see, pork is versatile to the point that it really does greatly depend on how it’s being served. If you feel overwhelmed, remember that brighter acidity, except when pork is served with creamy sauces, is the way to go; light red wines or bright wines are preferred in most cases, and fruitier wines normally work best.
Can you recommend any specific wine with pork pairings?
Now that we’ve gone over some of the complexities when it comes to pairing wine, let’s go over some more specific pairings you might enjoy.
- For pulled pork, try Lini 210 Lambrusco Rosso. This Lambrusco wine is a bright red with a touch of purple hues; rich berries, most prominently raspberries and blueberries produce a sweet but balanced finish. It’s an elegant wine with both lift and enough complexity of flavors to hold up to the smoky sweetness of pulled pork.
- For pork chops with gravy, try a structured Chardonnay like La Crema Sonoma Coast 2017. Poach pear, red plum, and a little apple are not overwhelming but produce a creamy feel, with toasted and buttery notes perfect for cream based sauces.
- For slow roasted pork, try Di Bruno 2016 Pinot Grigio. This is a vibrant, bright wine with lime, tangerine, and some subtle floral touches.
- For pork chops and apples, consider Paradise Peak Sweet Riesling. This sweet Riesling especially showcases apple and peach notes, which is complemented by brighter acidity and a pleasant finish.
- For honey glazed ham, try Meiomi Pinot Noir 2017. This is a rich pinot noir without being overbearing, with classic jam flavors, a smooth finish, and layered deeper berry notes.
- For grilled pork, try Andre Brunel Grenache 2016. This Grenache features cherry and blackberry notes, but with zesty and slightly smoky accents, including black pepper. A touch of fennel adds to that smokier appeal.