If you happen to drink 1) ice tea, 2) coke or 3) mango juice while eating lechon then you are making three terrible mistakes.
Let’s put it this way: you are knowingly giving up half a ticket to heaven… It could be a totally different dining experience if you would pair your lechon with wine. Italian wine to be more specific.
Because the objective of wine and food pairing is to enhance your sensory pleasure and achieve a higher level of enjoyment. Moreover, for Italian wines complementing and heightening your lechon satisfaction is a child’s play.
But if you don’t mind what is going on in your palate when you wash a bite of lechon with ice tea, coke or mango juice then just stop reading this. Yet, know that you have failed to accomplish your dining experience by abandoning your lechon - and your palate – in sort of a sensory limbo…
I don’t need to explain to Filipinos that lechon has its own authentic taste standing out against any other national pork dish. For those few - foreigners - who don’t know, among the many variations of pork dishes served in the Philippines, lechon “baboy” is the king, a must always served at any grand Pinoy birthday or fiesta.
Everybody in the local F&B industry can recall how, back in 2009, visiting celebrity Chef Anthony Bourdain marveled: “It can now be said that of all the whole roasted pigs I’ve had all over the world, the slow roasted lechon I had in Cebu is the best”. He was somehow right, even if for the moment he had diplomatically forgotten the Italian “porchetta”…
So basically, after being slowly roasted for 4-5 hours, lechon baboy acquires its crispy reddish brown colored skin which is already a feast for the palate eaten as it is. Right below the skin, however, you would also enjoy a succulent and tender meat usually accompanied by a sweet and sour dip sauce. What a treat... Here is where it comes the wine..!
Generally, pork meat is one of the most versatile foods for wine pairing because it could be fatty and rich but also light at the same time. In order to find a perfect wine to complement and/or balance your lechon, you should focus on these basic components: flavor, weight, structure, saltiness and oiliness.
Consider the texture of the lechon (weight and structure) including the sauce that is served with it. The wine you will choose shouldn’t overpower the flavor of the lechon, it should harmonically balance it instead; thus, creating new interesting flavors.
Wines with medium-high acidity match nicely with rich, fatty foods as they cut through the oiliness by cleansing the palate. But also alcoholic content serves to deal with fatty foods even if lechon is kind of delicate in its “fatty/oiliness”. Finally, the wine you are going to try pairing should preferably have the same zest intensity as your lechon.
At this point I would say that a well-balanced medium-bodied red wine with the right tannins could work wonders, but if you think about what I have said above, even a sparkling or a white wine could potentially “marry well” with the lechon, as the Italians would say. An old world wine lover would somehow expect a red with a roasted pork.
In fact, I would rather pair my lechon with an Italian medium-bodied red such as a Dolcetto or a Refosco.
Confused? Don’t be, on the contrary the number of wine types and the range of grape varieties available to you will only increase your choice possibilities and, ultimately, the degree of your dining pleasure.
However, sparkling wines like Franciacorta and Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, in their Brut styles, might be considered also good matches depending on personal tastes and palate maturity. Finally, among white wines, I would point at a Verdicchio di Matelica that may surprise you by its magic. What brands? Ask your favorite Italian Sommelier, or just feel lucky: pair your lechon with one of the mentioned Italian grape varieties available on the market!
Sir Goldstein (1947-2008) wrote in his iconic book “The wine Lover’s Cookbook”, that “…the pairing of food and wine is a complex and highly inexact science.” This may be true but it may also be true that if you follow my suggested lechon and Italian wine pairings you could get very close to a state of being happy.