Well, summer is here and so are the West Indies. Barbeque season is upon us and lots of well spiced food straight off the flames. Can you have a wine that matches up as well as a beer does?
Why does beer work so well when wine seems to not be such a great match. Partly because in the UK there is a lack of depth of understanding to wine pairing and spices. However beers are refreshing, especially chilled lagers, and don’t clash with the fiery flavours of the chilies, herbs and spices. Does this rule out wines then? Of course not, but you may need to take heed of a few guidelines to help you pair up, more importantly though if you get the wine choice correct the spices in the food and the flavours in the wine will work together and make the whole experience more enjoyable.
The overriding flavours of spicy food then to be heat, spice, sweet, sour and uses of butter or dairy in the sauces. This is what you need to take notice of and not so much if the food is meat, fish of vegetarian. Barbeque sauces and marinades will affect the flavours so they are the pairing dominator. Your choice is to match a wine by either going with the spice and heat with dry and spicy wines or trying to contrast it with a sweeter wine. It is your preference, but there are a few guidelines to take into your thought processes.
Firstly avoid high alcohol. This is one of the reasons beers work so well, they aren’t very strong. Avoid wines that have been stored in oak barrels. Oak flavours can really over dominate the flavours of the food.
So what to look for? With spicy food we often squeeze lemon over it, think Indian starters. This means you should be looking for wines with crisp acidic profiles which will contrast the heat and richness. Also tend to look for wines lower in alcohol content, look for 11%abv and lower if possible. High alcohol tends to boost the heat in food and that isn’t what you want.
Secondly, think sweet and sour. Many Asian dishes use this pairing in their cuisine, so go with the wisdom of the ages. The spices and herbs will give the food the sour notes and all you have to do is match up with the sweet side.
Look for fruity, aromatic and off-dry white wines. These wines carry a sweetness in them that will allow the sugars they carry to balance against the heat and spices in the food giving balance and complementing the food perfectly.
Thirdly, yes you can have a red! Looking out for reds that have lower alcohol and low tannins. Tannins in red wines serve their purpose well, but this is a time when you need to avoid them. They will dry out your mouth and boost any bitterness the herbs and spices bring with them. Look out for fruity, spicy and fresh with lower alcohol levels also.
So armed with these three rules and facing a wall of wines in my local superstore, what am I looking for, more importantly, what should I avoid? Could I ask someone on duty of working there or am I bold enough to go and get what I want by my own skill and knowledge? Go on, have a go.
Avoid. Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot, all too high in alcohol, tannin and way too powerful, keep away from Oaked Chardonnays too, not enough freshness due to the oak.
Look out for: Riesling, off-dry or medium sweet, German or New Zealand. Albarino from Spain especially if you see Rias Baixas on the label. Gruner Veltliner from Austria. Vouvray, off-dry, from Loire Valley in France. These all have high levels of freshness. Two more excellent choices which come with aromatic and fruity intensity are Gewurtztraminer and Viognier wines.
Sparkling wines work well too, but try to hunt out off-dry rather than the Brut, and thinking of lower alcohol and sweeter wines try to pair up with Asti and Lambrusco, both from Italy, as they will balance to the flavours and the bubbles will work well with the textures.
Finally the reds. Remember the two guidelines, lower alcohol and low tannins work best, so look out for Barbera from Italy and Beaujolais from France. These two have low tannin levels, loads of fruit and are fresh for reds, which will add the wanted contrast and harmony you are looking for, just like sweet and sour!