Tips on pairing wines with spices...
MUCH HAS BEEN written on the principles of matching wine and food, and although the principles of matching are universally agreed upon, when it comes to spices there is often a misconception that wine does not go with spicy food and that the most appropriate beverage to accompany spicy meals is beer. This may be the case if one takes the narrow view that there are only a few hot spices in the world. However, author of The Spice and Herb Bible 2nd Edition, Ian Hemphill with recipes by Kate Hemphill, know this is not so.
It is also worth noting that many of the descriptions of aromas and tastes that we use to describe spices are the same as or similar to the terms employed in the descriptions, sometimes overly fanciful, of the profiles of wines.
When describing both wines and spices, people use such words as: fruity, vanilla-like, buttery, resinous, acidic, earthy, spicy, robust, anise-like or licorice-like, peppery, sulfurous, acrid, lemony, mineraly, turpentine-like, sweet, honey-like, pungent, moldy, floral, hay-like, herbaceous, savory, grassy, piney, smoky, woody, raisin-like, minty, astringent, tart, penetrating, metallic, dry, bitter, biting, clean, tangy, zesty, menthol-like, lingering, fresh, musky, gingery, camphor-like, medicinal, antiseptic, warming, numbing, insect-like, fetid, sharp, citric, nutty, caramelized, cherry-like, almondy, tobacco-like, roasted, toasted and burnt — to mention just a few!
It is not surprising, then, that the most practical way to approach matching wine with spiced food is either to identify the aspects of commonality — to literally match the profiles — or to focus on the elements that best balance the tastes in the wine and food. The result is a complementary embodiment of the most distinctive characters of each, the wine and the spice, to the satisfaction of one’s palate.
For example, a casserole seasoned with the combination of spices known as baharat (including sweet paprika, pepper, cumin, nutmeg and cloves) is perfectly matched with a Shiraz that has warm, spicy, licorice and berry fruit notes. Neither overpowers the other, and that is why they match. The antiseptic characteristic of cloves makes them too strong to pair with light white wines; meals heavily spiced with cloves need a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Shiraz.
Here are some useful guidelines to keep in mind:
Hot spices such as pepper, chili and horseradish increase your perception of alcohol content, making high-alcohol wines less pleasant to swallow and food flavors seem harsher.
When you’re eating hot, spicy food, a low-alcohol wine from New Zealand, Germany or Alsace would be a better choice.
Some salty foods benefit from a sweeter wine that balances the flavors you experience; for instance, Sauternes with Roquefort cheese.
Other salty foods match well with fresh, acidic wines, and salt in a meal can sometimes moderate the tannins in red wine.
Soft fresh herbs such as basil, coriander and dill pair well with a broad range of wines, the exception, perhaps, being a heavy Cabernet Sauvignon.
Firmer, more savory herbs such as rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano go well with Pinot, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, due to these wines’ depth of flavor.