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Wine and Spices Pairing Perfection

Let’s face facts: the vast majority of us are not fully-trained sommeliers, and are unlikely to ever become one. However, that doesn’t mean we are in any way incapable of learning the fundamentals of the fine art of food and wine pairing… and art which, actually, is far simpler and more straightforward than most of us ever realised.

When you boil down the skills of a sommelier to simply seeking out wines which complement and harmonise with the key flavours of a dish (and not seeking out the quasi-mythical ‘third taste’ which manifests somewhere between the glass and the plate), suddenly the process become a whole lot more approachable and realistic. But in order to achieve this, we need to think pretty carefully about what those ‘key flavours’ really are. It’s easy enough to ascertain which wines go well with beef, or with strong cheese, or with a silky fillet of white fish… but oftentimes, those are the components of the dish we really need to be focusing on.

Regularly, the principal flavours of your food are going to come from the spices, the rubs, and the marinades you’re using to pack a punch of deliciousness to your ingredients. By paying attention to the subtleties and characteristics of these flavours (rather than the thing we’re flavouring), we can often seek out far more effective pairings. Cooking with spices is never a bad idea, and if you’re the kind of person with a well-stocked spice rack and a willingness to experiment, knowing which wines work with which classic spices is a fantastic way to approach food and wine pairing. With that in mind, let’s dive right in, and find some superb matches which are sure to set your palate alight with flavour - it’s a surefire way to take your wine pairing abilities to the next level!

Classic Spice and Wine Pairings

Black Pepper

For many, many people, a meal could never be considered complete without a hearty twist of freshly ground black pepper. This king of spices immediately adds heat and depth to almost any dish, and if your recipe involves fiery pepper sauces or peppercorn crusts, you’re going to need a rich, luscious wine to complement it. We’d recommend opting for a Spanish Garnacha, a Merlot, a Malbec, or a classic Cotes du Rhone.  

Cumin

You’ll find cumin as a key component in dishes from all over the world. It was a real star of the medieval spice route, and as such, pops up in the culinary cultures of everywhere from India to North Africa, and from Israel to Scandinavia. Aromatic, punchy, and warming, it’s an absolute delight in a wide range of dishes. Meals which feature a strong presence of cumin work best with citrusy, fresh white wines, such as Vermentino or Assyrtiko. Delicious!

Cinnamon

Who can resist the uniquely warming, comforting qualities of exotic cinnamon? It’s a spice which works just as well in a baked apple pie as it does in a deeply-flavourful stew (think Moroccan tagines, or North Indian lentil curries). Cinnamon in spicy, savoury dishes pairs beautifully with Rioja wines, and is a joy to discover alongside off-dry Rieslings in sweeter, apple-based desserts.

Ginger

Ginger is one of those spices which many sommeliers try their hardest to avoid, as classically, it was regarded as particularly tricky to pair with wine. On the one hand, it’s delicate and fragrant, and on the other, it packs a deep fiery punch of boisterous flavour. It pops up a lot in southeast Asian cuisine, and when it does, we find it works best with slightly off-dry whites like Gewurztraminer. Can’t find this type of Germanic wine at your local wine store? Pair it with Champagne - it really works a treat!

Dried Chillies (and chilli sauce)

If you’re anything like us, nothing gets your mouth watering like a hefty dash of dried chillies or chilli sauce on pretty much anything you’re eating. Fiery birdseyes, smoky chipotles, deeply intense pimentos… they all bring real energy and excitement to a dish. Chillies do need a decently strong and characterful wine to stand up to, though, so stay away from lighter wines which will be obliterated from your palate by the heat of this ingredient. Tempranillo, Carmenere, Shiraz, and Malbec all make for very effective pairings, sure to please.

Exotic Spices and Blends

Cloves

Cloves really manage to conjure up the spirit of Christmas and festivity. Serving a clove-studded ham in the winter? Pair it with a Douro red wine from Portugal - it’s a real winter warmer which is attracting plenty of attention at the moment. If you’re using cloves in a classic chicken dish, it’s best to stick with a luxurious Viognier or Chardonnay instead.

Saffron

Saffron is a really divisive spice - you either love it, or simply cannot stand the stuff. Wherever you stand on this argument, it’s impossible to deny that it’s a fascinating flavour, with a heady, aromatic, and deep character that will require a luxurious and complex wine for pairing. Viognier ticks those boxes nicely, although any highly perfumed white would probably fit the bill just as well.

Garam Masala

When it comes to Indian and Pakistani food, you cannot escape the importance of garam masala. It’s a genuine staple, and this spice blend has been a cornerstone of subcontinental cuisine for centuries. Despite its strength, this is a truly aromatic spice blend that deserves lighter, fruitier, palate-cleansing white wines - think Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. It’s a combination straight from Nirvana.

Chinese Five Spice

If you’ve been paying attention to the rise of the street food trend resulting, the chances are you’ve eaten a lot of Chinese Five Spice without necessarily realising it. It’s the sweet, aromatic flavour behind pulled pork, and is hugely effective in oriental duck dishes. When it comes to rich pork and duck meat, no wine hits the spot like Pinot Noir. If you can get your hands on a modern Romanian Pinot Noir, you’re in for a real treat with this flavour combo!

Piri Piri

Originally from the spice markets of Mozambique, Piri-Piri is Portugal’s great gift to the world of casual dining. Complex, fiery, and utterly delicious, it’s absolute perfection when slathered other chicken thighs and barbecued over coals (and just as good coated on fish, pork, and pretty much anything else). This spice blend loves being paired with New World Sauvignon Blanc, as well as other ‘savoury’ whites like Verdejo.

Jerk Seasoning

Jamaican street food is more popular than ever before, and jerk seasoning is the beating heart behind this colourful cuisine. When rubbed into fish, chicken, and pork, it lends a real smouldering heat and punchy hit of spice, and just one whiff of the stuff is enough to get our mouths watering. Again, as with many strong spices, this seasoning loves sharp, acidic, fresh wines that can cut through all that fire; Pinot Gris, Riesling, or Gavi seem to do the trick very well indeed.

There you have it - a great starting point for pairing wine with spices. Go forth and experiment, and find the combinations which really set your palate alight!

The Do's and Don'ts of Wine Tasting

Whether you’re a seasoned pro, or someone who is brand new to wine tasting, going along to wineries, cellar doors or tasting tables at wine merchants is rarely anything but an absolute treat for the senses. Tasting sessions are the perfect way to explore the endlessly varied world of wine - there are hundreds of thousands of bottles out there, and each one has something unique to say about the grape, the style, the region and the individual flavours and aromas within.

However, for many people, nerves and a lack of confidence kicks in whenever they’re invited to taste some wine. This isn’t particularly surprising; even today, there’s still a certain amount of snobbery surrounding the wine scene, and it can be a little intimidating for those new on the scene. If you’re planning on going along to a tasting, you’ll be pleased to see that we’ve compiled a short list of do’s and don’ts… so no matter how experienced you are, you can walk into that tasting room with confidence. Enjoy!

DO take a notepad

We’d highly recommend taking a pen and paper to your next wine tasting. Why? Because you’re going to be tasting several different bottles, and you want to be able to capture those initial reactions and feelings, as well as the range of flavours and aromas you encounter in each one. There’s no fixed way of taking notes when it comes to wine - that part is entirely up to you - but you’ll find that jotting down your ideas will help focus your mind, and will lead you explore your wine a little deeper.

DO go out of your comfort zone

So, you consider yourself a Pinot Noir lover, who occasionally forays into Cabernet Sauvignon, and the occasional glass of Riesling. Good for you… but you’re not going to learn a whole lot by sticking to what you know and like. At a tasting, make sure you’re making a bee-line for wines you’ve never tried before, and even checking out wines which you might not expect to like. The worst that can happen? Your suspicions are confirmed, and you end up using the spitoon. The best case scenario? You realise you were wrong, and may just have found a new favourite.

DO swallow (if you feel like it)

There is a stereotypical image out there of wine buffs swirling and spitting, but in reality, most people like to swallow their wines. After all, that’s the only way you’re going to end up with the full experience of drinking them. Of course, if you’re driving, it’s a good idea to make use of the spitoon… but as long as you’re pacing yourself and only drinking small quantities, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with swallowing.

DO cleanse your palate

Wines often have powerful flavours and firm tannins, meaning your tastebuds are going to be at risk of being overwhelmed pretty quickly. Between sips, and certainly between wines, making sure you take a sip of water to cleanse your palate. It’ll heighten your enjoyment of the wines, and ensure you can taste them as intended.

DO ask questions

If you’re at a professional wine tasting event, or even at a wine store’s tasting table, there’ll be someone on hand to answer your questions. To not take full advantage of this would be a missed opportunity, not to mention it’s highly likely that individual really enjoys chatting to people about the wines they are serving. Have a chat, explore their knowledge, and learn more about the region, winery, style, or grape of the wine you’re enjoying.

DON’T go on any empty stomach

A real rookie error this one, and one you’re unlikely to make more than once. Wine is alcoholic (as if you didn’t already know), and all those little sips do add up pretty quickly. Having a decent meal beforehand can save you from feel a little queasy after too much vino!

DON’T knock back your wine

You’re at a wine tasting, not at a student bar. You’re there to explore the flavours and aromas of fine wines, and in order to do that, you need to take your time, enjoy small sips, and give it the appreciation and concentration it deserves. Remember: first look at the colour, then swirl in the glass, then sniff, then sip. It’s not a race!

DON’T hold your wine glass by the bowl

Sure, it makes you look rakish and cool if you’re doing this at a bar, but at a wine tasting, this is a real no-no. Make sure you’re holding your glass by the stem at all times. Why? Because not only will it avoid you making the glass dirty with your fingertips, the warmth of your hand will affect the temperature of the wine, which will be served at optimum conditions for your enjoyment.

DON’T be afraid to give your opinion

Wine tasting is subjective to a certain degree, and your take on the wine being served will be slightly different from other people’s. Make sure you feel comfortable giving your opinion - even if that opinion differs considerably from those you’re drinking with. Wouldn’t life be boring if we all just agreed with each other?

Wine From Unexpected Places

As any wine lover would be quick to tell you, the world of wine is one which never stops evolving, never stops expanding, and is constantly keeping you on your toes. Every year, it seems as if another country steps into the wine industry, keen to get involved in this ancient and endlessly satisfying drink, and eager to discover what secrets their soils can reveal.

As global temperatures change and technologies develop, new opportunities arise in nations where winemaking might once have seemed laughable. It’s an exciting time to be a wine enthusiast for this reason; there’s always something different, something pioneering, and more often than not, something delicious to discover.

While many of the newest winemaking regions of the world may have a lot to learn, it’s well worth keeping an open mind regarding the produce they come up with. It wasn’t so long ago people were looking down their noses on Californian or Australian wines… and just look at how far those places have come! What’s more, the constant winds of change in the wine world have an added benefit too; they ensure that the more established - and dare we say somewhat haughty - wine countries don’t rest on their laurels too deeply. After all, you never know what’s around the corner, and which new nation might rise up to steal at least a bit of their crown.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the latest and most surprising movers and shakers on the global wine scene, and consider what the future might hold in store for them.

England

No list of great wine from unexpected places would be complete without some mention of England. British wine isn’t really anything new - in fact, grapes have been cultivated in this ancient country ever since the Roman occupation. However, English wine was always seen as something of a joke; a hobbyist’s wine industry, with bottles deemed as undrinkable by the English, and as nothing short of offensive by their French neighbours.

However, things have changed dramatically in the past decade. English white and sparkling wines have taken the world by storm, with top labels like Nyetimber rocking the world of wine awards, and leaving their Gallic competitors red faced at many blind tastings. Indigenous varietals, too, are making a comeback, and there have even been some highly successful reds and rosé wines, too. Exciting times indeed!

India

Indian wines began appearing on wine lists for the first time last year, and people have been pleasantly surprised with the results. The majority of the vineyards on the Indian subcontinent have been planted around the Himalayan foothills, where the cool climate, shelter from the monsoon, and high altitudes have led to some serious impressive forays into the creation of fruit-forward Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

It might be some time before Indian wine is taken seriously by the world at large, but as anybody knows, when Indians really put their mind to something, great things usually follow. At least you’ll now know which wine to opt for when looking for a pairing for a curry…

Japan

Wine production in Japan is actually nothing new at all; there is an impressive history of viticulture in the land of the rising sun which stretches back several centuries, and which was kick-started by early Portuguese and Dutch traders in the once highly secretive country. However, contemporary Japanese wine is primed and ready to take the Asian market by storm - these are beautifully floral, delicate wines which have been made with the national cuisine in mind, and which pack in plenty of fascinating and complex notes.

Mexico

When we think of Mexican drinking culture, our mind immediately turns to those messy nights we’ve all experienced after drinking one tequila shot too many. This all might be set to change this year, as the Mexican wine industry is gaining traction and impressing wine judges the world over.

In a way, we shouldn’t be so surprised at the concept of Mexican wine. After all, the vast majority of the country’s vineyards are situated near the California border… and they benefit from highly similar soil types and climatic conditions as top regions like Napa Valley. Unsurprisingly, therefore, varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel are thriving there, and early reports suggest that Mexican wine may well be coming to a wine store near you soon.

The Netherlands

Cold, wet, and windy… these are the words which spring to mind when we think of the landscape of the Netherlands. How is it possible, then, that the country is experiencing a rush of winemaking fervour?

Let’s not forget that the Dutch engineered their whole country several hundred years ago to be reclaimed from the sea, and have the technical know-how to make pretty much anything possible. Coupled with improving climatic conditions, and a nationwide obsession with wine (remember - it was the Dutch who first planted grapes in South Africa and Australia), it doesn’t seem so surprising after all that there would eventually be a native Dutch wine industry.

So, there you have it - five unexpected wine nations which may well be popping up on the labels at a wine store near you! Some may be brilliant, some may fall wide of the mark… but when it comes to wine, you never quite know what you’re going to find!

Pairing Wine With Our Favorite Binge Foods

We all know the scene: it’s been a busy week at work, you’re feeling a little tired and in need of some indulgence, and your sofa is looking more than a little tempting right now. What’s more, Netflix and that new box set is calling your name, and you can think of nothing better than curling up for the evening with a mountain of your favourite binge foods, a hefty load of snacks, and a well-paired bottle of wine. Now, doesn’t that sound heavenly?

Due to the somewhat pretentious nature of the wine world, there isn’t a huge amount of information when it comes to pairing wine with snack food and ‘junk’ foods. Sure, you’ll find hundreds of pairings documented for filet mignon, oysters, and all manner of restaurant and bistro classics… but hunt around for pairings with your favourite flavour of chips, and you’re probably in for a bit of a struggle. This is a shame for a number of reasons, but not least because there are some truly fantastic and joyful pairings out there, especially for the kinds of foods we really crave on an evening in with a decent movie and a couple of good mates.

So, with that in mind, we thought we’d gather together a few of our favourite tempting treats and binge classics, and take a look at which wines work best with these kinds of foods. There’s something brilliantly naughty about bringing together decent vino with snack foods, and while we wouldn’t recommend doing this on a nightly basis, it’s a real treat you can absolutely enjoy once in a while. What are you waiting for? Dive right in, and discover the key to lazy evening bliss!

Pizza

Who doesn’t love settling down for the evening with a great pizza? It’s Italy’s greatest gift to the culinary world, and whether you’re tucking into an artisanal, sourdough crust number topped with quality ingredients, or something heavier, stodgier, yet no less delicious from your local takeaway, there’s plenty of joy to be had in this particular food.

The problem with pairing wine with pizza, however, is that you’ve got a whole load of flavours to contend with. The tomatoes offer a mix of acidity and sweetness, you’ve got the tanginess of the cheese, and a host of other savoury components to keep in mind. Our best advice for a wine which goes well with almost any (tomato-based) pizza? A classic Tuscan Sangiovese. Try to avoid the more complex and subtle aged Chianti Classico Sangiovese wines - most pizzas tend to work better with something younger, fresher, brighter, and less complicated. With its own tangy acids and bright fruit flavours, this favourite Italian vino never fails to hit the spot when it comes to a night in with a pizza shared among friends!

Chocolate

When it comes to having a bit of ‘me time’, there’s nothing like opening a big bar or box of delicious chocolates, and feeling your pleasure sensors light up in your brain with every bite. Of course, pairing wine with chocolate is something which takes a bit of thought, as chocolate comes in a wide array of different styles and characteristics. Get it right, however, and you’re in for an experience that won’t soon be forgotten!

If you’re a fan of white chocolate, you’re best off sticking with classic dessert wines such as Sauternes, Tokaji, or Late Harvest Riesling. Milk chocolate works brilliantly with dry Sherry and Port, and dark chocolate (especially the trendy high cocoa solids numbers) can pair gorgeously with an Australian Shiraz, or even a bottle of Bordeaux.

Vanilla or Caramel Ice Cream

It’s funny how we never quite grow out of the childlike joy that ice cream provides. It’s the stuff of summer holidays, of adventures with your childhood friends, and of lazy days spent exploring endless beaches in your formative years. Naturally, ice creams of different flavours pair best with a wide range of different wines, and there’s a new trend for more savoury ice creams which probably deserves a wine pairing article of its own. Despite this, we always seem to fall back on the classic vanilla ice creams we remember from our youth… and this flavour works fantastically with a chilled bottle of oaked Chardonnay.

It may not be the most fashionable wine out there right now, but those oaky, caramel, butterscotch and vanilla flavours in a classic Chardonnay really work fantastically with vanilla or caramel swirl ice cream. It’s an indulgent treat that’s great for sharing, although it works just as well when on your own enjoying the guilty pleasure of a great rom com in your pyjamas.

Chips

There are no snacks foods in the world more tempting or moreish than a big bowl of chips. With a massive array of flavours and styles to choose from, you might imagine it would be quite difficult to find a wine which works well with almost all of them. That’s where you’re wrong - somehow, we’re yet to find a packet of chips which doesn’t pair perfectly with a cold glass of rosé wine, or a with a flute of supermarket Champagne.

Burgers

There’s something deeply comforting about a truly great hamburger. The softness of a brioche bun, the juiciness of the meat patty, the salad, the sauces… it all comes together to create a taste and texture sensation that is so much more than the sum of its parts. Whether you’ve opted for a fast ‘n’ easy example from one of the leading takeaway places, or have gone for something a little more artisanal and fancy, there’s no doubt that this particular dish has the potential to take pleasure to whole new levels.

If you’re looking for the perfect wine to pair with your burger, there are few grape varietals out there that do a better job than a great Pinot Noir. Whether from Burgundy, California, or hidden-gem locations like Romania, Pinot Noir is an incredible meat-friendly wine. Soft, silky, bursting with ripe and red fruit flavours, this wine - when paired with a burger - is a real recipe for indulgent success.


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