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Ethnic Food & Wine

ethnic food and wine 325x488Pairing Ethnic Cuisines and Spices with Wine

Like you, everyone here at loves food.  We love spices and herbs, and yes it is true we like wine too. What we love more than anything though is helping create those memorable kitchen or dining table experiences that stitch together to form the fabric of our lives. Preparing and sharing food and drink binds us together as families, as friends, as colleagues, and as people across all ethnic groups.

But wine experts and wine snobs we are not, so if it is wine-pairing perfection you seek, we definitely shouldn't be your last stop. Culinary experimentation is fun and adventurous and pairing food and wine outside of the box often leads to delicious discovery. On that note, we continue to experiment, eat, drink, enjoy and yes, make new discoveries.

Today, wine-pairing is based on 'weight & spice' not colour.

Most of us grew up hearing 'white wine with white meat, chicken and fish and red wine with red meat and pasta'. When in absolute doubt maybe, but thankfully that advice as a hard and fast rule went out of fashion when regional dining came in. 
For helpful advice about pairing wine with specific ethnic foods and spices, see menu top right.

The good news for food and wine enthusiasts is that, pairing wine with regional cuisine can be done well by just about anyone, and mastered by many. And, thanks to the explosive growth of wine culture in North America, very many excellent no-alcohol wines are available in retail outlets and in restaurants, and these too follow the same basic wine pairing 'rules'.

Two things govern cuisine pairings - the so-called WEIGHT and complexity of the dish or menu and its SEASONING, and that of the wine. Strike a balance and you've very likely cooked up a match made in heaven.

wine chinese food 325x237Remember now and throughout your wine pairing adventures that there are no absolute rules.

You will disagree with some advice and that's a very good thing. The only absolute hard and fast rule is that you and your guests enjoy the food and wine pairing and that it adds to your culinary experience. If it works for you, it works.

These days we think less about color and more about body and balance. A better starter rule of thumb than the old color rule would be 'lighter with lighter and heavier with heavier'. So start with the WEIGHT and complexity of the food, and then start thinking about its SEASONING - spices, herbs, citrus etc that create the five tastes sweet, salty, sour, pungent and bitter (the Japanese introduced a sixth taste, umami, which relates to raw fish, oysters, mushrooms - see Japanese Cuisine.

A good place to start when considering weight is the sauce, or herb & spice rub if you use one. In most cases, a dish's flavor is dictated by the sauce or seasoned crust or rub. For example, a citrus flavored sauce over chicken will require a wine whose acid level can stand up to the acid level found in the citrus based sauce. Conversely, chicken prepared in a heavy cheese sauce will pair better with a wine that cuts through the fat to cleanse the palette. Both dishes used in this example feature chicken, but their pairing requirements are very different.

Ask yourself, is the sauce light, delicate or mild? Or is it rich, intense and heavy? What spices and herbs have been used? How was the food prepared? These questions will help you determine the stand-out flavor of the food. Remember too that when we talk about the weight of the dish we must also consider its complexity - related but separate concepts. So, although heavier wines most often pair best with heavier dishes, it is not always so for complexity. This sounds more complicated than it is, but don't worry.

Striking a balance of complexity in pairing food and wine is much like striking a balance in relationships - there generally isn't room for two complex personalities. More complex foods should be paired with wines that are fruity and one dimensional, while complex wines should be paired with food that is relatively basic. This prevents the wine and food from competing with each other for the spotlight and will really allow for one or the other to shine through. If you pair a complex wine with a complex dish - though both may be excellent - what ensues is a culinary feud between the personality of the wine and that of the food.

Something else to remember is that any wine enjoyed on its own, tastes very different than that same wine tastes with food. Components in the wine interact with ingredients in the food to create new flavors, tastes and smells. Don't assume that your favorite sipping wine will be the best choice for dinner, and likewise don't assume that the big Spanish Rioja you enjoyed with tapas last week will be the best choice for sipping fireside. But then again, it may be, and if that's the case ... bravo! This is all a matter of taste, after all.

Party Savours

(a.k.a. enough to get you by at a dinner party)

If you know quite a lot about the characteristics of specific grape varietals, styles and blends, wine growing regions, and vintages, then wine pairing likely comes naturally to you. If not, here are a few 'generalities' to keep in mind:

  • Higher acid wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, etc, generally pair well with foods that have relative high acidity, and also cut nicely through many rich or fatty foods.
  • Sweeter dishes often (but not always) benefit from a wine that delivers slight sweetness. Sweeter foods can sometimes make wine taste drier than they would otherwise, therefore a wine with a touch of residual sugar may provide balance. 
  • Salty foods too, pair well with wines with slight residual sugar. The sweetness in the wine contrasts with the salt, balancing sweet and salty nicely.  High salt foods make red wines more tannic.
  • Bitter foods can render some wines overwhelmingly bitter. Conversely some bitter wines can be tamed by fattier dishes. To off-set naturally or somewhat bitter foods like deep green leafy vegetables, grapefruit and some South Asian spices, try a fruitier but full-bodied wine like as Chardonnay or Merlot - an excellent example of both red and white wines solving the same culinary conundrum.
  • Richer, fattier meat dishes pair well with reds like Shiraz, Syrah or Petite Sirah, that are high in tannins. These varietals pair well with pepper as well, because pepper off-sets tannins and enhances a wine's fruit.
  • Spicy dishes and high-tannin, high alcohol red wines combine to really turn-up the heat, so unless you really love screaming hot food, such pairings might best be avoided. Try crisp, low-alcohol wines that are relatively light with a touch of sweetness. The sugar will help tone down the heat.
  • Desserts deserve special consideration due to their general sweetness and temperature. Champagne is a good choice for most desserts, but some fruit-savory desserts like flans and cheese tarts pair well with off-dry or semi-sweet dessert wines with corresponding notes like apple, apricot, or berries. Citrusy desserts pair well with acid-cutting muscats and late harvest or ice wines made from shriveled late harvest grapes with super concentrated sugars. Most chocolate desserts love port, sherry and late harvest red wines like zinfandel. Truffles or unadulterated dark organic chocolate pair gorgeously with brandy.

When in doubt, perhaps try a Pinot Noir (red) or a Sauvignon Blanc (white), these two versatile wines pair well with most food - and both names are fun to say in front of company or in a restaurant. If all else fails, use geography. Most countries with rich wine cultures grew their regional cuisines alongside their wine industries, and regional pairings therefore, come naturally. Pairing central Italian cuisine with central Italian wine, the wines of Burgundy with beef bourguignon, California spa cuisine with Napa Valley or Sonoma wines, etc.

This works well of course until we go out for or cook Indian, Thai, Japanese, Chinese cuisine, Mexican, Caribbean or Middle Eastern food, as there are no regional wines for pairing. Pairing these so-called exotic cuisines with wine requires a bit more homework, but don't worry because we did some for you.  See Wine Pairing notes for Indian, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, Caribbean and Middle Eastern cuisines. Also see French, Greek, Italian, Westcoast and Holiday cuisines.


Which wine with which flavour profile?

So where do spices fit into the mix? Simply put, the sensory and olfactory (taste, texture and smell) elements in certain wines 'generally' pair well with certain spices and spice blends, and 'generally' poorly with others. Again, there are no absolutes because we all have different preferences and sensitivities, but conventional wine wisdom suggests the following 'general' pairing profiles.  As examples, we have listed the most popular two dozen of the hundreds of wine grape varietals - and even these profiles vary by country of origin, macro and micro climates.   California Cabernets, Australian Cabernets and French Cabernets have vastly different profiles (due to differences in climate, geography, soil, regional styles, blends, etc) though they are all made with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

Keep in mind too that these profiles aim straight down the middle, as we say repeatedly, and there is of course room on either side. Something else we say repeatedly is that good Champagne goes well with just about everything, and of course it pairs extraordinarily well with nothing at all.

Cabernet Franc   (cah-burr-nay frahn)

One of the most prolific red wines grapes in the world, but grown primarily for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and sometimes for late harvest and icewine.  The French-rooted British Columbia winery Domaine Combret makes extraordinary, award-winning Cabernet Franc varietal wine.  Cabernet Franc wines, when done well, are comparable to beautifully soft, well-balanced Pinot Noirs - but as a rule, much less expensive.  Experiment and let us know what you think ...

TYPICAL FLAVOURS:  light, raspberry, plum, black licorice, asparagus, bell pepper, violets, cigar tobacco
FOOD PAIRINGS:  roast poultry, lamb, French country, soft cheeses, vegetables, light pastas.
SPICE PAIRINGS:  anise, paprika, herbs d'provence, lavender, vanilla, coconut, peppercorns, smoked salt.

Cabernet Sauvignon  (cah-burr-nay  so-vee-nuo n)

Like Chardonnay, Cabernet is fun and easy to say.  For this reason Cabernet Sauvignon (a.k.a. Cabernet) is one of North America's most popular and most-ordered/purchased varietals. Cabernet Sauvignon is also the backbone of red Bordeaux wines, and the big fruity reds that established California as a world-class wine-producing region.  Cabernet grapes are complex and loaded with tannin, so they are used for and blended with other grapes for cellaring.  Cabernets are big and bold, so pair them with big bold flavours - French and otherwise.

TYPICAL FLAVOURS:   rich, complex, black cherry, supple, oak, currant, plum, tannic, earthy, bold.
FOOD PAIRINGS:   blue cheese, beef, veal, lamb, red pasta sauce, bold chicken dishes, strong cheese, dark chocolate. 
SPICE PAIRINGS:   mustard, paprika, rosemary, thyme, chocolate (cocoa nibs), bay leaf, parsley, nutmeg, marjoram, allspice. 

Chardonnay  (shar-duh-nay)

Like Cabernet, Chardonnay is also fun and easy to say.  Generalizing its characteristics however is not so easy.  French wines made from Chardonnay grapes grown in Chablis, Burgundy and Champagne are lighter, sharper, crisper, more citrusy on the palette and the nose, while new world wines made from Chardonnay grapes - in warmer climates like California, Australia and New Zealand for example (and sometimes southern France), tend to be fruitier, heavier and warmer than their temperate cousins.  New world Chardonnays can be tropical in their flavour profile.  Take note of the growing region and pair cuisine accordingly.

TYPICAL FLAVOURS:   range from light, to green, apples, pear, tangerine, kiwi and citrus - to rich, complex, buttery, butterscotch, spice, figs, melon, hazelnut, vanilla and oak.
FOOD PAIRINGS:   northern climate Chardonnays: cream/white sauces, poultry, white fish, veal, crab, scallops. southern climate Chardonnays:  oily fish, risotto, rich braised dishes, pasta, grilled meat and roasted poultry.  
SPICE PAIRINGS:  mustard, rosemary, tarragon, cloves, ginger, sage, Caribbean spices, lemon zest, thyme, sumac, tamarind, mint, smoked salt.

Chenin Blanc (shay-non blon)

A white grape variety from France's Loire Valley. The juice is high in acid but also fruity which makes it popular for blending and for making sparkling wines.  Chenin Blanc wines of Anjou, France are considered to be quintessential of the varietal, displaying off-dry characteristics with beautiful light fruit.  In Europe and North America, Chenin Blanc grapes are sometimes used to make late harvest wines.

TYPICAL FLAVOURS:  melon, peach, quince, citrus, honey, off-dry.
FOOD PAIRINGS:   shellfish, poultry, Chinese, Thai  and Spanish food, terrines and pates, cream soups.

SPICE PAIRINGS:   dill, fennel, allspice, cloves, parsley, nutmeg, kaffir lime, lemongrass, five spice, paprika, coriander.

Gamay Noir  (gam-may no-wah)

One of the oldest red wine grapes in the world, the noble Gamay grape is most-often associated with wines made in Beaujolias and the Loire Valley.  In the new world, Gamay favours the climates of central and eastern Canada, and the state of Oregon.  Gamay became a North American favourite with the introduction and celebration of Beaujolais Nouveau - the release of young French wine meant to be enjoyed on purchase, rather than cellared.  Gamay and Gamay blended wines are generally low in acid, but also light and fruity with notes of bright youthful berry fruit.

TYPICAL FLAVOURS: fragrant, fruit, cherry, raspberry, rose petal, violet, strawberry, light oak, vanilla.

FOOD PAIRINGS:  Oily fish like salmon, coq au vin, pates and terrines, pizza, mac & cheese
SPICE PAIRINGS:  porcini, tomato, coriander, basil, rosemary, oregano, vanilla, lavender.

Gewürztraminer (guh-voorts-truh-mee-nur)

One of our favourite varietals.  Austrian origins. The name, in German, translates to "spicy or perfumed traminer (grape)". Such a romantic start, and that's just the beginning.  Gewürztaminer grapes are a beautiful rosé colour which sometimes lends the slightest mauve blush to the wine. The grapes are naturally high in sugar, but because they perform well in cooler climates, the resulting wine is inherently off-dry, but, also redolent with aromas and flavours of lychee, passionfruit and stonefruits. And if that weren't perfection - also accompanied by spice and floral notes.  Gewürztaminer is complex,  and is one of the few varietals that pairs well with Asian cuisine, really stinky cheese, wild game, oily fish and smoked meats.  And finally, due to its somewhat confusing German, French, Italian pedigree - Gewürztaminer pairs well with stalwart Alpine dishes like cheese fondue and Raclette.

TYPICAL FLAVOURS:   peach, apricot, melon, lychee, passionfruit, spice, cinnamon. 
FOOD PAIRINGS:   spicy Asian food, pork, poultry, oily fish, game, strong cheese, smoked meats, charcuterie, cheese fondue, raclette, desserts (with or as)
SPICE PAIRINGS:   cilantro, mint, black pepper, ginger, Szechwan pepper, curry blend, coffee, coriander, lemon grass, kaffir lime, cinnamon, five spice, sumac, black tea.

Grenache  (gren-ash)

One of the most prolific red wine grape varieties in the world.  Most famous as the primary varietal (+/-80%) in Southern Rhone's Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines.  Also thrives in dry hot parts of Spain and California.  In Spain, the varietal is known as Garnacha, and is second in popularity  only to Tempranillo.  Often blended with Syrah (France) and Tempranillo (Spain) grapes.  When in doubt about a wine made predominantly from Grenache or Garnacha grapes, refer to the growing area and match with regional cuisine.

TYPICAL FLAVOURS:  soft and warm, black currant, raspberry, blackberry, allspice, orange zest, five-spice, vanilla, oak
FOOD PAIRINGS:   rich stews and braised meats, couscous, Mexican and Spanish food, roast poultry, savoury soups, Greek and Southern Italian cuisine.
SPICE PAIRINGS:   garlic, shallots, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, allspice, vanilla, cinnamon, clove.

Malbec   (mahl-bek)

Though deeply rooted in the wine grape growing, and Bordeaux winemaking history of France, Malbec wine is now most closely associated with Argentina.  Today, more Argentine acreage is attributed to growing Malbec, than any other varietal.  Argentine Malbecs are typically deep garnet in colour, big and intensely-fruit-flavoured, with a warm, velvety finish and bold tannins.  Almost all wine-producing regions in the Americas, and some on Australia, incorporate some measure of Malbec in their production, primarily for blending.  Argentine Malbecs and well-seasoned grilled steak go together like few other wine and food pairings.

TYPICAL FLAVOURS:  anise, plum, pepper, blackberry, vanilla.
FOOD PAIRINGS:   grilled steak, roast meat, smoked meat and fish, rich braised dishes, coq au vin, South American food, Chimichurri sauce.
SPICE PAIRINGS:   cumin, black pepper, chili, oregano, paprika, parsley, garlic, shallots, smoked salt, vanilla, star anise, five spice.

Merlot  (mair-low)

More acreage is attributed to Merlot grapes than any other in France's famous Bordeaux region, where Merlot and Cabernet Franc are blended in precise measure with Cabernet Sauvignon to create 'Bordeaux', the queen of French wines.  Merlot is the second most planted black wine grape in the world, and is planted as a varietal in Italy, California, Australia, Canada and parts of South America.  Merlot tannins are soft, warm and open, and kissed by fruit, herbs and vanilla - plus merlots acids are high enough that the wine pairs well with adventurous cuisine and strong flavours.  Little wonder the varietal has found popularity among wine-lovers everywhere. Great value in most cases.

TYPICAL FLAVOURS:   raspberry, oaky, medium bodied, black cherry, tannic, herbaceous, chocolate, caramel, rose, violets, clove, green olive, leather, truffle, vanilla, cigar tobacco.

FOOD PAIRINGS:  red meat, oil fish like salmon, pasta, game meat, braised dishes, smoked meats, grilled meat and seafood, Spanish food, French country food, barbeque
SPICE PAIRINGS:   basil, oregano, nutmeg, rosemary, black pepper, paprika, allspice, clove, chocolate (cocoa nibs), vanilla, coffee, smoked salt.

Muscat   (muss-cat)

Muscat grapes are sweet, and their colour ranges from green to very dark purple.  The resulting wine then is almost always sweet and can be golden or blush pink.  Wine historians believe that Muscat could be the oldest domesticated grape varietal in the world, and that in fact all other wine grape varieties are Muscat descendants.  In North America, available Muscat wines are almost exclusively of the dessert variety, though those of us lucky enough to enjoy the elusive but otherworldly 'dry Alsatian Muscat' paired with lightly spiced scallops or chicken, would challenge the latter's merits against the very finest Sauvignon Blanc or off-dry Gewürztaminer.

TYPICAL FLAVOURS:   peach, honey, orange, dried apricot, caramel, grapes, clove.
FOOD PAIRINGS:   broiled or grilled meats, oily fish, Indian and Thai food.
SPICE PAIRINGS:  coriander, curry blend, kaffir lime, Szechwan pepper, cumin, lemon grass, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, vanilla.

Petite Sirah (peh-teet seer-ah)

Petit Sirah is anything but small. A cross between Syrah and Peloursin this non-wilting violet is an emerging favourite among North American and South African wine producers and consumers.   Petite Sirah is big on colour, flavour, alcohol and tannins, and can hold its own among spicy ethnic foods.

TYPICAL FLAVOURS:   black pepper, blackberry, plum, cherry, blackberry and leather.

FOOD PAIRINGS:   rich braised and stewed dishes, Mexican Food, wild game, oily fish, smoked meat, charcuterie, grilled vegetables, meat and poultry. 

SPICE PAIRINGS:   coriander, cumin, garlic, shallots, pasilla pepper, Szechwan pepper, black pepper, paprika, smoked salt, oregano, rosemary, vanilla, citrus.

Pinot Blanc  (pea-know blon)

We love Cremant d'Alsace - on some days even more than Champagne - so it's little wonder we love Pinot Blanc, the base varietal for blending Alsace's creamy, sparkling, fortified wine.  Cremant aside, Pinot Blanc holds its own in Alsace in blends and as a single varietal.  Beautiful and full-bodied in the mouth, Pinot Blanc on its own can lack somewhat in the olfactory department.  High acid and alcohol, Pinot Blanc pairs well with Japanese food and middle of the road proteins like halibut, chicken, rabbit, shellfish, starches and vegetable dishes.

TYPICAL FLAVOURS:   green apple, flinty minerals, nuts, stone fruits.
FOOD PAIRINGS:   rabbit, chicken, halibut, shellfish, pork, salads and crudité, terrine and cold cuts, crème brûlée, panna cotta, Japanese food.

SPICE PAIRINGS:   soy, dill, ginger, parsley, coriander, horseradish, mustard, vanilla.

Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio  (pea-know gree)  (pea-know gree-jee-oh)

Same grape, different countries, completely different styles.  In Alsace where Pinot Gris is one of the region's five 'noble grapes', the wine is dry with a hint of honey and spice.  In Italy, Pinot Grigio is decidedly dry with a clean, crisp finish.  Both interpretations are somewhat floral with notes of white peach and apricot, and medium acid.

TYPICAL FLAVOURS:   medium bodied, melon, honey, green apple, spice, figs, almonds
FOOD PAIRINGS:   Creole food, cream soups, South Asian food, Thai food, Chinese food, chutneyed fruit, oily fish like salmon and tuna, cheese, cream sauces, red sauces, poultry, braised dishes, winter melons and root vegetables.

SPICE PAIRINGS:   tarragon, anise, thyme, chives, shallots, garlic, fennel, green peppercorns, pink peppercorns, Szechwan pepper, rosemary, basil, dill, coriander, curry blend, lemon grass, kaffir lime, citrus, sage, wasabi, horseradish.

Pinot Noir (pea-know know-are)

This beautiful well-balanced grape is considered by many to make the best all-around food wine. It makes sense then that Pinot Noir is also the wine of France's famed Burgundy region.   Pinot's high acidity, medium alcohol and body, and soft tannins create a very easy to drink, food-friendly wine.  Extraordinarily spicy ethnic food aside, Pinot Noir is a 'red wine with anything' choice when dining at home and at most restaurants.   Wineries in Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Oregon and British Columbia have adopted Pinot Noir as well, producing some truly exceptional wines.

TYPICAL FLAVOURS:   spice, violet, black cherry, strawberries, currant, tar, cola, smoky, floral, mulberry

FOOD PAIRINGS:   poultry, game meat, tomato sauce, strong cheese, seafood, beef, pork, lamb.
SPICE PAIRINGS:   mint, caraway, fennel, oregano, garlic, shallots, black pepper, pink pepper, smoked salt, rosemary, thyme, allspice, sage, cinnamon.

Riesling   (rees-ling)

If Pinot Noir is the go-to red wine, then Riesling is likely the go-to white wine - though from a much broader spectrum of regions and producers. Riesling is extraordinarily versatile and its dry/sweet range varies greatly. Alsatian Rieslings are know for their raisiny sweetness, while Australian and New Zealand Rieslings are characterized by their floral-scented dryness.  German Rieslings offer the greatest range of dry to sweet, are low in alcohol, and are perhaps the most famous.

TYPICAL FLAVOURS:   complex and classic fruit flavors of green apple, peach, apricot and citrus; sweet, dry and off dry, flint, rose, violet
FOOD PAIRINGS:   spicy dishes, gamy dishes, braised dishes, Asian food, German food, crab, fruit, poultry and fish, Creole food, Moroccan food.
SPICE PAIRINGS:   chervil, sage, curry blend, chili, dill, parsley, coriander, cumin, lemon grass, kaffir lime, juniper, black pepper, pink pepper, Szechwan pepper.

Sangiovese  (san-go-o-vay-zee)

Sangiovese grapes are Italian in origin, and are to Chianti what Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are to Bordeaux; they form the base crush with which small amounts of other varietals are added.  In California, Sangiovese grapes are often mis-identified as Zinfandel, because they too are big, bold and thick-skinned. Sangiovese thrive in hot dry climates, producing big fruity wines with medium-high acidity and medium body.  Like Zinfandels, Sangiovese wines are natural barbeque wines, and pair well with most Mediterranean cuisines. Pepper, plummy, cassis, violets and strawberry aptly describe most Sangiovese wines.

TYPICAL FLAVOURS:   pepper, plum, berries, violets, cinnamon, clove, vanilla, thyme, orange zest.

FOOD PAIRINGS:   Mediterranean foods, pizza, barbeque and grilled meats and vegetables, strong cheese, sausage, braised dishes, fatty game, oily fish.
SPICE PAIRINGS:   vanilla, thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, orange zest, lemon zest, black pepper, pink pepper, Szechwan pepper, garlic, shallots, cinnamon, clove.

Sauvignon Blanc (so-vee-nuo-n blon)

Also known as Fumé Blanc in California, Sauvignon Blanc is more popular in New Zealand and Australia than in any region outside of France's Loire Valley - where the regions of Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre created the gold standard for Sauvignon Blanc.  Sauvignon Blanc, more than any varietal have become synonymous with New Zealand wines, as so many winemakers consistently produce charming, award-winning Sauvignon Blanc wines, year after year.  Here at C@H, we consider Sauvignon Blanc a favourite go-to white wine for food pairing - right along with Riesling - and quite often ahead.

TYPICAL FLAVOURS:   crisp, fruity, melon, citrus, grassy, apricot, vanilla, herbaceous and pineapple.

FOOD PAIRINGS:   clams and mussels, scallops, oysters, lobster, lighter pastas, salads, poultry, goat cheese, Japanese food, asparagus, herbaceous dishes, salads, smoked trout and salmon.
WINE PAIRINGS:   basil, garlic, oregano, rosemary, cumin, ginger, black pepper, capers, dill, shallots, lemon zest, orange zest, vanilla.

Syrah or Shiraz (see-rah  shur-az)

Syrah is indigenous to France and comprises the structure of many famous Rhone blends, including Chateauneuf du Pape.  Known in Australia as Shiraz.  Popular also in California, British Columbia, and Washington and Oregon states.  Syrah and Shiraz wines are intense, beautifully dark purple/garnet coloured, and chewy.  The lean towards spice in their fruitiness and age quite well.

TYPICAL FLAVOURS:  complex, spicy, pepper, black cherry, tar, leather, nutty, smooth, tannic, plum, sandalwood.

FOOD PAIRINGS:   beef, poultry, salmon, stronger cheeses, barbeque, burgers, smoked meat, South American food, Eastern European food, German food.
SPICE PAIRINGS:   tarragon, rosemary, white pepper, parsley, sage, garlic, thyme, oregano, basil, black pepper, sumac, lemon zest, orange zest, shallots.

Tempranillo   (tem-pran-ee-o)

The noble grape of Spain, and most certainly of the famous Rioja district.  Tempranillo loves the cooler climates of northern Spain and mountainous areas of California, and also Chili, Argentina and Australia.  Tempranillo is often blended with Garnacha (Grenache), to produce big, beautiful, nosey wines of beautiful colour and texture.  There is not better wine for a spicy paella, chirizo sausage, or fragrant saffron dish, than a big juicy Tempranillo.

TYPICAL FLAVOURS:   strawberries, herbs, tobacco, leather, vanilla, florals, cassis
FOOD PAIRINGS:   Spanish food, garlic, chorizo, saffron, braised dishes, lamb, game, grilled meats and chicken, asparagus, South American food, roasted potatoes, Caribbean food.
SPICE PAIRINGS:   saffron, cumin, black pepper, fennel, shallots, onion, garlic, vanilla, cardamom, cinnamon, coffee, mustard, chili, caraway.

Viognier   (vee-own-yay)

It isn't easy to fall in love with Viognier wines, but once you find just the right one,  there is no turning back. Viognier grapes are hard to grow successfully and are not widely cultivated, so relatively few wineries specialize.  Northern France, California and Australia produce most Viognier wines.  Done well, Viognier is full-bodied, peachy and fragrant with well balanced acid.  - though pricier than most white wines.

TYPICAL FLAVOURS:   herbacious, stone fruits, lemon, metallic, flint, acidic tropical fruit, mint, fennel.

FOOD PAIRINGS:   Middle Eastern and Moroccan foods with preserved and stewed fruits, white fish, Creole food, broiled and grilled meats, German food, ham.

SPICE PAIRINGS:   fennel, anise, vanilla, juniper, cardamom, cumin, sumac, lemon zest, orange zest, onion, coriander, allspice, cinnamon.

Zinfandel (red)   (zin-fan-dell)

Zinfandel grapes come in only one colour (dark purple), but make both Red Zinfandel and White Zinfandel wines.  Most popular in California where the dry hot summers and cooler autmuns, perfectly suit its temperament.  Zinfandels are big, jammy, high alcohol wines, most often with strong black fruits, some licorice or anise, and pepper.  Unlike many big reds, Zinfandels are popular sipping wines - perhaps due to unremarkable tannins.  Like Tempranillos and Malbecs, Zinfandels pair beautifully with steak, grilled meats and summer.

TYPICAL FLAVOURS:   full bodied, black pepper, oak, chewy, black cherry, jammy, strawberry, licorice, anise, vanilla, coconut, leather, tobacco.

FOOD PAIRINGS:   game meat, barbecued meat, tomato sauces (pasta, pizza, etc.), sausage, lamb, aged cheese, grilled meats, Souther barbeque, Eastern European food, Mediterranean food, smoked meats, South American food.

SPICE PAIRINGS:   rosemary, bay leaf, thyme, black pepper, garlic, clove, tarragon, vanilla, porcini, fennel, anise, smoked salt.

Zinfandel (white)   (zin-fan-dell)

White Zinfandel is made from Red Zinfandel grapes, though left on the skins after crushing, barely long enough to create a blush.  The resulting imbalance of tannin and sugar creates a beautiful, light summer wine that is as delicious to drink as it is to look at.  For those perfect afternoons when the mood is right but it's not quite time for a red - it's most assuredly the perfect time for white zin.

TYPICAL FLAVOURS:   sweet, peach, watermelon, bubblegum, mango
FOOD PAIRINGS:   Asian food, chicken, pork, salads, fruit, Caribbean food, Hawaiian food, picnics
SPICE PAIRINGS:   black pepper, garlic, thyme, tarragon, curry blend, clove, lemon grass, kaffir lime, bay leaf.

C@H:  We would love to hear about your food and wine pairing successes and failures, and also how our spice and herb products fit into your culinary adventures. Please send us your suggestions and comments.