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Caribbean Cuisine

Food, Spices & Wine

When one thinks of the Caribbean, wine is definitely not the first thing that comes to mind. Known for its production of rum, the Caribbean has a hot and fiery cuisine tradition that is well suited for beer and rum based drinks. Yet, although there isn't much of a tradition or long history of wine production in the Caribbean, its cuisine can successfully be paired with numerous wines.

pairing-2Caribbean cuisine has been influenced by the different imperial nations that once occupied the region, as well as by various ethnic groups that settled there.  The French, British, Dutch, Spanish, African, Indian and Chinese all had a hand in developing a fusion of flavors among the many different cultures, thousands of islands and 30 territories that make-up the Caribbean sub-region of North America.  The culinary vernacular of favourite Caribbean dishes varies from island to island, beach to beach.

Jamaica to the north and Trinidad & Tobago to the south-east in particular, offer well-developed cuisines with globally popular dishes like jerk chicken (Jamaica) and roti (T&T).  Jerk chicken is perhaps the best-known 'quintessential' dish from the greater Caribbean region, generally comprising a combination of allspice, hot peppers and cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, thyme and garlic.

Traditionally used to season goat and pork, jerk seasoning is now most commonly used on chicken and sometimes fish. Another dish typical of the Caribbean is curry. Introduced by the Indians, Caribbean curry is flavored with different spices than Indian curry, and is most often combined with goat or chicken meat. 

Wine with a Jerk?

With over ten percent of the United States immigrant population coming from the Caribbean, its unique cuisine has become increasingly popular in North America. So what kind of wines go best with the kick of jerk seasoning or curries flavored with lime and coconut?

Jerk seasoning is generally made with Scotch bonnet peppers, one of the hottest chili peppers according to the Scoville heat scale. These native Caribbean peppers are sometimes difficult to pair with wine because the strong spice neutralizes or skews the taste of the wine. To counteract this problem, hot food in general should be paired with wines that have a slight sweet element to them. Look for refreshing dry-sweet or lightly sweet wines that are light, but not cloyingly sweet.

caribbean-1German and Alsation Gewurztraminer (right), Riesling, and Pinot Gris are generally pretty safe bets. Riesling's from Alsace have a touch of dryness that may not counteract the heat as well as some other wines, however it does have hints of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg that will enhance the flavors found in the jerk seasoning.

Try to find a wine with a balance between the fruit flavors, sweetness and acidity. Acidity will help curb the spiciness and the fruit flavor will bring out the sweet notes in the food.

Try to avoid wines such as Chardonnay that have been oak-aged, as their taste becomes harsher when mixed with spice.

Seeing Red

caribbean-2Red wines normally do not pair well with spicy dishes, however there are a few that do. One must be wary of the tannins found in red wine that can increase the heat found in spicy foods. Consequently, look for reds made from grapes that are naturally low in tannins. These include pinot noir and Barbera grapes (such as those from Italy's Piemonte region, left) as well as Merlot.

Curried goat or chicken, a mainstay of Caribbean cuisine, is made with fresh curry powder that is pre-mixed immediately before cooking and is absorbed fully into the tender meat leading to a rich flavor throughout. As with jerk seasoning, Rieslings, Gewurtztraminer and Pinot Gris' work well with Caribbean curried dishes.