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For many people finding the right wine to pair with spicy foods is a very real challenge. They’re sure that something as red and meaty as chili should only be paired with a red wine, and that sweet whites are commonly known as dessert wines, so they must go with desserts. They know that there are rules, but no one has ever really helped them to understand those rules, which can leave a person feeling confused and frustrated. Offer them a dish like jerked chicken, with a white meat and a red sauce, and there is a danger that they’ll throw up their hands all together and walk away from wine pairings.

Unfortunately, the logical red-to-red and white-to-white thinking that they’re employing leads many people down the wrong pairing path. Think about the last time you tried to drink something sweet with a sweet snack. Whether it was soda and a candy bar, chocolate milk and cookies, or a nice Riesling with a fancy soufflé, you were probably at least a little disappointed.

The reason for this is that sweet things generally don’t work well together. One will overpower the other, or bring out bitter or sour undertones you may never have noticed before. You may find that your dessert doesn’t taste sweet at all, while your drink tastes like nothing but sugar syrup.

On the other hand, spicy foods will compete with very dry reds, and tannin-rich wines will actually intensify rather than sooth the burn. A sweet wine will complement the heat, and a white that is higher in acidity will actually stimulate the salivary glands, helping to move the capsaicin along and allowing you to get down to the flavors of a dish.

Moscat/Moscato:

This lightly carbonated white has a fruity taste that is almost candy-like in its sweetness. This may account for its recent surge in popularity among young American wine drinkers, and makes it an excellent match for spicy foods.

The flavor of wine can be drastically changed when food enters the equation, and a spicy meal will bring out some of the complexities hidden under the sometimes too-intense sweetness of this white. The bubbles will also actually carry away more of the capsaicin, which will make this a very effective palate cleanser. Consider trying a Black Muscat, which will be red and have more of a plummy, jammy flavor than its lighter cousin, which has more than once been compared to Life-Savers candies.

Riesling:

This may be the most recognizable white on the American market. Rieslings come in all shapes and sizes, from the very sweet and even lightly carbonated to the quite dry, almost cooking wine varieties. These wines range widely, but tend to have an undertone of apples and other familiar fruits, which will be accentuated by a spicy meal. Because of their familiarity, Rieslings are an excellent choice for a connoisseur looking to share a toast with a wine noob.

Another advantage of the wide range of choices in Rieslings will be the ability to choose how much or how little alcohol the wine contains. A higher level of alcohol can emphasize the spiciness of the meal, while a lower level will help to balance it out.

Gewurztraminer:

These German dessert wines are complex and captivating on their own, but once paired with spicy foods the many nuanced flavors of this intricate wine will be even more evident. Not only will the Gewurztraminer serve as a cool, crisp palate cleanser in between bites of heat, but the spiciness will emphasize the delicate and intricate nature of the wine.

The key is not to get stuck in the old, red meat/white meat paradigm. In reality you want to pair the wine to the sauce, and avoid making the mistake of thinking that matching them visually is the best method. Consider the flavors that should be most conspicuous in the meal and seek out a wine that will show them off rather than competing or overpowering them. Don’t be afraid to try a pairing that seems unconventional. Like most other aspects of cooking, trial and error is the best and most effective way to find winning flavor combinations and contrasts.

Author Bio:

Kayla Stevens is a freelance writer and a dedicated wine lover. She never passes up an opportunity to share a bottle of wine with friends, and if there also happens to be food, that’s cool too. She currently writes for Midwest Brewing, which provides supplies wine making equipment for the most daring drinkers among us.

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I got another opportunity to participate in a Wines of Chile Blogger tasting tonight.  Tons of fun interacting via social media with wine bloggers around the world via the #BlogChile hashtag on Twitter.

For this tasting, all of the wine makers were available via webcast to describe their wines and participate in Q and A.  Nothing like interacting with wine makers while drinking their wine.. having them describe the process, the goal, and how they think they did.

Big theme for tonight was terroir.  One may think France, but all wine is of it’s place.  During the tasting, one of the wine makers (forgive me, I forget which one), described terroir as:

Soil, Climate, and Culture.

Well said.

12 wines in all during the tasting.  I will post on each one over the course of the next few weeks.

Wine #1:  Vina Casablanca Nimbus Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2012.

Appellation:  Casablanca Valley

Notes:  Apricot and grass on the nose.  Very crisp and acidic, but also lots of structure and elegance.  Lots of complexity, will be a great food wine.  This is very good wine, and a great value.

Price:  $12.99

Rating:  4/5

(Wines were provided by the Thomas Collective.  There was no compensation, and my opinion is just that.  Mine.  If the wine is good, I’ll say so.  If it sucks, I’ll say that, too.  I already got the free wine.)

Crossposted at mdwinereport.com

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Last weekend we hosted a small dinner party for 3 other couples.  For dinner, we served a spice crusted duck via Avec Eric (the base recipe can be found here, although I used very large breasts and grilled them, but the idea is the same).

Protip:  have your fire extinguisher handy when grilling duck on a gas grill.

Anyway, it was a bit of a celebratory weekend for us, so we decided to open a few bottles we’d been saving for just such an occasion.  Here’s how they were.

First, we opened our most prized bottle, a 2002 Silver Oak Napa Cabernet . (5/5. $100 when I got it, but now unavailable from the winery.)  We’ve been to Silver Oak in Napa twice, and I had tasted this wine at the winery. I bought the bottle locally a few years ago, and was a bit concerned that it hadn’t been stored well before I got it, but knowing how much we liked it and how special the wine is, we gave it a go.

We decanted it, but not for long, perhaps 15 minutes.  The main point was to make sure we didn’t have any sediment issues.  It was as expected – fantastic.  It was an excellent match with the duck, the spiciness and richness of the dish were complimented by the big bold Cabernet.  A wonderful wine and a great pairing.

After finishing that bottle, we opened a 2002 Chateau Langoa Barton (5/5, $50.)  From Saint Julien and bottled at the Chateau, this is predominately a Cab, but probably a similar blend to the Silver Oak.  Decanted it while we were finishing the Silver Oak, again, maybe 10-15 minutes.

This Bordeaux was also a stunner, more rounded, less bombastic than the Silver Oak.  An excellent wine, velvet in the mouth, with just the right balance of fruit, acid, and tannins.  A good time to drink it, in my opinion, although it certainly had the structure to keep for years.  Also a great match with the duck.

Comparing the two brought about some interesting conversation.  The Silver Oak was bigger and bolder, and tasted younger.  The Langoa Barton was more refined, less bold and more earthy.  There were clear differences in style of wines that were similar blends, and both were outstanding.

After the two big boys, I decided to open something I had just picked up at my local wine store (Chesapeake Wine).  The owner of the store and I have similar palates; if he likes it, I tend to like it.  He had raved about this 2010 Chateau Les Arromans (4/5, $14).  While I thought it might be a bit young, I picked up a bottle just to see.

Glad I did.

It was certainly different from the first two.  Not over the top, but far more fruit driven, with good structure, but the tannins weren’t in the way… this isn’t something I would hold on to for very long, but right now, it’s a fun wine.  Juicy, mouth watering, and screaming to be drunk with food.  Again, a pretty good match with the duck, although in a different way, picking up more on the spiciness than the richness.

All in all, a fun comparison, and a good meal with some great wine.

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Dr. Vino with some great advice for new wine bloggers.

I agree that Facebook and Twitter enhance blogs.  My advice to a new blogger on any subject, including wine, is to not take yourself too seriously.

I blog for fun.  During the NFL season last year, I wrote (essentially blogged) for bleacherreport.com.  They take themselves way to seriously, and focused far too much on page views instead of content (although some content was quite good, they wanted people to create two slide shows out of every three posts because slide shows have more pages, thus more page views).  It stopped being fun for me, so I stopped posting there.

Wine is the same.  Drinking and discussing wine is fun.  If it stops being fun, I’ll stop doing it.

 

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Check out the rest of the details on my Facebook Page

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2007 GdV RE Terra Alta Artesano

Appellation: Terra Alta, Tarragona, Spain

Tasting Notes: 30% Grenache, 30%Chardonnay, 20% Macabeu, 15% Pedro Jimenez, 5% Muscat.  13.5% ABV.  Unusual color, pale gold, but with almost a rust tint.  Nose is floral, honey, and vanilla.  Interesting wine.  It’s got a ton of minerality, good acid.  Fruit is there, but I get more honey and vanilla, but not in an over oaked way.  The mid palate transition is a lot of peach, moving to a dry, almost tart finish that lingers a bit.  It almost tastes like it has tannins.  This is a wine geek wine, but might pair well with say fajitas, or grilled chicken served with black beans and tomatoes.  I like this, but it may not be for everyone.

Rating: 4/5

Price: Unknown, part of the Chesapeake Wine case of the month, probably in the $8-$12 range.  The next time I’m in, I’ll ask.

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2007 Blackburn Cabernet Sauvignon

Appellation: Paso Robles, California

Tasting Notes: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13.9% ABV.  Very dark purple.  Nose is some dust, lots of fruit, but that ‘fake’ fruit rollup smell.  Like jammy, but fake.   Good dark fruit on the palate, some of the fake carries over, but not as much as I thought; a good thing, because I really didn’t think I was going to like this at all.  A little hot, which makes it off balance (given the AVB is under 14%).  One dimensional, not really thought provoking, but not offensive.  Decanting smoothed out the rough edges, but didn’t make it much better.

Rating: 3/5 (but as close to a 2 as you can get and still get a 3)

Price: $10.99 at Wells.

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