Probably the trickiest decision in wine pairing. Hot, spicy foods detract the essence of wine, stripping the fruit, tannins and nose from underneath you whether it’s an Indian Curry, Jamaican Jerk dish, fiery Thai or Mexican…. That is where I set my challenge.
For dinner tonight, I prepared pulled Chicken and Shrimp Tacos with spicy Prawn Peri Peri. I looked in my toolkit and came up with two options. I tried both- a German Spätlese Riesling and a Californian Zinfandel from Sonoma. Why the Zin you ask, simple. It’s the only varietal I can think of that has an abundance of fruit, low tannins and potentially some high levels of alcohol. I opened the white when I was cooking and found it to be very sweet, almost sickly. The red got the nod after we sat at the table and I had a mouthful of the spice. After dinner, I normalized my tastebuds and gave them both another try. I will start with the white.
Markus Molitor Ürziger Würzgarte Spätlese Riesling 2009
From Mosel and weighing in at 8% alcohol, it was super sweet. Spätlese is technically an off-dry wine with medium body, so I was taken aback by the cloying amount of sugar. I laid it aside until dinner and went about my chores.
After a mouth full of spicy chicken I tried the wine again, absolutely perfect. The combination was magic. The sweetness was offset by the heat, the great acidity of the wine cut through and the peach notes came across nicely. After dinner I started to get more depth, the sweetness subsiding. Fresh grass notes as well as some minerality became apparent. The mouthfeel is exquisite, balanced and long. This is a good wine. Not being well versed in Rieslings, I hesitate to opine, but I would think it is easily a 90 point wine and for $26 you are getting a very enjoyable ‘spice wine’ that I am giving 4 stars to. Ps. Moxie loves this style of wine and helped with the tasting.
Bella Vetta Rockpile Zinfandel ‘Jack’s Cabin Vineyard’ 2008
From Sonoma with a 14.5% punch behind it. With the tastebuds coated in spice, this wine struggled to show itself. Along with dulling your mouth, chili’s tend to throw off your smell as well. I got nothing out of the glass on the nose and the initial taste was muted with notes of blackberry and pepper. The wine’s alcohol was perfectly suited and was not an issue. The acidity was great, cutting the heat down slightly. There were no tannins to discern and the finish was somewhat muted. Overall, a distant second place in the challenge, falling short of expectations.
Post-dinner was a different story. Blackberry, red raspberry and cloves were all over the place. Zins can be very jammy but this one was linear, focused and well balanced. Very little tannins to resolve and a good acidity made this easy to drink. The alcohol started to show unfortunately, but at this level it is hard to hide. I found it for $25 and figure it’s a 90 pointer. At this combination, 4 stars and worthy of cellaring a few bottles. Like I said, it is easy to drink so it will appeal to newbs and the seasoned pros will realize its quality. Salut….