Pairing Wine with Caribbean Flavours


Today I am bringing you two very important things to me, all in one post, and that is Wine and Caribbean Food! For the longest while, early in my business career, I thought it was ideal to keep the two separate. Let me bring you up to speed. I first got introduced to wine (good wine) in my first job after university, where I found myself with an expense budget and clients to dine. The way I fumbled my way through finding appropriate restaurants and navigating the wine list will be saved for another post, but trust me, it was not pretty. Anyway, with the introduction to wine coming from an environment so vastly different than the one I grew up in, I just never thought to blend the two together. It was not until a good eight years later that I had the epiphany to experiment with pairings... or put another way, just became comfortable with all sides of me. Beverly, the child of Guyanese parents, loves pepperpot, curry, Grüner Veltliner, Gamay, Barolo, Skin Contact Pinot Grigio/Gris, music (that was in no specific order), and by day works in advertising and marketing. So, now fast forward to today, where I insist on pairing wine with my dinner, and that means no matter the food and no matter the flavours I can safely say 'I got a wine for that'. Pro Tips for Paring Caribbean Food and Wine Below are a few principles that I live by when pairing Caribbean food and wine. 1. Take Your Lead from the Gravy in the Pot This is the number one reason why Caribbean food cannot abide by the general wine pairing rules of 'what grows together goes together', or 'white wine with fish and red wine with meat'. Caribbean dishes often consist of meats cooked in sauce, and the end result has you dishing out a little rice and then dressing that with your meat and accompanying sauce. How many of you have ordered your OxTail meal with Extra Gravy... right! So, instead of deciding that your Ox Tail deserves a hearty red because it's filled with beef cuts, taste the gravy that dresses your meat. Then taste the cut of meat on your plate because it has likely been marinating for 24 hours, as is the style in most Caribbean homes, and as such will be flavourful, even on its own, without the sauce it is cooked with. Intensely flavoured foods, paired with an intense red wine (high alcohol and high tannin), will lead to a battle in your mouth that you do not want. You'll want to look for a lighter red wine that is known for light to medium tannins and high acid when pairing your Caribbean meat dishes. Think wines such as Beaujolais (Gamay) or cool-climate Pinot Noir. 2. A Little Sweetness to Conquer the Pepper Sauce and Scotch Bonnet You should try it one day. Take that spicy curry dish your Aunt made and pair it with a dry red or even white wine. You will find that whatever residual sugars these wines had in the first place now seem nonexistent. Spice will diminish the sweetness of the wine, and this is why I always suggest going with white wine, made in a style that, while still classed as dry, is known to have noticeable residual sugar. You are looking for wines that range between 12.5% alcohol to 13.5%, and you want to look for wines such as Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Gewurztraminer, Alsatian Pinot Gris, and some Sparkling Wine. If you are adamant about having red with your Aunt's spicy curry dish, then so be it. You'll want to go with a lighter red wine style that brings a lot of ripe fruit out in the palate, and you'll want to make sure it is 13.5% alcohol or less. 3. Acidity in Wine is Your Friend Indeed Acidity acts as a palate cleanser. Think about why you squeeze lemon on fish? For our escovitch, fried fish, saltfish and bake, ackee and saltfish, and good ol' shark and bake dishes in Caribbean cooking, we'll want to pay attention here. When pairing with your fish dishes, you want to use wines known for their crisp acidity, and refer to point number 2, if your dish includes heat, i.e., scotch bonnet pepper. One of my favourite fish pairings is Sparkling Wine; it has crisp acidity, some residual sugar from dosage, and generally a comforting creamy sensation on the palate if aged on lees for an extensive period of time. If looking for still wine, you can look at things such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis, and all of the wines suggested in point #2. 4. Leave the High Alcohol Levels to the Rum and the After Party Let's face it, our food is delicious and intensely flavoured, and you know what high alcohol does to that? KILL IT ALL. If sitting down to dinner and looking to enjoy a lovely wine with it, you should know that high alcohol beverages paired with spice accentuate the alcohol, and this can be perceived as heat on the palate, in addition to the heat from the spicy food you've paired it with. Yes, I know this all sounds terrible, so don't do it! I am definitely not hating on high alcohol wines as there are a few on my staple list, but I am cognizant of what I pair them with ahead of time. So there you have it. A few pointers to guide you along pairing your wines with Caribbean foods. It is good to mention that the above principles also apply to spicy Indian, Latin, and Thai foods, as well or any other cuisine that is generally intensely flavoured. Happy pairing, everyone!