When choosing wines to go with a meal like Anjali's Indian-themed sweet potato buffet you might initially feel a little perplexed. How can you pick a wine to pair perfectly with so many different and mainly spicy flavors?
Awhile back I wrote a post about pairing wine with spicy foods and boiled it down to three rules. The ultimate decision depends on whether you want the wine to complement or even accentuate the heat and spicy flavors or whether you prefer a more cooling contrast.
My three guidelines are:
- Avoid heavily oaked and/or high alcohol wines
- Contrast with fruity, aromatic and off-dry to medium sweet wine
- Complement with crisp, lighter-bodied red wines
Based on Anjali’s menu I had made a mental short list of grape varieties and styles of wine to look for before I headed to Trader Joe’s just off New York’s Union Square. On my mental list I had sparkling, fruity/off-dry Riesling, Gewürztraminer, fruity Chenin Blanc as well as light reds such as Beaujolais, Austrian Zweigelt and Schiava from Alto Adige. Unfortunately Trader Joe’s did not have any Zweigelt or Schiava — so my red wine options were somewhat limited. I was also a little disappointed in the number of Beaujolais wines on offer — essentially just one.
After walking up and down the aisles I finally selected eleven wines to try. Overall I was pretty happy with my selection and confident that they would work well with Anjali’s variety of Indian dishes. Here’s what I had to say on each of the wines.
White & Rosé Wines
- Mionetto Prosecco Brut DOC Treviso, Italy $12.99 - A light-bodied, softly textured, easy-drinking sparkler at a great price.
- 2012 Cantina Zaccagnini Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo Dry Rosé, Abruzzo, Italy $11.99 - Quite robust and round on the palate, but with lovely crisp acidity – a wine to bring out the heat and spice in the food.
- 2012 Michel Léon Gewürztraminer, Alsace, France $9.99 - Intensely aromatic and broad rich nose of exotic spices, rose water, lychee, peach and nuances of sweet smoky incense.
- 2011 August Kessler “R” Riesling Kabinett, Rheingau, Germany $11.99 - The Kabinett level sweetness is nicely balanced by the crisp acidity and citrus flavors, which are more prevalent on the mid and back palate. A relatively softly structured, accessible wine for a Riesling.
- 2012 Frisk Riesling, Victoria, Australia $7.99 - Mouthwatering with the racy acidity and gentle ‘spritz’ providing a perfect balance to the wine’s residual sweetness. Flavors are zesty, juicy and plentiful.
- 2011 The Stump Jump White Blend, McLaren Vale, Australia $9.99 -While the alcohol is 13.5% — and above what I would typically recommend with spicy foods — the pronounced aromatics, rich peachy flavors and fleshy texture take center stage, holding the alcohol in check.
- 2011 Pacific Rim Dry Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington State $8.99 - While dry, the ripeness of the fruit gives the impression of some palate sweetness. This is one for the more full-bodied, robust dishes.
- 2012 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc & Viognier, California $9.99 - An ever so slight spritz and crisp acidity lift the flavors, making for a tasty refreshing wine. Off-dry with an attractive spiciness on the finish.
- 2012 The Wolftrap Viognier-Chenin Blanc-Grenache Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa $8.99 - Dry, nicely refreshing with more pronounced herbal and spicy notes on the palate.
- 2011 Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages, Beaujolais, France $11.99 - The supple tannins and bright juicy fruit make this wine a good fit for the guests who prefer to drink red.
- 2012 Josef Händler Sweet Red Wine, Rheinhessen, Germany $4.99 - Sweetness is very well balanced by the acidity and liveliness of the fruit that is plentiful and persistent. This wine definitely exceeded my expectations for five bucks!
Wine Notes from Anjali: I picked up three bottles of white, one red and one dessert wine from Mary's list. At my Trader Joe's in Los Angeles, they only carried four of her picks: the Michel Léon Gewürztraminer, the Pine Ridge, the Louis Jadot Beaujolais (not Beaujolais Villages) and the Josef Händler sweet red wine. I found the Frisk Riesling at K&L Wines, a West Coast chain that also carries an Austrian Zweigelt, one of the light reds Mary mentioned might be a good fit for the meal. I bought a couple bottles of that as well.
All of the wines were delicious, but the biggest surprise was the dessert wine. I think many of us had a skeptical attitude toward a sweet red wine, but it paired perfectly with the baked apples and vanilla ice cream we had for dessert. It was a lovely way to conclude the party.
Photography: Bridget Pizzo