Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Pairing Wine with Cajun Food

By Liza B. Zimmerman

Visitors to New Orleans often fall in love with the local Sazeracs and love to walk the streets with Tiki drinks in hand. The truth is Cajun food is pretty challenging to pair with wine.

“The profile of Cajun food ranges from salty, fatty, spicy too very sweet when it comes to some of our desserts and pastries,” says chef Nathan Richard of the restaurant Kingfish. Those are all challenging flavors that can overwhelm many wonderful wines.

“Generally, I like to pair a Champagne (prosecco or cava goes well too) with a heavy chicken sausage gumbo because it pairs well with the salt and fat,” adds the chef. Champagnes—such as Gosset or the Italian sparkler Paolo Palumbo Lettere—a blend from Southern Italy—would all be great choices.

What to Do with Spice
Cajun food can have consistent notes of spice that can pair well with off-dry wines. “Something on the spicier side, like [the pork sausage] Boudain, would go well with a Riesling that has moderate alcohol [level],” chef notes. Cool-climate Riesling such as Covey Run from Washington State or Cave Spring Estate in Ontario are lively and refreshing.

Higher alcohol levels won’t complement the flavors of Cajun food. It is that, “crisp, acidic qualities that helps cleanse the palate and make you want another bite,” concludes Richard. 

The salty, savory flavors of cured meats present another challenge. And New Orleans is under the spell of charcuterie as much as the rest of us. “Charcuterie is so varied in flavor and texture; salty, sweet, gamey, mild, silky, dry, fatty, chunky, chewy, melty. Lambrusco works for me on this,” says chef. The bubbles will cut through the salt and cleanse your palate. Lini is a great example of this Central Italian wine.

Richard also likes the zesty acidity in Albariño. The Spanish make the classic examples of this wine, such as Do Zoe Rias Baixas from Northern Spain. Some domestic regions in California and the Pacific Northwest are making good examples.

Bigger plates of meat also figure in Cajun cooking, especially wild game. “A big Red Burgundy can stand up to the meat but for milder rabbit, quail, and even liver an Orgeon Pinot Noir would pair nicely.” While I might go with a Pinot Noir like Oregon’s affordable A to Z Wineworks, I also might pair something bigger and earthier such as a French Syrah. A Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Gigondas always works well with slightly gamey meat.

“Brandy and other fortified wines are a favorite with Cajun desserts because we love our sweets,” says chef and legendary destinations such as Café du Monde for beignets testify to that. A touch of Mission Hill Ice Wine works with almost any kind of custard- or fruit-based dessert and is often just a treat on its own.

“Cajun food is simple and made for people to come together,” he says. The best way to help consumers pair this cuisine with wine is by helping them “understand flavor profiles and textures but to learn the history of the food and the people, connect it to the beverage and make it an experience.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.
Photo Credit: Food Network

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