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BookClubEditor
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Wine Diva: Spicy, Salty, & Smoky Foods

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In today's culinary global village, you're bound to encounter food that's spicy, salty and smoky, or as in the case of some cuisines like Pan-Asian, Tex-Mex and Cajun, all three!

So, when you're standing in your local wine shop or reviewing a restaurant wine list consider the "S Factor" -- is what you're going to eat spicy, salty or smoky?

Fatty roast lamb marries well with Cabernet. Cabernet isn't a particularly fruity wine, but it's a "big" wine that goes great with a heavy dish like lamb. However, if you marinate the lamb in a spicy mustard and clove marinade, the taste of the lamb is much different and calls for a different kind of wine -- a fruity wine whose ripe fruit (which translates to an initial impression of slight sweetness) is able to stand up to the spicy marinade. And which wine is the darling of the moment and packed with lush ripe fruit? Bingo! Pinot Noir.

Let's continue with other examples of S Factor dishes. What happens when you smoke duck, or you barbeque a piece of meat, or even add salty ingredients (capers, cheese, and anchovies) to a pasta, chicken, or meat dish? Those smoky and salty flavors, like the spicy mustard sauce on the lamb, need sweetness as a counterpoint and therefore go great with wines that I call Pinot Noir on steroids -- the fruit bombs like Shiraz from Australia, and Syrah and Zinfandel from California. In fact, this adage hits it on the head: If you flame it, Zin can tame it!

S Factor foods don't just need fruity wines, they need bubbles! Just as you instinctively grab a cold beer when eating S Factor foods, you should think of Champagne and sparkling wine. Their refreshing bubbles do the same job as the bubbles in beer and quench your thirst and cool down your mouth. Most people don't think of Champagne and sparkling wine as "food" wines because they're relegated like Cinderella into a corner and stereotyped as wines only for celebrations, as an aperitif, or for a wedding. Yet, Champagne and sparkling wines absolutely shine with spicy, salty, smoky foods! Imagine how surprised people would be if you served sparkling wine to your guests at a barbeque. They'd probably ask you, "What are we celebrating?" And you'd respond, "We're not celebrating anything, the bubbles in sparkling wine are just as refreshing as those in beer, and a bubbly is a grrrreat food wine. Wait and see."

But there is something in all wines that beer doesn't have which gives your mouth a refreshing, cool feeling -- and that's the natural acidity in wine. Sauvignon Blanc has a lot and so it makes your mouth water; Chardonnay doesn't have a lot and so it has a soft, round feel in your mouth. Pinot Noir has a lot; Cabernet much less. Choosing a white or red wine with good acidity when you're having foods with the S Factor is like calling in a firefighter to come in and hose down your mouth and tame those fiery or salty ingredients. To find out which wines are "firefighters," turn to page 72 in Secrets from the Wine Diva.

When you're enjoying foods with the S Factor here's another clue to making a great wine match. Dial down on the level of "tannin" in the wine. Tannin is simply a preservative in a white or red wine and so it makes sense that wines with little or no tannin simply need to be consumed sooner. The chart on pages 58-61 in Secrets from the Wine Diva clearly lays out the most popular wines around the world, and what their tannin levels are. White and red wines with little or no tannin are clearly separated from those that are "tannic." To get you started, Cabernet is "tannic," Pinot Noir is not.

Here's an example of how the S Factor changes the wine you'd pick. Grilled shrimp is turned brown, caramelized, and the caramel/vanilla flavors in an oaky Chardonnay mirror the flavors in the cooking method. A perfect pairing. BBQ shrimp with ginger, lime and cilantro (S Factor) should avoid Chardonnay with its tannin and moderate level of acidity, and pair with a firefighter with refreshing acidity and ripe fruit to cool down your mouth. A white wine like Riesling or a red like Pinot Noir would be better matches.

Find more comparisons like these on pages 50-55 in Secrets from the Wine Diva. Are you starting to see how the S Factor changes the wine selection? Armed with the knowledge that you need wines with refreshing acidity and little or moderate tannin when enjoying spicy, salty, smoky foods you'll feel confident picking Sauvignon Blanc over Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir over Cabernet.


  1. Champagne has always been known as a celebratory drink. Since it turns out to also be the best choice for barbeques, will you be chilling a California sparkler this summer, or will you stick to what you've always had? Why?
  2. Here's a test: Chinese food has always been notoriously impossible to pair wine with. What do you think will go best?

Message Edited by BookClubEditor on 03-02-2007 03:56 PM

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ChefJon
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Re: Wine Diva: Spicy, Salty, & Smoky Foods

Welcome to this week's topic!

I think the first question is great. While I can see the food and wine wisdom of champagne at barbecue, I think I'll stick to beer and fruity reds (merlot, zinfandel, syrah) this summer!

So here's the next assignment. Share your food and wine pairings with these S-factor foods.

Wine Diva, I find the "S" factor a really useful way to explain people where the exceptions are to the conventional food and wine pairing wisdom. So, thanks!
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The_Wine_Diva
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Re: Wine Diva: Spicy, Salty, & Smoky Foods

Champagne always conjures up a special occasion, and a high price tag, which is why I suggest that for informal occasions like a BBQ (with its S factor foods that are spicy, salty, smoky), you can get the same refreshing, thirst-quenching effervesence from a beer in a sparkling wine and don't have to empty your wallet to do it. There are so many less expensive alternatives to French Chammpagne for around $10. Check out Cava from Spain, Cremant from France, Prosecco from Italy and inexpensive sparklers from the US.

So don't banish sparkling into the corner, like Cinderella, and bring it out only for a party. It's time for wine drinkers to look at sparkling in a different way --because, as the Europeans know, it is a GREAT food wine.

Cheers
A meal without wine is called breakfast!

The Wine Diva
Author & Wine Educator

www.thewinediva.com
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ChocolateFiend
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Re: Wine Diva: Spicy, Salty, & Smoky Foods

Last night another couple came by for our monthly "wine dinner." Often we have a theme: maybe we will try different chardonnays, or did the three big whites but opposites such as high acid vs low acid Sauv. Blanc. Last night we just mixed it up-- different food "colors" and different wines: a Viognier (which I have never tried before) from Chile, a Beaujolais Nouveau (Joseph Drouhin), and the Port that I had made at Wine Creations with the chocolate cake. It was fun to see how the food and wine interacted. I am not sure if it was the pairing itself, or maybe we all just liked the cake the best-- but we did have fun.

I also used a gift certificate from Wine Enthusiast to order a wine essence kit and aroma kit. That was the highpoint of the evening: guessing the aromas. The essences were mixed with water, and though we recognized some, that was more daunting. We decided that we should do this every month!
Chocolate Fiend
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The_Wine_Diva
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Re: Wine Diva: Spicy, Salty, & Smoky Foods

You are not only a chocolate fiend but "a wine diva" in my book. Isn't the wine tasting homework part of the job wonderful!
A meal without wine is called breakfast!

The Wine Diva
Author & Wine Educator

www.thewinediva.com
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ChefJon
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Re: Wine Diva: Spicy, Salty, & Smoky Foods

Chocolate Fiend, that sounds like a lot of fun! The essence kit sounds like a great way to be able to identify what it is you might be smelling in the wine.

So will you share what you ate with the Viogner and Beaujolais?

Does anyone else have great tasting experiences to share?
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ChocolateFiend
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Re: Wine Diva: Spicy, Salty, & Smoky Foods



ChefJon wrote:
Chocolate Fiend, that sounds like a lot of fun! The essence kit sounds like a great way to be able to identify what it is you might be smelling in the wine.

So will you share what you ate with the Viogner and Beaujolais?

Does anyone else have great tasting experiences to share?




With the Viognier, we had a variety of appetizers including an artichoke dip, cheese and crackers, tomato soup. The Beaujolais Nouveau, we had steak and mashed potatoes. But it was the orange chocolate Port (that I had made at Wine Creations) and the chocolate cake that was the biggest hit! But that is pretty much a given.
Chocolate Fiend