Jerk chicken on a well-seasoned grill, lathered with pimento, scotch bonnet pepper and served alongside a hearty portion of rice and peas.It’s one of Jamaica’s great gifts to the world–and you can be sure that it packs a punch! Pairing wines with spicy food is a difficult challenge, but I’m here to dispel that myth in this blog that foods high on the Scoville scale are pairable. Here are my five ideas for pairing jerk chicken with wine.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking–heavy red wine plus spicy foods=disaster. But hear me out. While Montepulciano is high in tannins, which can stoke a fiery furnance in the mouth when combined with spicy food, the more nuanced notes of a well-aged Montepulciano wine will harmonize beautifully with a marinated hunk of jerk.
An off-dry Riesling can work wonders as a pairing for jerk, but it depends on how exactly your chicken is being served. Some cooks like to prepare sweet jerk sauce, or gravy, alongside their chicken, which often includes a good amount of brown sugar. This style of preparing jerk counteracts the spiciness of the chicken with the sweetness of the sauce.
Riesling takes this style of jerk a step further. It’s light-bodied, it has those characteristic tree-fruit notes, and it has a natural acidity to cut through the heat of the marinade. But the secret her is choosing an off-dry Riesling–not too sweet, not too dry–with just a hint of sweetness. Such a pairing will allow all the flavors to shine through, with the “backing up” of the sweetness of the sauce without overpowering the texture and heat of the chicken.
Malbec-Shiraz is a hearty, full-bodied blend of…you guessed it, Malbec and Shiraz, which is important because neither of these wines would really work on their own with jerk chicken. Malbec alone istoo heavy and tannic, creating an overpowering sensation with the heat of jerk chicken. Likewise, Shiraz is too complex in its flavor profile to pair well with the multitudes of spices that go into jerk marinade.
Another point to keep in mind is that some Malbec-Shiraz blends feature one grape heavily than the other, and the reason this pairing works is because the blend is right in the midde. Check the back of the bottle if you’re not sure.
I couldn’t compile this list without recommending at least ONE ros’e. And I chose the Campuget 2019 and the 1753 Syrah-Vermentino Ros’e, and with good reason. The first reason is that the Syrah-Ros’e, especially from the Rhone Valley, tends to be more heartier and more full-bodied than certain New World ros’es. This means that the flavor profile of the wine isn’t lost on the righteous textures of grilled jerk meat, which is good, because the flavor has a peppery touch of Syrah I spoke about earlier. Add to that the touch of sweetness, and you have a fine jerk chicken wine pairing–especially for a summer’s day by the BBQ.
Gewurtztraminer works as a jerk chicken wine pairing because its flavor profile is so intricate for a white wine. This could be down its ageing process–Gewurtztraminer is traditionally aged in foudres (large wooden vats), which impart their own unique flavors while shaking off others that are accumulated in the unification process.
It has this bright flavor with high alcohol content at the same time. Dig deeper and you start to notice hints of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and sometimes even allspice. All these herbs are essential to the flavor profile of jerk chicken, so this pairing is a no-brainer for the more adventurous of the taste buds.