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Pairing wine and spices

Pairing wine and spices

Author and food blogger Signe Johansen reports on a visit to spice blender Rolf Gast.

It's a widely held prejuidice that spices wreak havoc with wine but as so often with difficult food and wine pairings it’s a question of knowing how to handle them. If you understand which spices go with which wines, you can be on to some winning combinations.

On my recent trip to Germany we visited expert spice blender and wine connoisseur Rolf Gast of Vinesse. Gast’s philosophy is that certain spice mixtures are analogous to certain wine styles and by using the right spices in cooking, you enhance the aromas of wine and vice versa. Each of his blends has a maximum of seven ingredients

Gast staged a tasting at Vier Jahreszeiten, the local co-operative in the Pfalz town of Bad Durkheim. where we sampled five different wines with five spice blends. At each station, he talked us through each blend and why it worked with the wine he’d chosen. Each of us tasted the wine, then dunked a piece of bread in oil and in the spice mix and took another sip.

Overall I felt his his theory held up - though there were some less successful matches and the order in which you taste the spices would be critical. One wouldn't go for the fiery hot pasta spice first and then follow it up with the more delicate Lemoncello spice. Here’s how I rated the specific pairings:

1) Lemoncello
Ingredients: Hawaiian red salt, dill, mustard seed and pepper
Suggested food matches: the distinctive dill flavour in this excellent Scandinavian-style seasoning makes it great for seasoning oily fish such as trout or salmon.
Suggested wine matches: Lemoncello really brings out the best in off-dry, young whites such as Riesling and Scheurebe. Gast also suggests Lugana and Gavi

2) Sauvage
Ingredients: Himalayan salt, tarragon, garlic, thyme, marigold, cornflower
Suggested food matches: a surprisingly delicate seasoning which matched rather well with white asparagus, and I imagine with other spring/summer vegetables such as broad beans, baby spinach, courgette and aubergine, or could be sprinkled on salads
Suggested wine matches: Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) is a sound choice for this nuanced seasoning, lifting the marigold and garlic flavours without being overwhelmed by them. Gast also suggests a blanc de noirs champagne, Gruner Veltliner, Tavel and other ross.

3) Jeera
Ingredients: Hawaiian red salt, cumin, pimento, thyme
Suggested food matches: Jeera really packs a punch with its robust cumin flavour. Best with rice, couscous, sauteed liver, roast chicken and simply delicious with sauteed mushrooms - the cumin, pimento and earthy mushroom flavours danced happily together!
Suggested wine matches: Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Chardonnay and Riesling Spatlese. We tried it with Grauburgunder and the wine really extended the cumin, pimento aromas on the palate - a great match. Gast also suggests Alsace Pinot Gris, Marsanne, Roussanne and white Bordeaux

4) Hot Pasta
Ingredients: Hawaiian red salt, chipotle chilli, sundried tomato, oregano
Suggested food matches: think barbecued steak, such as rib-eye or sirloin, or rub it on chicken before roasting/grilling. Would also give a lift to bolognese sauce, chilli con carne, and arguably bouillabaisse (although the French would vehemently disagree!)
Suggested wine matches:the chipotle in Hot Pasta was fiery, so you wouldn’t want to match it with subtle, delicate wines. We tried it with a Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) and the spices completely demolished the wine. Gast suggests gutsy oak-aged reds with toasty, smoky aromas such as Carmenère, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nero d'Avola or Languedoc reds such as Corbieres.

5) Arrosto
Ingredients: Hawaiian red salt, pink Brazilian berries (not pepper), Hungarian paprika, thyme
Suggested food matches: Arrosto's great strength is the inclusion of the wonderful, fruity Brazilian pink berries. Redolent of orange peel, sweet on the palate, with an ever so gentle hint of spice, this was perhaps the most versatile of the Vinesse spice mixtures. Use for seasoning stuffed red peppers, grilled prawns or most seafood for that matter. Also good for adding an extra special twist to a traditional meat fondue, and I suspect it would do fabulous things to roast game such as pheasant, venison, etc.
Suggested wine matches: much more discreet than Hot Pasta, Arrosto matched with Pinot Noir, allowing the fruitiness of the wine to linger on the palate. Also a good match for Beaujolais Villages, Cabernet Franc, and I suspect fruity rosés made from Pinot Noir, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon

Rolf Gast's website (unfortunately only in German) is www.vinesse.net
email: rg@vinesse.net

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