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Premiere Issue > Bold Food and Bold Wine
Bold Food and Bold Wine
By Jim Hammond, wine critic

Bold foods have been with us since man first discovered chiles to spice up our life. Or maybe it was a woman? Either way, life in the Southwest includes lots of hot and spicy dishes, and I’m talking food here. Traditional wisdom has it that you should pair this type of cuisine with beer and sweet wines that can handle the heat, but Jane and I beg to disagree.

If you are a confirmed beer drinker, then spicy foods probably generate a knee jerk response favoring beer. If you are a fan of sweet wines, ditto. Even in these cases, however, I’d like you to consider alternatives that will expand your palate, provide a more diverse set of flavors to spice up your meals, and expand your wine horizon at the same time.

First, let’s take on sweet wines. A good food-friendly wine should have a touch of sweetness to extend the range of foods it can compliment. The reds should not be alcoholic powerhouses, and the whites should not be bludgeoned with oak, and both types need good acidity to get the juices flowing; literally and figuratively in this case. However, a wine that is too sweet can smother some dishes and accent the wrong attributes of others. A more balanced wine that is at home - with food or without - offers more flexibility and expands the range of choices.

On the other hand, if you are already a wine lover, and enjoy a wide range of styles and types, here is another area to investigate for food and wine pairings. While not all wines are at home with spicy and pepper-hot foods, many do compliment rather than compete and contrast rather than cloud the palate. A bold wine is one that asserts its own flavors without overpowering the food, stands up to spice without cloying overtones, and brings harmony to heated cuisines.

Bold foods exhibit bold flavors, bright spices, and heat from peppers and other regional ingredients such as those found in Italian, Mexican, and Spanish dishes. This often presents a challenge when pairing wines with these cuisines. A bold wine is one that can stand up to the rich onslaught of flavors and spices without overpowering the palate. That means the wines must be food-friendly, with lower alcohol, balanced oak, good acidity, a touch of sweetness, and bright fruit flavors to complement these cuisines.
 
There are a number of wine grapes that rate high on my list, which include Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, and Tempranillo as well as blends from the Languedoc and Rhone regions of France. Many domestic wine makers also favor these grapes, but some tend to craft fruit bombs instead of balanced wines with over-the-top fruit flavors and too much alcohol. High alcohol in a wine generates heat in the back of the mouth – the last thing you need when you’re already getting all the heat you need from the food.
 
So which wines will work? New Mexico wine makers are familiar with these challenges because these are the foods they put on their table. Some recommendations include the following:

Ponderosa Valley 2005 Tres Rossi, a blend of Sangiovese, Dolcetto, and Sangiovese. This one is a riot of wonderful flavors, and includes many of the grapes I listed above.

Corrales Winery 2005 Sangiovese has dense tannins and muted flavors until it begins to open up. Then it reveals both red and black fruit flavors including dark cherry with an acidic backbone, and the tannins settle into black pepper.

The Luna Rossa Winery Tempranillo, Dolcetto, and Nini Blend are all big-mouth-filling wines with earthy notes, bright fruit flavors, crafted in the Italian tradition.

Tularosa Vineyards, La Vina Winery, and Vivac Winery also offer very good examples of these grapes.
 
Many wine lovers look for Zinfandel wines, and these can also work, but beware of the alcoholic powerhouses many California-based wineries produce. More balanced food-friendly versions will work better. Milagro Vineyards 2006 Zinfandel is a good example of this, and one of the few I recommend within New Mexico.

We will endeavor to provide you with both imaginative spicy cuisine ideas, and the wines that you’ll come to believe were made for them. As a point of reference for any unbelievers, consider that there are many spicy dishes in Italian cuisine, but there is always the right Italian wine, or at least the right Italian grape, to go with any of them. The Italians have been doing this for millennia, they must know something. The Spanish do not hesitate to open a bottle of red Rioja with spicy paella, or a white Albarino with red-pepper flecked calamares. And now you too can explore the wonderful new world of Bold Foods with Bold Wines.

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