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 it packs a punch. Pairing wine with spicy food is a notoriously difficult challenge, but we’re here to dispel the myth that foods high on the Scoville scale are unpairable. Read on for our five unique ideas (and handy infographic!) for pairing jerk chicken with wine.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking – heavy red wine + spicy food = disaster. But hear us out. While Montepulciano is high in tannins, which can stoke a fiery furnace 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.
Those peppery, tobacco notes in Montepulciano can provide an extraordinary contrast to the finer quantities of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice (pimento) in a jerk marinade, not to mention the ubiquitous scotch bonnet pepper. For this reason, Montepulciano is a great jerk chicken wine pairing for those who want a more nuanced touch to their dish.
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 here is choosing an off-dry Riesling – not too sweet, not too dry – with just a hint of sweetness. Such a pairing will allow all of the flavors to shine through, with the off-dry wine ‘backing up’ the sweetness of the sauce without overpowering the texture and heat of the chicken.
Malbec-Shiraz, sometimes called Malbec-Syrah, 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 is too 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.
Combine the two though, and you have Malbec-Shiraz, which is a different beast altogether. It brings the smokey, peppery notes of Shiraz together with the dark fruit touch of Malbec, which actually turns out to be a great pairing with jerk. We’d suggest this with less spicy jerks, however, because it’s still quite a full-bodied concoction.
Another point to keep in mind is that some Malec-Shiraz blends feature one grape more heavily than the other, and the reason this pairing works is because the blend is right in the middle. Check the back of the bottle if you’re not sure.
MORE WINE: Learn more about the differences between Malbec and Shiraz.
4. Syrah Rosé
We couldn’t compile this list without recommending at least one rosé. And we choose this Campuget 2019 1753 Syrah-Vermentino Rosé, and with good reason.
The first reason is that Syrah rosé, especially from the Rhône Valley, tends to be that bit heartier and more full-bodied than certain New World rosés. 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 profile is that characteristic peppery touch of Syrah we spoke about earlier. Add to that a touch of sweetness, and you have a fine jerk chicken wine pairing – especially for a summer’s day by the BBQ.
Gewürztraminer 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 – Gewürztraminer is traditionally aged in foudres (large wooden vats), which impart their own unique flavors while shaking off others that are accumulated in the vinification process.
It has this bright flavor with a 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.