The Hotter, the Sweeter

If you’re wondering what pairs well with curry, you’re not alone. There are more opinions on the subject than there are curries and the range is “just go with a beer” to any off dry wine you like.

The crux of the quandary is the amount of heat from the chilies and the alcohol. I read somewhere that chili heat and warmth of alcohol hit the same receptors on your palate, so when you have a lot of heat and high alcohol, the burning sensation is intensified.

Pairing wine with curry is tricky and it gets trickier the hotter the curry is. Some like their curry hot, some do not. It’s a lot like wine in that respect; it’s only a good if you like it.

Are you fond of the rush from Ghost Peppers, which clock in at 460,000 Scoville Heat Units? If so, fire away with a fruity 16% California Zinfandel or a beer. (For reference, the jalapeño rates from 2,500 –10,000 SHU depending on where and how it’s grown.)

But if you’re more likely to be in the 10,000 SHU, the pairing should be a low alcohol wine ranging around 10 to 12.5% alcohol with a lot of up front fruit.

In my experience, what pairs well with curry is a refreshing contrast to the heat of the food. Take a bite of curried chicken and put out the flames with something cold and sweet. The sugar or fruity sweetness and cold supplies that contrast. It can be actual unfermented sugars or residual sugars or it may be just a ripe fruity red with low alcohol.

Chenin Blanc is one of the world’s most underrated and versatile varietals. Chenin Blanc is the grape that made France’s Loire Valley Vouvray famous. And they can be sweet, dry, dessert, sparkling in so many delicious ways.

 

But Chenin Blanc suffers from an image problem, so I’m here to convince you to try one with the chicken or pork curry recipes submitted by Ann Vogel. The high acidity, low alcohol and fruity character would compliment either of these curry recipes.

Chenin Blanc is a vigorous vine and has a tendency to bud early and ripen late. These attributes have made it the workhorse in California’s Central Valley where it is blended with Columbard and Thompson Seedless and sold in jugs – with handles on them.

But grown under the conditions of  the cool Loire Valley, with its chalky soils, it can produce a wider range of styles, from bone dry to real sweet and even sparkling. Chenin Blanc can vary from thin with high acidity (where it is over cropped) to minerally and crisp, with intense fruit and the ability to age gracefully.

The aromas and flavors of Chenin can be citrus, floral and sometimes tropical. Older vineyards have wonderful floral aromatics, body and minerality that make the grape so delicious.

Here are a few Chenin Blancs, highly recommended and most are from vineyards over 30 years old.

Pontin del Roza 2012 Yakima Valley Chenin Blanc is, I must say, one of my all time favorites. I sold gallons of this in my day. The Pontin family has been farming along the Roza Canal in the Yakima Valley for over 40 years. In the 1980s, they began planting vineyards. This little sweetie, at 2.8% residual sugar, is all pears, melon and lemon zest aromas with wonderful peachy, flavors and a crisp clean finish.

L’Ecole No. 41 2012 Columbia Valley Chenin Blanc is sold out but the 2013 will be released this spring. Be ready! This is sourced from one of the older vineyards in Washington. This wine has that enticing pear, peach and nectarine aromas with floral hints and fresh tropical flavors balanced by a crisp, citrusy finish. $14

Kiona Columbia Valley 2013 Chenin Blanc is another Old Vine Wine that is made in a crisp, clean style with peach and apricot flavors and mouthwatering acidity that balances the sweetness. The finish has a lovely mineral quality. $15

Hestia Cellars 2011 Columbia Valley Chenin Blanc is a delightful wine that offers an enticing nose of pear, peach, and honeysuckle with a hint of minerals. The fruit is intense with that wonderful ripe fruit, wet stone and slightly honeyed yet dry finish. Around $16

Cedergreen 2011 Columbia Valley Chenin Blanc this dry wine, 13.8%, is sourced from 32 year old vines off Snipes Road. It may be tough to find since there were only 70 cases made. But they’ll release the next vintage this spring. I love this wine for its minerality, pear and melon flavors and creaminess. $17

McKinley Springs 2009 Horse Heaven Hills Chenin Blanc is also made in a dry style that reminds me of the spring trip in the Loire Valley. Heaven! Also from a vineyard planted in 1981, the aromas of pear, peach, honeysuckle and orange blossoms are wonderful. The ripe fruit flavors are apple and citrus with a lovely touch of minerality, spice and dry finish. A bargain at $14.

Alas, Chenin Blanc will never be popular like Chardonnay but for wine lovers and the adventuresome, it’s worth seeking out. It could surely use your support.