Laissez les bon temps rouler! Let the good times roll! It’s Mardi Gras time and if you’re not throwing back a whisky or some cold brew, you may be on the search for some vino that pairs with your Mardi Gras eats. Cajun and Creole cuisine can be tricky to pair as there are a myriad of flavors at work. Sometimes there’s a great deal of spice involved while other times you’re dealing with gravies (“roux” says the Louisiana folks) and heavy sauces. But no matter the cuisine, with a little thought and patience, there are many wines for Mardi Gras.
This annual tradition is as much a part of the Mardi Gras season as all those handfuls of beads that you collect. Find the baby hidden inside and you are responsible for buying next year’s cake. And yet, my kids never pony up! The thing to remember about pairing wine with dessert is that the wine should be sweeter than the dessert. And as the flavor intensity in the dessert increases, so should the intensity in the wine. In that vein, I’ve paired the ultra sweet versions that are filled with cream cheese, strawberry, etc. with fortified wines like like Muscat from Australia’s Barossa Valley or Madeira. But my favorite wine pairing consists of sweeter, floral sparkling wines like Moscato d’Asti or even Prosecco as the bubbles give the rich, sweet cake some lift. Want a red wine? Go with Brachetto from Piedmont, which is a sweet fizzy red wine.
Crawfish Étouffée is made in a myriad of styles and variations, but a common feature – other than the crawfish – is that it packs some heat (whether you add a touch of spice or go all out). I make mine with onions caramelized in butter, along with cayenne, black, and white pepper in addition to other seasonings and spices. Like spicy Asian and Indian cuisines, dishes such as this generally play well with aromatic white wines, whether they are dry or off-dry. Alsatian Riesling, Vouvray, Viognier and Torrontes all offer up floral and honey aromas and flavors that can combat the heat in a typical étouffée. A fruit forward Rosé would also work here. I know we like our red wines, but I’d skip it in this case.
The official “soup” of Louisiana, gumbo is a staple in our house. We usually end up making two efferent pots because Mr. Corkscrew only likes chicken (or duck) and sausage in his, but I like to add seafood to mine (in addition to the chicken and sausage). Back in the day, I would pop open an ice cold beer, but given then I don’t drink beer much anymore, I definitely had to find a wine to pair. After some trial and error, I have found that a Bordeaux Blanc style wine is a great pairing. But you need both the Sauvignon Blanc and the Semillon for the pairing to work. The Sauvignon Blanc and the Semillon offer crisp, mineral notes and richness respectively, each doing its job in pairing with the components of the gumbo – the roux being the most important – and most difficult to pair. I’ve also enjoyed gumbo with Riesling, particularly if it has a little heat, but the white Bordeaux style wine is definitely my favorite.
Red Beans & Rice
A Creole creation once considered poor man’s food, red beans and rice is a staple on many Louisiana restaurant menus. In fact, in New Orleans, locals know that Monday is red beans and rice day. Walk into a restaurant on Monday and you’re likely to find it as the day’s special. The Monday tradition stems from the fact that many years ago Monday was known as wash day. Because there were no washing machines and laundry took all day, families needed something that could cook on its own without a great deal of intervention. And since ham was customarily served on Sundays, the leftover ham and ham bone were thrown in with the beans to simmer on the stove all day.
The beans and rice don’t offer up a great deal of flavor on their own and are generally pretty bland. It’s the meat and seasonings and spices that are cooked along with the beans that really give the dish its flavor. Even though a leftover ham bone is a classic addition, Andouille sausage and smoked tasso (smoked ham) are also traditional additions as well. And a dash of Tabasco or Louisiana Hot Sauce is also quite common to finish it off. Given all this, Gewurztraminer (Geh-vurtz-trah-meen-er) or an off-dry Riesling can be a wonderful accompaniment to the bit of spice. If you insist on red, steer clear of big, tannic reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon as there really isn’t enough fat in the dish stand up to such wines. Instead, opt for non-tannic, soft, fruit forward wines such as Zweigelt, Grenache/Garnacha, Barbera, or even Zinfandel.
Fried Seafood Po-Boy
I say it all the time, but it’s true. Fried, salty food loves sparkling wine. Sure bubbly is classic with oysters and caviar, but who eats that on the regular? It’s more fun to pair high brow Champagne with low brow fried food. Got French fries? Bring it! Fried fish, shrimp, crawfish, or oyster po-boy? Heck yeah! Whether you go for one of the big Champagne houses, grower champs, or Cremant, this is a paring that never gets old. Just stick to the non-vintage versions rather than a vintage bubbly. Outside of France, a Cava from Spain or Franciacorta from Italy, both of which are made using the champagne method, also fit the bill. If you’re in the mood for something other than bubbly, head to France’s Loire Valley for Muscadet, Pouilly-Fume, or Sancerre. The crisp acidity in these wines play quite well with fried deliciousness.
As a kid, I couldn’t stand “dirty rice” aka rice dressing. I think it was the combination of the name and the fact that it looked like, well, dirty rice. Whatever it was, I’ve most certainly come to my senses and have no issues whatsoever in cooking up a batch. This is another of those dishes that has some variation, but the foundation is ground beef and/or pork, chicken livers, and the Louisiana “holy trinity” of onions, bell peppers, and celery. I also like to add a little roux for a touch of richness. With all the meat, surprisingly, my go to for this is not red wine. Instead, it’s a nice full-bodied Chardonnay that has seen some oak, but that still offers up mid-levels of acidity. But for a red wine option, Gamay is a great choice.
To learn how to pair foods such as boudin, okra and tomatoes, crawfish bisque and more with the sweet wines of Bordeaux, be sure to check out Golden Bordeaux Delights in Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole Cuisine. Talk about a delicious experiment!
And check here for more background on Mardi Gras.
So see, there are plenty of wines for Mardi Gras eats! Laissez les bon temps rouler!