Are food and wine matching too European-centric? Guest writer Aleesha Hansel ponders why food and wine paring suggestions are so standardised – and what sorts of wines work best with the Jamaican-Caribbean food of her heritage.

‘Goes with fish and seafood’ – wine 101 when it comes to food pairings on the back of a bottle.

Uninspiring, repetitive, and perhaps when looked at with a closer lens, rather exclusionary. After all, are fish, pasta, pizza and all the other overused suggestions really all that the wine drinking public eat? Or is it another symptom of a white, European-centric gaze?

Googling ‘wines to go with lamb’ brings up an array of articles going into the minutiae of which wine is best, from lamb chops to slow roast shoulder to shepherd’s pie and everything in between. The same, unfortunately, can’t be said for cuisines lumbered with the label ‘exotic’. Included in this category you will find Asian (itself covering Uzbek, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Afghan, Kuwaiti and Malay dishes, to name but a few), alongside Caribbean, and the whole continent of Africa. Often these ‘exotic’ dishes have spice, both in terms of flavour and heat. It means that sadly, they’re relegated to ubiquitously match with sweet, white wines.

But what if you don’t like sweet wines or white wine full stop? Or even, heaven forbid, don’t want to temper the chilli – the reasoning given behind most sweet white pairings? Surely, someone cooking with three scotch bonnets isn’t particularly looking for a wine to quell it?!

By the very nature of being born in Britain, and despite a multicultural background, I too fall back on these standardised wine and food pairings. But there is a broader lexicon out there, used to describe wines for the people who have no idea what a gooseberry tastes like. And that lexicon can, in turn, expand our food pairing ideas – whether it’s jollof rice or ramen.

I’ve found that exploring wines from regions that use different wine-making techniques, or grape varieties, can introduce us all to new characteristics and nuances, ones that might match better with bolder food flavours. Georgia is one such region, traditionally using earthenware vessels and indigenous varieties.

With a selection of these, I matched wine to food of my heritage – Jamaican Caribbean.

Qvevri Goruli Mtsvane 2018 – Pheasant’s Tears

Matched with: Pumpkin Stew

Viognier-esque on the nose, this dry white made using the Khikhvi grape tastes of red grapefruit, peach, mango, apricots in honey and sprinkle of sultanas with a savoury note of hay. Other than the usual things to consider when food matching, such as acidity, alcohol and sweetness I also like to pair colours. The aromas in this wine scream out orange, and as such this dish was the most likely candidate for pumpkin stew. The natural sweetness in the pumpkin and carrots, paired with the ‘sweet’ fruits in the wine.

Dvali Winery Saperavi Qvevri 2018

Matched with: BBQ chicken wings

Spending seven months fermenting on must in a Qveri, this dry red made using Saperavi grapes, is laden with rich black cherry, stewed plum and syrupy black fruits. Similar to a Cabernet Sauvignon it bore hints of herbal mint but with a smokey undertone. The fruit and smokiness in this wine matched perfectly with the BBQ glaze on chicken wings, while the tannins were soft enough for the meat.

Marani Wine Kindzmarauli 2018, Medium-Dry

Matched with: Curried mutton

Another red produced from the Saperavi grape, this expression is off-dry. Boasting Durif levels of black fruit intensity, the wine also had savoury flavours of rosemary, and red onion and balsamic reduction. Being ingredients often used with lamb, it wasn’t difficult to see why this wine works with curry mutton. The fruit stood up well to the seasonings, with the residual sugar working to balance the heat of the dish.