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Apr 16, 2013
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Wine With…Jambalaya

Creole style or Cajun, all jambalaya preparations have certain elements in common. Rice, of course, is the star performer, while a traditional trio composed of onion, celery and bell pepper provides background harmony. A jolt of hot spice--typically cayenne--blasts through the ensemble and, at the same time, holds everything together, like a drumbeat marking the rhythm. After these essentials, cultural and dietary preferences may riff on the central theme, adding individual notes to the aggregate. Shrimp is commonly part of the mix, but sometimes it’s left out altogether, and the same with chicken. Sausage is pretty much omnipresent, although vegetarian jambalaya is not unheard of. For most devotees of the genre, jambalaya is very much a personal recipe, which is one reason it can be a surprisingly good dish to tailor according to wine preferences. Add some more shrimp, pull back a little on the cayenne and spicy sausage, and it will be a good partner for whites and/or lighter red wines. Ramp up the spicy aspects of the dish and look for bigger, fruitier wines to pour. Whichever direction you go, let the good times roll.


Serves 4

8-12 shrimp, peeled
About ½ cup chicken meat (breast and/or thighs) cut in large dice
1 each tablespoon paprika and dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon each cayenne and salt
Several grinds black pepper
1 2 cup each minced celery and onion
1/3 cup finely minced green or red bell pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 cup finely diced tomatoes (fresh or canned)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce
1 cup rice
2 cups chicken stock
1 2 pound Adouille or Kilbasa Sausage, sliced

If shrimp are large, cut them in half. Place the shrimp and diced chicken in a bowl and toss them with the paprika, oregano, cayenne, salt and black pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use.

In a large pot, over medium heat, sauté the celery, onion and peppers in olive oil for 5 minutes, then add the garlic and bay leaf. Continue cooking (without browning) another 5 minutes or so until the vegetable are soft. Stir in the tomatoes and Worcestershire and rice. Pour in the broth, reduce heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the shrimp mixture and sausage, and continue simmering until rice is completely cooked (about 15 minutes). Stir the mixture once or twice during cooking, adding more broth (or water) if it is drying out.

* * *

Jambalaya combines piquant spice with earthy flavors. A wine that tames the heat may not work all that well with the meat, let alone with the shrimp – and vice versa. We tried thirteen different wines and found that, whether red or white, the best performing ones were invariably fruit-forward, with little or any oak influence, and plenty of bright acidity. They also tasted somewhat sweet, whether due to ripe fruit or to residual sugar. A zesty-tasting wine definitely will balance the spice, while a sweet, fruity one will complement the hearty elements in the dish. Not all that many wines combine these characteristics, but those that do will be a pleasure to drink with jambalaya.


Approx. Price


Dashwood, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2011

(Imported by Vivasour Wines)


Bright and fresh, tasting of grapefruit with an echo of sweet hay in the bouquet, this wine has just enough heft not to be overwhelmed by jambalaya. A lighter-bodied white, even if equally vivacious, probably won’t be able to hold its own.

Jaillance, Clairette de Die (France) “Cuv”ee de Impériale” NV

(Imported by Bron Francois)


Made primarily with Muscat, this sparkler is off-dry, but checks its overt sweetness with an acidic backbone that leaves it refreshing and not at all cloying. We were surprised that it worked so well with our jambalaya – surprised and pleased.

La Crema, Monterey (California) Pinot Noir 2010


Fleshy and fulsome, this young Pinot may seem excessive if sipped on its own, but when paired with jambalaya it proves very satisfying. The dish calms it, and the the bright cherry fruit at its core provides a delightful contrast to all the spice in the dish..

Nine Stones, Barossa (Australia) Shiraz 2010

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)


Much like the Pinot Noir we are recommending, this wine is dominated by sweet, ripe fruit flavors. Showing a bit more heft than the Pinot, it nonetheless satisfies in the same way – through its bright, juicy character.

Pierre Spar, Alsace (France) Pinot Gris 2011

(Imported by Wilson Daniels)


Marked by succulent pear fruit flavors, this Pinot Gris, while dry, tastes rich and ripe – precisely the sort of profile that works well with jambalaya. It was a definite winner in our tastings.