How to use spices like saffron with wine?

More often than not, it’s the herbs and spices in a dish that makes a wine pairing taste so good. Pairing with herbs and spices is easy to do when you know how to pick out individual flavors in wine. For example, one of the dominant aromas in Barbera (a medium-bodied red wine) is anise. And, when you pair Barbera with a star anise and soy-glazed chicken you find it to be surprisingly delicious!

The magic behind pairing wines with herbs and spices starts with aroma compounds found in both spices and wine. Not surprisingly, many herbs and spices share the same aroma compounds as wine. A real-world example is matching a black pepper with Syrah; both wine and spice contain the spicy-but-floral compound called rotundone. When you match like flavors together they magnify each other. This type of pairing is called a congruent pairing and it’s the theory behind matching wine with spices and herbs. Without further ado, here is a detailed look into many different spice and herb pairings with wine…

Herb and Spice Pairings with Wine

To create this graphic we started thinking about spices in terms of their taste profiles to see if they could be grouped into categories. After some research on the chemical compounds and some guesstimates, we came up with 9 spice/herb categories. There are undoubtedly different ways to categorize spices. For example, you could build pairings based on different cultural cuisines using their base spice blends. However, this guide will be very useful to those who do a lot of their own cooking and can simply match a wine with the prevalent spicing in the dish.

Spice Categories

  • Basil, Mint, Cilantro, Shiso, Chervil
    highly aromatic fresh green, citrus, and minty herbs
  • Sage, Rosemary, Lavender, Fir
    Dried resinous floral herbs
  • Oregano, Thyme, Marjoram, Tarragon, Bay Leaf, Parsley, Dill
    Pungent earthy green herbs
  • Garlic, Shallot, Chive, Leek, Onion
    Umami-rich, pungent, sulfury alliums
  • Coriander, Cumin, Caraway
    Savory, umami-rich brown spices
  • Mustard, Horseradish, Szechuan Pepper, Wasabi
    Sharp, clean piquant (spicy) spices
  • Cinnamon, Allspice, Vanilla, Clove, Fenugreek, Nutmeg, Mace
    Sweet, brown, baking spices
  • Anise, Licorice, Star Anise, Black Cardamom, Fennel
    Aromatic, terpene-dominant, incense spices
  • Red, White, Pink and Black Pepper
    Piquant (spicy), umami-rich, rotundone-dominant spices
  • Red pepper, Paprika, Cayenne Pepper, Ancho Pepper, Aleppo Pepper
    Piquant (spicy), smoky red pepper
  • Ginger, Galangal, Turmeric, Green Cardamon
    Perfumed, sharp, citrus-like spices.

At the end

Saffron needs moisture to release its flavor. The best way to extract flavor from saffron is to soak the threads in hot (not boiling) liquid for 5 to 20 minutes. Then add both the saffron and the liquid to the recipe. As the saffron soaks, you’ll notice the distinctive aroma indicating that your saffron “tea” is ready. I like to soak the saffron in stock or wine (rather than water) to add to the overall flavor of a dish.



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