Most who are familiar with callaloo generally eat it as an accompaniment to something else, Callaloo and Saltfish, for example. That said, I have been known to sit down to a simple bowl of callaloo on its own, and it's the lone callaloo snack times when I get to wondering "what wine would pair nicely", hence this post.
What is Callaloo
Callaloo is a wildly popular Caribbean leafy green that is a mixture of leaves taken from the dasheen plant, or dasheen bush as I like to refer to it. At a quick glance, you could mistaken it for a kind of spinach.
There are several ways to cook callaloo. I like it sauteed with scotch bonnet, onion, garlic, thyme, and tomato. In Trinidad, it is popular to puree callaloo, bringing it more to a soup consistency. In either instance, it is a delicious west African treat brought to the Caribbean from the enslaved, and as such, it deserves its wine pairing moment.
The Flavour Profile of Callaloo
While there is something of a pyrazine nature in callaloo, it is somewhat mild. What is noticeable about it, however, is its texture. Its leaves are firm, firmer than that of spinach. So when pairing wine with callaloo, I am looking at green flavours, dominant spices, and texture.
What Wine Pairs with Callaloo
To figure out what wine would pair the best with callaloo we lined up wines with different structures but with an appeal on the palate we felt would go well with sauteed greens.
We tested a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, looking for a 'same same' pairing with the pyrazines. We had crisp white wine from Spain with depth and mouth-watering acidity. My thoughts here were that the acidity may help with the callaloo texture. Then we had a rosé made from Cabernet Franc. I wanted to see if the 'same same' would apply but rosé style given the pyrazines note found in this grape. We ended it off with a red Corbiéres. I thought this ripe red wine could work with the spices we had cooked the callaloo in.
The winning wine pairing with our callaloo was the Spanish crisp and textured white (Cies by Rodrigo Méndez, Albariñho 2019). This wine comes from a producer who is known for tons of complex flavours on the palate and we knew this going in. So not only did the acidity in the wine take care of the callaloo texture, the texture of the wine also stood up to the medley of spices and herbs along with the pyrazine essence of our callaloo. In the end, the callaloo made the wine a little less acidic, and the wine tempered any pyrazine-related bitterness and spice in the dish. This was a winning pairing, indeed. A close second was the Corbiéres. It created a wonderful mouth feel with the spices used in the dish.
I will point out that the wines with pyrazines made the dish extremely bitter on the palate, and you will want to stay away from those when pairing wine with callaloo.
If you cannot find another Albariñho done in the style of Rodrigo Méndez Cies, an excellent wine to try would be Chablis for its balance between acidity and mouth feel from fermentation techniques.
Either way, I encourage you to explore food and wine flavours to find your winning pairings. However, what I can confidently tell you is that high acid and textured wines are the way to go when pairing wine with callaloo.
There, now the famed callaloo has gotten its pairing moment!