Ethiopian Fare & Wine

Ethiopians have for centuries made a honey wine known as tej. You can sometimes find this mead-like beverage for sale at some Ethiopian restaurants. Or, you could try a mead made domestically.

For most diners looking for that Ethiopian meal out at a restaurant or for takeout, the drink of choice most likely will be beer or a grape-based wine.

The question is: What sort of wine to pour with Ethiopia’s highly seasoned meat and vegetable dishes, most of which are served on rounds of injera, the tart Ethiopian flat bread made from teff flour.

Tom Benezra of Sal’s Beverage World stores, located in the Chicago suburbs, wants a wine with an “earthy minerality” alongside the fruitiness to enliven the food. That’s why he goes with Old World or Old World-influenced white wines. He particularly likes a South African chenin blanc or a French Vouvray to counter the berbere spice paste, a widely used combination of red pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, onion, garlic and other seasonings, that provides zip in many Ethiopian dishes.

For red wine drinkers, the fruity-spicy combination found in California zinfandel and Australian shiraz will work especially well with beef dishes,” he said. “Expect some fireworks in your mouth if the dish is hot.”

Natalie MacLean, a wine writer who runs an online food and wine matcher at her Web site, nataliemaclean.com, likes cabernet sauvignon with lamb-based Ethiopian dishes.

“But stick with New World cabs that are more fruit-forward and can also handle the spices in the dish,” she added. With doro wot, the Ethiopian chicken and egg stew, MacLean recommends an oaked chardonnay for a white or a syrah for a red.

“These deep, voluptuous wines will marry nicely with the richness of the dish,” she said.

The tasting

We tried three reds, two white and a honey wine to find a good match for doro wot, the popular Ethiopian chicken and egg stew. Why a honey wine? It’s a traditional beverage in Ethiopia. The big winner? A South African chenin blanc. It scored first on its own and when paired with the doro wot. As with all food-wine ratings, the final score reflects how well the wine and the food worked together.

2007 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc

This South African white had a brilliant light yellow color, a jazzy herbal nose and a mouthwatering crispness. The richness of the doro wot cut the wine’s tartness while the wine made the stew taste spicier.

$15

2006 Yangarra Grenache McLaren Vale Old Vine

This big Australian red had a nose of eucalyptus and smoke. The flavor offered lots of black cherry fruit and a touch of mint. The wine and the doro wot balanced each other well; the wine’s flavor lingered on the palate.

$24

NV Wild Blossom Meadow Mead

Tasters loved this Chicago honey wine’s intense clove scent. A refreshing acidity kept sweetness in check. But panelists weren’t so sure how the mead worked with doro wot. Some thought the wine’s spices gave the stew a delicious zap, yet others thought the mead didn’t work with all of the stew’s ingredients, especially the hard-cooked egg.

$13.

2006 Georges Duboeuf Fleurie

A red from one of so-called cru villages of France’s Beaujolais region. The nose was a tad musty, and the flavor was lean on fruit, but the doro wat’s seasoned sauce reinvigorated the wine to a degree.

$15

2004 Kim Crawford Chardonnay, Tietjen & Briant Vineyards

This white from New Zealand’s Gisborne wine region was classic chard: color, aroma and flavor. Expect notes of vanilla, oak, toast. The texture of the buttery wine made the doro wot seem plusher.

$17

2005 Ajello Majus Nero d’Avola

Solo was a terrific Sicilian red, with an extraordinary nose of tea, tobacco and cedar and a lush fruit flavor kept in check by just the right degree of tannin. But the wine lost its luster with the doro wot. The two vied too much for attention, reducing each other.

$11

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