By Cecil Flentge
In the early ’90s I occasionally used a wine from the long-past, local San Antonio Winery that was simply called “Jalapeño wine.” It was a white wine with jalapeño added, not awful, worked well in deglazing a pan to make a slightly spicy sauce.
There is a California winery of the same name that does something similar and wineries in several other states, including Texas, making wines with some Capsicum derivative. At Dry Comal Creek winery they pour a white wine in a shot glass that has a jalapeño slice in it to make their Shooting Blancs, available daily at their tasting room. So when I heard that HEB was about to release a red wine and spicy habanero pepper blend, I was curious.
HEB has done consumer taste tests with their object to make a wine to pair with our ubiquitous Mexican/Tex-Mex/Central American food flavors. We have all heard one lament or another about “wine doesn’t go with Tex-Mex” and while there are options out there, they are rarely on the wine list in those restaurants. HEB apparently took this as a challenge and created Cabanero, a blend of California Cabernet, Petit Verdot, and Syrah infused with habanero spice.
Yes, it has a little spice from the habanero pepper. But the spice level is just enough to warm you on a cold day.
There is a little residual sugar but less than many White Zinfandel wines and with the dishes that this wine was crafted to match, the light sweetness can be a pleasant addition. HEB recommends you pair this wine with Chicken Mole, Carne Asada, Xic Tic En Cochinita Pibil, Flan, Carnitas and Tamales.
They have started advertising Cabanero and it should be in stores now or sometime soon. Regular price will be $11.
Tasting and reviewing a wine that is unique is more difficult than a more usual Chardonnay or Tempranillo because you do not have the history of how others of the genre taste. The only way that I could measure the wine was to taste it paired with the dishes recommended. So I drove to a favorite spot, El Jalisco on Blanco Road, and with a companion ordered Carne Asada and Chiles Rellenos.
I had chilled the wine, though there is no temperature detail on the bottle, because all wine should be chilled to one degree or another and if I had it too cold – well, it would warm up in time. However, from my experience, I do recommend that you serve it after 45 minutes in the refrigerator (about 55-60 degrees). Sniffing the wine there is a cherry, cinnamon, and meaty pepper fragrance with a whiff of a candied note. It is a light aroma but persistent and sipping the wine brought a soft cherry, ripe red chile-pepper flavor that starts slowly to warm your mouth and throat with the moderate capsicum burn.
Just before our dishes arrived and we sampled the chips and salsa with the wine. This salsa is a fresh tomato style and the wine brought the tomato flavor to the fore when I tasted the combination. Now, a disclaimer, I am not a fan of fresh tomato and my companion did not have the same experience so maybe I am just a bit sensitive to that flavor. It would not be a negative anyway, just a point of interest.
Cabanero and Carne Asada is a very good match. El Jalisco also served some sautéed ‘wild cactus’ with the Asada and it also went very well. The Chiles Rellenos started with a roasted and peeled poblano pepper covered with toasted cheese, no breading, not fried and the beef filling is savory, not sweet. Pairing it and the Cabanero brought out the fruity qualities of the wine and a return of the light candied aspect. The refried beans were an excellent match with the Cabanero, the best of what we tried, like they were made for each other – which I guess they were.
Will we see other unconventional wines from HEB? That is for the future to show, but this is an ambitious experiment that is worth a look.
Cecil Flentge is a San Antonio wine educator for professionals or novices and a cooking instructor. Restaurant events or home tastings. Questions? Email email@example.com