Reminiscent of a smoky version of bouillabaisse with more weight and kick, a soupy paella without the saffron, or a cioppino with a base dominated by celery, green peppers and onions with just a hint of tomatoes (and sometimes sausage), gumbo originated in Louisiana and is truly a melting pot of global cuisine! Whether you like yours thickened with okra, roux, or file powder (made from ground sassafras leaves), no two batches of gumbo are the same. Authentic gumbo recipes are usually passed from one generation to the next with sketchy word-of-mouth instructions, and rarely do any two chefs agree on the exact combination or proportion of ingredients. The name "gumbo," which is derived from the West African Bantu tribe's word for okra which is "ki ngombo", suggests that okra is an essential ingredient for the dish, but many recipes for gumbo today do not contain okra. In my opinion, omitting okra from gumbo is heresy!
The beauty of gumbo is its diversity of ingredients melding to create intense flavors that bring together the best of the Old and New World (i.e. Europe, Afriica and America). This variety of ingredients and flavors allows gumbo to be paired with a variety of wines, provided they can stand the heat. Just keep in mind that a light-to-medium bodied wine with a degree of freshness and acidity would be welcome to offset the richness of the dish, without overpowering the seafood flavors, while a modicum of fruit-forward juiciness will complement the spice. Wines that immediately come to mind are Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Red Beaujolais or Cotes du Rhone. This is probably not the time to bring out a brawny, high alcohol Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec or Shiraz unless you want to witness a duel of hotheads competing for the attention of your palate. So mix it up, experiment and most of all, enjoy!
Wine Recommendation(s) and Food Pairing:
I was familiar with the Finger Lakes and New York State Riesling but frankly surprised to find that such well-made, semi-dry Riesling could be found right smack in the middle of the good ole USA. The 2009 Chateau Grand Traverse Riesling from Michigan is a juicy wine with aromas of orange flower, lime, pit fruit, crisp apple and slight petrol. It starts out slightly fruity, but finishes with a crisp acidity and minerality and is a fresh, cool partner for spicy gumbo. It can be found at Harlem Vintage
If Riesling or even remotely "sweet" wines are not up your alley, you might enjoy your gumbo with the well- balanced Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. It can be found at Sherry Lehman in New York City or K and L Wine Merchants in California.
Juicy red-wine lovers pair your gumbo with the fruit-forward, raspberry-inflected and peppery 2007 E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone from the southern portion of France's Rhone Valley. Some are hailing 2007 as the best vintage yet for Cotes du Rhone wines from the legendary house of Guigal. Available at 67 Wine and Spirits.
For a sophisticated and slightly esoteric treat, try the 2009 Pierre-Marie Chermette Fleurie "Les Garants" or "Poncie", wines made from the Gamay grape in the Beaujolais region of Burgundy, France. These beautiful, bright purple-colored, earthy wines may need an hour or so of aerating or decanting before serving. They can be purchased at Manhattan Wine Company.
Where to Get Gumbo:
Harlem-based Norma Darden of Spoonbread Catering and Events www.spoonbreadinc.com makes a tasty, smoky version of chicken gumbo. Others swear by the gumbo made downtown at Great Jones Café. I'll let you be the judge, but given the time, I prefer my gumbo homemade using my grandmother's recipe as a guide http://www.enjoielife.com/style-n-substance/recipes/item/22-dear%E2%80%99s-seafood-and-chicken-gumbo.html. If you are allergic to seafood or do not eat it for religious or other reasons, try the recipe for chicken-andouille gumbo from Cookstr.com.