An Operetta of Wine and Spice

"Secret Craving"  C. Coimbra Photo
“Secret Craving”
C. Coimbra Photo

Author’s note: This is a serendipitous story of wine, friends, daughter, and spices— a camerata (experimenting with art form) if you will.

(The aria, “Song of India,” from Sadko plays in the background.)

Tell me the last time that you tasted wines paired with exotic spices. You have done this? What happened when you paired a chalky Chenin Blanc with three freshly ground peppers? Did you make a slight scene when you shouted, “OMG! What was that mouth explosion?”

I did.

It was an opera seria—an introduction to three crafted wines from grapes grown in Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s “Wine Region of the Year,” Paso Robles, Ca. “It’s not easy for a wine region to reinvent itself, but Paso is doing it with flair…The infusion of youthful passion has had a galvanizing effect throughout the appellation,” noted the award announcement.

Three recent released wines, crafted by ‘rock star’ winemaker, Amy Butler, for LXV Wines, paired with pepper, garam masala, ginger and nutmeg, brought an exciting tessitura to the palate.

Orchestrating the unusual pairings was local foodie and wine lover, Angela Payton.

Angela Payton
Angela Payton

Now Ange is a creative person, so this operatic flair shouldn’t have surprised. I’m bold with flavors in the kitchen, but pairing wine with spices never crossed my mind. So I had to ask, “Why?”

The answer made so much sense. Silly me. Of course. Duh! LXV Wines are the brainchild of Neeta and Kunal Mittal. The pair infuse their Indian culture into their wines, the labels and their wine tasting lounge in downtown Paso Robles. Ange simply took the obvious and applied.

Kunal Mittal
Kunal Mittal

How I came to meet the Mittals includes my daughter, Chef Dakota Weiss, a Top Chef Season 9 alumnus. Her face graces a LXV Wine label for a delicious blend of Cabernet Franc/Syrah/Merlot, called “Secret Craving.” The Mittals feature artists on their labels—from dancers, to painters to my daughter’s art as a chef.

So there is your cast of characters.

An unexpected blast in my mouth brought great pleasure after I let a chalky Chenin Blanc, “Dark Romance,” pair with a bit of cheese smothered in three types of ground pepper. Label it a new sensation.  The white varietal twisted into another dimension when it met The Three Peppers.

My pallet craved more. Neeta Mittal poured and delivered with “Rising Tempo,” a Grenache/Syrah/Tempranillo blend. I let the first sip coat my mouth while the three varietals played a bel canto. The crescendo moment came with garam masala, freshly ground by Neeta’s mother, clinging to a buttery bit of sheep’s cheese. The entire complexity of flavor met the standards of the wine’s label.



When Dakota and the Mittals agreed to use Dakota’s face on their wine, set for a May 2014 release, I prayed that the wine would be extraordinary. It was much like watching Dakota on Bravo’s Top Chef—oh for the motherly angst! The day LXV Wine released “Secret Craving” I scurried with the tempo of Rossini’s William Tell Overture to taste the wine. Praise Bacchus! It’s good.

I couldn’t imagine what Ange would pair with this one. Surprise! Ginger and nutmeg—Ange and Neeta’s candenza. Brava!


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