Jamaican Jerk Chicken photo care of: http://www.comfybelly.com/2009/03/jerk-chicken-strips.htmlHappy 4th of July! Ok... so we still have a few days of anticipation left this week - or a few more days to get our marinades going and our wine shopping underway. This week we resume our food/wine pairing conversation with episode # 3 in our Supper Swap Series: gett'n giggy (jerky?) with chicken and Zinfandel! It doesn't get more American than Zinfandel. Yes, it's widely thought Zin's roots lie in Puglia, Italy where it is known as Primitivo. But the truth is this particular grape's origins are still somewhat of a mystery. All we know for sure is it is America's grape. It really doesn't grow well outside of California. And so Zin has become our baby.

What's even better about this grape is.... it is terrific when Jamaican Jerk Chicken is on the menu! My buddy John is The Man when it comes to marinades. Actually, he's really the guy who got me on the bandwagon. Since I first met him he never missed an opportunity to bring by his  bags of meats. I've learned several things under his tutelage:

1. Ziplock is the key. The bag allows the marinade to coat every centimeter of meat and lock in the desired flavors. It also travels well and takes up no room in the fridge either when your own is full, or when landing at a BBQ and fridge-space is scarce.

2. It is a quick method to employ. I like to spend time in the kitchen preparing my dishes - but I usually have more than one thing going at a time. Marinades allow me to get the meat going first, and then spend the rest of my time preparing my sides. All the while my protein is getting some TLC in the fridge.

3. It isn't messy and clean up is a snap! I love that you can just dump all of the ingredients into one bag and then mush it around. Once your meat is on the grill, the bag can be efficiently discarded without having to clean another bowl.

John did not let us down when we last swapped a few weeks ago, either.  Looking at the recipe later, I would have thought it would have packed more flame-throwing heat. But this particular marinade brings a different kind of heat as all of the flavors blended together and mellowed perfectly as the chicken was essentially slow-cooked on the grill; (we were pacing ourselves what with all of our culinary delights to enjoy throughout the evening).

We didn't have any Zin on hand by the time the chicken rolled out, but it would be a terrific pairing. Zinfandel is perhaps best known for it's juicy, red berry, fruit-forward character; this profile is a great match for any dish that packs a bit of a punch. But even the other style of Zin, the more tannic/structured style with a kick of spice on the finish, would be a good match for this particular recipe. The protein in the tannin would soften and sweeten once in contact with the chicken/meat protein (on your tongue) - and this dynamic marinade, with subtle flavors and nuances, would be enhanced by the slight kick of pepper on the wine's finish.

(NOTE:  I would, however, caution anyone making a truly spicy dish and picking up a truly tannic wine - danger danger! That could cause a bit of a fire-y explosion in your mouth! You'd be better served by a wine with a little bit of residual sugar to put out the flames.)

Suffice to say, as you get your Marinade On this Fourth of July, feel free to grab a bottle of America's beloved Zin to accompany your dish! Be mindful of your spice quotient and simply ask your local wine guru which style/bottle of the juice is your best bet.

Which CA Zinfandel do you enjoy most?