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How to Pair Wine with Spicy Food

Updated on March 30, 2010
http://www.flickr.com/photos/rpeschetz/2228452449/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/rpeschetz/2228452449/

As a wine lover living in Thailand and working in a Mexican restaurant…I’ve learned a thing or two about what doesn’t work in wine pairings!

After all, Thai and Mexican foods, both with their levels of spice and acidity can make wine pairing very difficult (Try eating a spicy Thai beef salad with a high alcohol tannic cabernet and you’ll see what I mean…after the flames stop searing the inside of your mouth!)

I am not a wine expert, but I do appreciate a glass of wine, and I have learned a bit about how to choose wines that work and don’t work, with the foods I commonly cook and eat. So here are a few general rules for matching wine to spicy food - rules that tell you more what doesn’t work than what does work, but that should help you avoid a truly disastrous wine pairing.

(Note, by spicy food, I am talking about the chili heat, not aromatic spices like those found in a mild curry. These require different pairing rules).

Rules for Matching Wine to Spicy Food

  1. Avoid high alcohol wines. Although the trend in big reds is ever more alcohol, high alcohol wines do not pair well with spicy foods. High alcohol amplifies the chili heat.
  2. Avoid tannic wines – Spicy food accentuates the bitterness of the tannins, and can make the wine taste pretty funky. Also, avoid wines with a lot of oak.
  3. A little sweetness in a wine works to tame the heat of chili (sweetness should be matched by acidity, ideally)
  4. Choose low alcohol wines with a little sweetness that is balanced by some fruity acidity…and you can’t go too far wrong.

Wines that work include:

  • Gewürztraminer
  • Rieslings (not dry Rieslings, think the German ones here!)
  • Beaujolais
  • Slightly sweet fruity sparkling wines (Asti)
  • Zinfandels
  • Californian pinot noir
  • Pinot grigio
  • Sauvignon blanc

Wines that don’t work include:

  • Oaky chardonnay
  • Cabernet sauvignon
  • Merlot

No wine pairs well with very spicy food. If you’re getting ready to ladle on that habanero pepper sauce…you’d be better of sticking with an ice cold beer!

60 Second Video on Pairing Wine and Spice

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    • profile image

      Warren Edwarde 

      8 years ago

      Your list matches my own quite closely. Except at the top of the list I would have the wine SPARKLING.

      My recipe is REFRESHING

      First, the wines should all naturally semi-sparkling. Carbon Dioxide enhances taste and adds natural acidity when dissolved thereby adds to the mouth watering feel. But a fully sparkling wine or beer has too much gas and lager has gas injected producing large bubbles leading to bloating with food.

      Second, drink the wine cool to ice-bucket cold – So thirst quenching like a cold lager.

      Third, a refreshing wine also should have a good level of mouth-watering acidity.

      Fourth, avoid mouth-drying tannin. Furthermore, tannin in wine is exaggerated at low temperatures.

      Fifth, the wines should be free from oak, which clashes with spices such as cumin, coriander and ginger giving a bitter, harsh after-taste. Furthermore oakiness gives a rounded mouth-feel. I want a crisp steely feel in a refreshing wine with curry.

      Sixth, moderate alcohol as you state; a good degree of alcohol is required to provide body but excess alcohol over 12.5% can add to the burning sensation of chillies. Take a sip of vodka before and after biting into a chilli to feel this.

      And finally, Seventh, aromatics, fruitiness and sweetness in the range rise in relation to the chilli heat of the accompanying dish. Suck on a sweet before and after biting into a chilli to feel this.

      http://wines.wineforspice.com

    • LeonJane profile image

      LeonJane 

      8 years ago from Australia

      Great hub, and it makes sense. A dry white wine leaves little for the palette to counteract the heat, whereas a sweet wine complements the heat. Thanks for a great hub.

    • DiamondRN profile image

      Bob Diamond RPh 

      8 years ago from Charlotte, NC USA

      I agree with you, John. A sweeter wine, such as a Riesling, works much better for me; than the more acidic varieties, when eating the spicy foods that I enjoy so much.

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