Much of our cuisine is known for bringing some heat to the table. We have a wide array of flavorful spicy foods that dominate the palate and therefore make wine pairings a little more challenging.
But here at Cellar.Asia, we’ve got you covered; because contrary to popular belief, wine can pair quite well with hot and spicy foods. So set aside your beer and consider these tips when pairing wine with dishes that pack a punch.
1. High alcohol will not do you any favors when it comes to flavor.
For quite some time there was a misconception that since alcohol is a solvent to capsicum, a.k.a. spice, high-alcohol wines would be the best fit. The truth, however, is that alcohol can enhance heat and throw off both the flavors of the dish and the wine.
To get the best from pairing wine with spicy foods, try to avoid big wines like Shiraz and Red Zinfandel. And definitely don’t go for Sherries, Ports or other fortified wines.
2. Fresh, fruity and aromatic whites are your best bet. If it’s off-dry, even better.
Many people turn to beer when it comes to spicy cuisine, for its refreshing characteristics. The cool, crisp taste helps clean the palate and preps you for the next bite. Many white wines are capable of the same sensation. In fact, aromatic wines are better than beer, as their aromas and tastes can build upon a dish’s flavors and provide a depth that a brew simply cannot.
Some of the best wine pairings thrive on contrast, and pouring an off-dry white to accompany a hot and spicy dish is a perfect example. This is especially true if the dish has a touch of sweetness as well. Slightly sweet wines help balance out the heat and bring out the best flavors in each morsel.
Go for whites such as a Classic or Halbtrocken German Riesling, Moscato d’Asti or a crisp Vinho Verde.
3. If you crave a red, keep it light and silky.
If you don’t like white wines or simply must have a glass of red, go for a lighter-bodied wine with smooth, silky tannins. And yes way, rosé is also a great option. Remember, high alcohol will only intensify the spice. And crunchy or thick tannins can end up stealing the show while accentuating bitterness. Lower alcohol and medium to medium-light body is the way to go.
Some ideal red wines for pairing with spicy dishes? Think Beaujolais or Cinsault. We absolutely love a chilled Lambrusco with its slight effervesce to balance out flavor and texture.
4. Don’t forget about bubbles.
Speaking of effervescence, a bottle of bubbly can also stand up quite well against hot and spicy flavors. The bubbles give you that refreshing effect, while its nose and palate accentuate the dish’s features.
Sparkling wines are quite food-friendly in general, so you have a wide array of options in this category. Again, off-dry makes for a delicious contrast in mouth, therefore we recommend trying a bottle of Asti or Demi-Sec.
5. When in doubt, go Riesling.
If you’re still not sure what to pair with your next spicy dish, the safest bet is a bottle of Riesling. Riesling’s intoxicating aromas and flavors are simply a spicy-food ally. You can certainly go dry, but again, an off-dry Riesling will provide the perfect contrast and pleasurable dining experience.
A few of our favorite pairings?
- Gewürztraminer and spicy chicken tikka masala – Try pouring a lychee-laced Gewürztraminer from Alsace with alongside a plate of spicy tikka masala with jasmine rice and tell us that’s not quite the pair.
- Off-dry Riesling and Thai green curry – A young Riesling from Mosel holds its own against the strong flavors that make up spicy Thai green curry. Both are wonderfully aromatic on the nose while complete contrasts on the palate, making for a sensational pairing.
- Beaujolais and spicy Mexican tacos – A light, fruity red loves the cumin and chili flavors found in many Mexican dishes. A bonus tip: Drink Beaujolais Nouveau with Korean tacos!
- Torrontés with Spicy Cha Giò – Made from a lesser-known grape that is big in Argentina, the aromatic Torrontés variety complements the fresh flavors of Vietnamese spring rolls while balancing out the spice.
- Brachetto d’Aqui with Spicy Asian Stir-Fry – The sweet, slight spark from this Italian wine plays perfectly with savory, spicy stir-fries. If you can’t find the Brachetto d’Acqui, try a lighter Lambrusco.