Pairing wine & spicy food
Just because a dish is laden with spice doesn’t mean you can’t sip on wine with your meal. It’s simply a matter of striking a balance and finding harmony between the heat and what’s in your glass. You don’t want your dish to overwhelm your wine and it is important to allow the many layers and nuances that are found in most spicy dishes to shine through. After all, it isn’t just the chilli heat that draws us back to spicy dishes again and again!
Your basic guidelines:
- Off-dry wines, or those which have some residual sweetness to them, are without a doubt the best options for drinking with spicy meals. The sweetness helps tame the heat.
- Avoid high alcohol wines at all costs. Alcohol fans the flames of anything spicy and both your wine and
your food may taste overwhelmingly hot.
- Oak is also a bad idea. Heavily oaked wines can bog down flavours and leave food tasting bitter or metallic.
- Love reds? Keep to lighter bodied varieties. Heavy tannins are a no-no.
- Acid mellows out spiciness. It also cuts through fat and rich sauces, so if you’ve ordered something like a Mapo tofu or Calabrese ‘Nduja salami, a high acid wine will be gentle on your taste buds while also cleansing your palate so you can enjoy each bite as though it were the first time.
A few favourite wines for spicy foods
Champagne. You can virtually never go wrong with Champagne, or really any sparkling wine. Or how about the best of both worlds, sparkling and slightly sweet? Look no further than Moscato d’Asti. This lightly fizzy semi-sweet wine from Italy’s Piedmont region is fantastic with all manner of foods, particularly those with a generous hint of spice. With the subtle spicy notes that are inherent to the wine, Moscato makes a lovely pairing partner for everything from Chinese to Indian and Thai.
Still whites like off-dry Chenin Blanc, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer take the spicy bite out of a piquant dish. Unoaked aromatic wines like Viognier or Albariño can be delicious too, as are fruity rosés like GSM blends or rosé of Pinot Noir.
Are you sitting down to a meal that isn’t so chilli heavy as it is seasoned with a plethora of spices? Well, this is a great opportunity to branch out and uncork savoury red wines like Syrah or Grenache from France’s Rhone Valley. Just keep an eye on the alcohol levels. Over in Italy, wines like Barbera or the Nero d’Avola-Frappato blends of Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG in Sicily are outstanding. Fruity and complemented by refreshing acidity, they are perfect for highly seasoned dishes. Cerasuolo can even be chilled slightly for a maximum cooling effect. If you want to stick with sweetish wines, an off-dry red Lambrusco is hard to beat.
There are plenty of options to choose from for even the spiciest of dinners. If you follow this guide, you’ll find that you’ll never be lacking for tasty wine options to enjoy alongside a variety of cuisines. The only problem you’ll have is actually selecting what to drink.