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Pairing Wine with Spicy Food

When it comes to finding the perfect drink to accompany your favorite spicy dish, you may first think of beer because of common mythology, or of milk for its capsaicin muting abilities. As spicy dishes become more common across American food culture, the question of what to pair with a spicy dinner also comes up more frequently. Perhaps you have tried you hand at selecting a wine pairing for your own dinner previously and found that it just wasn’t as satisfying as you had initially hoped. Maybe it even tastes bad or worked to enhance the spiciness instead of quiet it. Luckily there are some simple guidelines you can follow to find a perfect wine pair.


How Do I Choose a Wine to Pair with Spicy Food?

If you are ready to try wine with your spicy dish, think first of what you want the wine to do for the dish. Are you looking for good flavor combinations or do you want a wine that will act as a palette cleanser and a contrasting flavor? A mellow wine might be overpowered by a spicy dish while a stronger wine can overpower the flavor of the food.

  1. Avoid tannins. Tannins are a textural element in dry wines that gives them that bitter, astringent, dry taste. Tannin is a polyphenol found in fruit skins, tree barks and woods, leaves, and other plants. They are most common in red wines, but some white wines can be dry and tannin heavy as well. If you’re not familiar with this dry taste in wine, think of the flavor of an unsweetened black tea, which is extremely high in tannin. Dark chocolate is also high in tannin and has those bitter flavors about it.
  2. Choose wines that have not been aged in oak barrels, otherwise called “oaked.” When a wine is oaked during the fermentation process, the wine tends to take on some of the flavor of the barrel. If the wine has been oaked or not is typically evidenced on the label, but if you are unsure you can always take a closer look at the color of the wine. Darker reds and yellowish white wines have probably been oaked. Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir are commonly oaked wines.
  3. Favor fruity wines when you are making spicy food. Look for wines that are light bodied and have a noticeable sweetness to them. Higher alcohol content and tannin work to increase the burning sensations in spicy food while sugars and lower alcohol content will help soothe the burn.
  4. If you want to accentuate the spicy flavors in your dish, a fruity, acidic red wine will do the job. This wine type will help bring out the flavor of the dish without being either overwhelming or underwhelming.
  5. When you are completely unsure of what to drink with spicy food, you absolutely cannot go wrong with a Riesling. Off-dry or medium sweet styles of this wine suit everything from spicy curries to super-hot chili.

These are some generalized guidelines that will help you select something suitable for spicy food if you are say, going to a dinner party. However, some cuisines are better suited to certain wine types. Choose very cold, off dry, fruity red or white sparkling wine with Japanese fare. Light merlot is good with Mexican, Indian and Tex-Mex. Roses are excellent with Vietnamese, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Thai and even barbeque dishes, for example.


How do I Pair Wine with Mexican or Tex-Mex Food?

Along with herbs, spices, and chiles, tomatoes are often a base ingredient for Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisines, and because of this a Zinfandel would probably be your best bet. Zinfandels mesh well with the bright acidity of the tomato and yet do not decrease the intensity of the fire in the food. These styles of wine pair nicely with enchiladas, burritos, tacos, and meat-based dishes, particularly pork, beef, and chicken. You may also find you like a Riesling or a Cabernet Sauvignon with your Mexican or Tex-Mex food. Cabernet Sauvignon does especially well with the more earthy spicy dishes of these cuisines. For extremely spicy dishes, aim for a fruity red or rose wine.


What Wine Should I Drink with Indian and Thai Foods?

A fresh wine like a Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with Indian cuisine, especially the milder dishes with a lot of spices. Merlot on the other hand pairs best with the spicier dishes. Riesling is great for yogurt based hot and spicy dishes. Thai dishes have a lot of similar flavor profiles when compared to Indian food, and they are also similarly aromatic. Try a fragrant Riesling with Thai food to compliment the commonly used herbs and spices like basil, cilantro, ginger, lime, and lemongrass.


What Wine Should I Drink with Super Spicy Food?

Blush wines have light, cool, refreshing fruit flavors. The touch of sweetness in these wines can act to soothe the mouth, tongue, and throat when they have been irritated by extremely spicy foods. Try chilling the wine before you drink it for an even more soothing effect. Sangria is a perfect partner to extremely spicy food for its extreme fruitiness and low alcohol content. Try champagne too! The bubbles are a nice sensory distraction, but the high acidity is really what helps lessen the burn.

So, when you are choosing a type of wine to go with your spicy dish, consider cuisine, ingredients, and overall desired flavor before making a final selection. Remember that a Riesling pairs well with pretty much anything and aim for a fruity or sweet wine. Avoid tannins and look for light wines to have the best effect on the spicy food!


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