Wine 101: Pairing Wine with Spicy Food

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Food and wine pairing is a mysterious topic, subject to many opinions and theories. However, one thing that is pretty well-understood is how to pair wines with spicy foods. Certain wines work really well, while others are downright terrible. In this post, we will go over the various elements in spicy food & wine, and how to find a winning pair.

An important thing to consider when pairing spicy foods with wine is that tannins in wine amplify the spice and can make a spicy food uncomfortably hot. While spicy foods can pair well with red wine, you definitely want to avoid red wines with a lot of tannins. Tannins are the textural element in some red wines that create the feeling of “dryness” on your tongue. If you are enjoying a spicy meal, having a tannic red wine can make that experience unpleasant. Common wines that tend to be tannic include young Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Nebbiolo.

Red wines that are high in alcohol can also clash with spicy food. The spice can make a high alcohol wine seem even higher in alcohol, and not in a pleasant way. You also want to avoid red wines with a lot of oak, since the spice can make an oaky wine seem even oakier. A lot of American red wines on the market are tannic, high in alcohol, and oaky – so perhaps it’s best to avoid those altogether unless you’re familiar with the wine.

If you want to pair red wine with your spicy food, look for examples that have a lot of flavor without the tannins. Cool-climate Carignan is a great choice, since it’s rustic, spicy, juicy, and low in tannins. Look for Carignan from Mendocino County – there’s tons of it coming out of there. You could also try a Beaujolais (gamay) since they are low in tannin, fruity, and straightforward. Spicy foods will overpower more delicate, complex, or aged wines such as Pinot Noir, so those are best to avoid.

The best wine pairing for spicy foods are off-dry and fruity white wines. The sweetness in the wine tames the heat of the spice, making an ethereal pairing. Try a spicy asian noodle dish with an off-dry or sweet riesling – it’s a match made in heaven. If you’re having spicy, bitter greens such as arugula or dandelion, consider a dry white wine such as Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc to complement the herbal aspect and to contrast the spice.

Rosé is also a great pair with spicy foods such as chili, barbecue, and Mexican food. It’s usually super fresh, fruity, and low in alcohol, which tempers the spice. It’s also tasty and thirst-quenching, which totally helps put the fire out after you’ve had a few bites too many of Aunt Mary’s award-winning Texas chili. Another option is sparkling wine, which is a nice contrast to the spice with it’s effervescence and brightness. Beer is also a great option with spicy food for the same reasons that sparkling wine works.

Here’s a quick overview of some great spicy food & wine pairings:

Spicy barbecue: Rosé
Spicy asian noodles: Off-dry or sweet riesling
Indian curry: Off-dry gewurtztraminer
Chili: Rosé
Mexican food: Rosé or Carignan

Do you have a favorite spicy food wine pairing that’s tried and true? Let us know in the comments.