Do wine and spicy foods go hand in hand? The most common answer would be a firm “No”. However, it is not all black and white in the colourful world of gastronomy and wine. If you follow the right tips, you can come up with exquisitely delicious combinations of spicy food and wine despite the common misconception of their mutual intolerance. Luckily, we are here to help you out and guide you to the perfect choice.
Where to start?
Spicy food is notoriously difficult to pair, but if we can balance out the different flavors and temperatures, we’ll have a memorable gastronomic experience. Fruity wines help to temper the heat, preserving the flavors of the ingredients, while acidic wines provide a contrast that enhances the flavors, though this depends on which components of the dish we are pairing. The same is true for other types of food: the wine we choose can enhance and soften spicy dishes’ flavor.
As a result, if you enjoy chili or traditional Mexican dishes, we suggest a Sauvignon Blanc wine variety which can be found here, whose herbal characteristics pair well with the lime and coriander flavors found in these dishes.
In addition to texture and flavor, wine can produce a balsamic sensation and prepare us for the next bite by providing relief during the meal by generating contrasts in temperature, flavor, and texture. It also goes well with a variety of spicy flavors. Due to the wine’s acidity, the spicy sensation is slightly enhanced. In addition, the residual sugar it contains helps to smooth out the roughness of the Capsaicin, making it more tolerable but not completely disappear.
Some species of plants and fruits, as you are aware, have a spicy and aggressive sensation that is associated with them.
Throughout its evolution, part of the plants of the genus Capsicum, which includes peppers, such as pipiris (pirpiris) in Portugal and Mozambique, malaguetas in Brazil, guidungos (gringos) in Angola, habaneros in Mexico, tabasco in the USA, guindillas in Spain, the black pepper or pimenta-do-reino (of the genus Piper), as it is known in Brazil – all of them developed, in order to survive, as a mechanism of adaptation, the production of protective substances such as Capsaicin and piperine, respectively, as an adaptation mechanism.
The Capsaicin found in red and yellow peppers, in particular, is highly irritating to herbivores and mammals, who, using their molar teeth, break the seeds and allow them to pass through their digestive tract intact, preventing them from germinating in the process.
Wines for each type of spicy dish
Restaurants all over the world serve spicy food as a speciality. Many European countries have adopted the style, which is often associated with Asian cuisine from China, India, Thailand, and elsewhere. Various spices, hot chili peppers, and other sauces and flavors combine to create a delicious but fiery dish.
A glass of wine can temper a dish’s greasiness or spice. Spicy flavors can be dissolved in fats, sugars, and alcohol, unlike water or acidic beverages. In this case, full-bodied, unctuous wines with a higher alcohol content are the best bets for the occasion. However, the ideal pairing will be determined by the level of spiciness in the dish.
Indian and Middle Eastern food
Curry, cumin, coriander, cardamom, nutmeg, and fennel, among other spices, characterize Indian and nearby regions’ cuisines, which can be paired with red wines in a subtle way with spicy, intense, and balsamic flavors such as Grenache, Malbec, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, and Syrah, among others. Aside from accompanying the lentils, chickpeas, and potatoes that are frequently included in these dishes, the spicy notations of these types of grapes work perfectly with the tastes of these ingredients. In India, it is also common to serve drinks with a lassi – a traditional yogurt-based drink that is believed to relieve the itchy sensation in the mouth when drinking alcohol.
For the most part, red wine with high acidity and little or no barrel aging would be the best match for the spicy Indian masala. As a result, you’ll have a light red wine that’s easy to drink and can even be slightly chilled before serving without losing any flavor or aroma. A Beaujolais Gamay, such as the Marcel Lapierre Morgon, is probably your best bet. It will provide a delicate counterbalance to the spicy dish if chilled briefly before serving.
Chinese and Thai food
When it comes to Japanese cuisine, ginger and wasabi are the most frequently used spicy ingredients. It is possible to choose sweet wines, which are ideal for pairing with sweet and sour flavors because they help balance the sensations induced by these foods.
While eating Chinese or Thai food or food from other parts of Northeast Asian countries, the sweet notes of Riesling wines can help soothe the intense spiciness of chili and bring out the sweet flavor of sugary sauces. Wines based on gewürztraminer and sauvignon blanc pair well with sweet and savory and spicy dishes, as well as with grilled meats. It is also beneficial to pair Chinese cuisine with regional wines, even if you follow their tradition of drinking “hot” wine, which is a wine with a shallow alcoholic content that increases its organoleptic qualities when exposed to heat, and which are specifically designed for this cuisine.
Thai spicy food goes well with Riesling, which is a common wine pairing. The most common pairing is a sweet or semi-sweet Riesling with a low alcohol percentage, so give it a try. Take a Thai curry and a quality Riesling from Germany, Austria, or Alsace in France, and you can see for yourself. To surprise us even more, try the excellent Ekam Essència from Castell d’Encús.
While dining on Mexican cuisine, drinking a dry white wine is highly recommended, which provides the freshness required by dishes containing chili peppers and other spicy ingredients. Chili peppers, lime (lemon), and cilantro are some of the most common ingredients used in Central American and Tex-Mex cuisine, and the herbaceous notes that white wine may have combined perfectly with these flavors. For example, we could try Chardonnay, Airen, Fumet Blanc, Viura, and other varieties.
It would help if you also tried tacos and wine combinations. Tacos are one of the most traditional Mexican dishes, and they are also one of the most widely exported to other countries, owing to their ease of preparation. Tacos, like quesadillas, are a type of corn or wheat pancake. This pancake can be filled with whatever fillings you desire. You can prepare simple tacos or, on the other hand, the so-called tacos al pastor, which are tacos prepared with vegetables, sauces, cheeses, creams, mole, and other ingredients according to the preferences of the customer. Rosé wines are often the best choice for accompanying this famous taco. This wine is also served chilled and does not typically contain excessive amounts of alcohol. When you taste tacos al pastor, you will get a good balance of flavors because of this method.
While chili peppers are common in Japanese cuisine, they also have non-Capsaicin spices such as ginger and wasabi and various types of chili peppers. In addition to its origin or custom, sake is an excellent companion because of its delicacy, alcohol content, and texture, making a low-fat food with very natural flavors and flavors similar to those found in nature. Sake comes in a wide range of styles, and some restaurants feature sake menus that rival the best wine lists found in prestigious European restaurants. Some restaurants even employ sake-only sommeliers. For sushi, nigiris, and sashimis accompanied by wasabi and food preparation cold, and at the time, you can pick the newest and least complex of the options available. Use more complex sakes or even barrel-fermented white wines for dishes that call for hot peppers.
Suimono soups, such as ramen, have a substantial vegetable presence, making it challenging to pair them with other dishes depending on which vegetables are used. White wine with a lot of character is an excellent match for this dish. For example, a Chardonnay or an aged Verdejo would be appropriate.
If you love salmon, you should go for Shioyaki, a Japanese dish that consists of sautéed salmon. Because of the salmon’s own flesh, light white wines are preferred rather than heavy ones with a hint of fruitiness. Even sparkling wines that aren’t too dry can be paired with a variety of foods.
Though according to popular ideology, mixing alcoholic beverages with highly spicy food is a bad idea (mainly because they believe it will cause digestive problems or discomfort), with the help of a good guide, you can contrast temperatures and different flavors that will make the experience on the palate something utterly different from the norm.
Furthermore, the relationship does not always have to be based on opposition; instead, both things can complement each other in a variety of ways: for example, a wine can augment the flavor of a dish while softening the extremes of it, such as fat, spice, or texture of the food; a fruity wine can help to attenuate the heat, preserving many of the characteristics of the ingredients.