Hot, spicy food is a favourite on dining tables in many parts of the world. Long associated with Asian cuisine from China, India, Thailand and elsewhere, many European countries have also adopted the style. Asian and Asian-inspired dishes use varying combinations of spices, chilli peppers and other sauces and flavours in order to create fiery dishes that really have a kick to them.
This can prevent a problem for some wine lovers, however, because it can be a little tricky to pair wines with this kind of food. Perhaps the sauce is too complex, the dish literally too hot or perhaps you have accidentally ruined a perfectly good wine and/or meal and just vowed “never again!”
Food and wine pairing ultimately comes down to your personal choice and taste preferences, though with that in mind we have come up with a few tips to point you in what we think is the right direction.
Tips for pairing wine with spicy food
There are very few golden rules when it comes to food and wine pairing, so take it all with a pinch of salt (or chili flakes!), but these tips are worth remembering.
- The closest thing to a golden rule in this case, or certainly the prevailing conventional wisdom is that spicy food pairs best with Riesling. A sweet or semi-sweet Riesling with relatively low alcohol is the most commonly suggested wine pairing for spicy food, so it’s certainly worth exploring. Take a Thai curry or dish of similar heat and a quality Riesling from Germany, Austria or Alsace in France and see for yourself. To go a little out of leftfield, try the superb Ekam Essència 2013 from Spain’s Costers del Segre region.
- Don’t be afraid to eat spicy food with red wine. The sensible approach would suggest pairing your spicy Indian masala with a red wine that is relatively low in alcohol, high in acidity and with little to no barrel ageing: Effectively, this would give you a light-bodied red that is easy to drink, and can even be refrigerated slightly before drinking without doing any damage or dumbing down its flavour profile. Your best bet for this style would probably be a Gamay from Beaujolais, such as Marcel Lapierre Morgon 2015. Chilled briefly before serving, this will provide a delicate balancing act with your hot and spicy dish.
- Fight fire with fire. It may not be for the faint of heart, but pairing a spicy dish with a wine that has spicy flavours is another direction that you can go. Be warned that it’s a little unconventional, though! Oak barrel ageing imparts a multitude of flavours onto wines, including spice. Syrah from the Northern Rhône valley in France would be an interesting choice as that grape tends to give rise to wines with spicy, peppery notes anyway. For a Spanish take on it, consider Detrás de la Casa Syrah 2012.
- Opposites attract. If none of the above tickle your fancy, then balance out the heat and spice of your food with a sweet or semi-sweet wine. While Port may not be a good idea, a non-fortified sweet wine such as a Sauternes will be lower in alcohol and easier on the palate. Château Suduiraut 2004 is a great expression of the Sauternes style.
When it really comes down to it, only you can decide if a food and wine pairing is right for you. Blogs like this aim to help by giving some ideas or tips, and restaurant sommeliers and other wine professionals always aim to please, but everybody’s tastes are unique. Have you got any favourite wine pairings for spicy dishes? We’d love to hear about them – the less conventional the better!