A Guide to Drinking with Spicy Foods: Wine

published Aug 23, 2016
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(Image credit: Samantha Bolton)

Let’s be clear about one thing upfront: Any kind of alcohol — be it wine, beer, or spirit — enhances the spiciness of a food. So, if you’re really looking to quell the heat, milk is the answer. If, on the other hand, your goal is to complement the heat and enhance your eating experience, we say absolutely enjoy your favorite takeout Thai curry with a glass of wine.

Conventional wisdom pairs spicy foods with sweet white wines, especially for dishes with an Asian slant, but vinous options exist across the color and sugar spectrum.

Off-Dry Whites

Pairing “sweet” with spicy doesn’t mean drinking dessert wine with your Mapo Tofu. Off-dry wines, like Rieslings, Moscatos, and Chenin Blancs, make heavenly matches for peppery dishes and usually have just a hint of sugar.

For example, the sugar in an off-dry Riesling perfectly cools the burn of wasabi, while its citrus flavors highlight fresh fish just like a squeeze of lemon would, elevating all of the natural flavors in the dish.

3 Off-Dry Whites to Try

Dry Whites

If sweet wines just aren’t your thing, have no fear — many dry wines create the same refreshment with vivacious fruit flavors or saline minerality. Portuguese Vinho Verde, a light and slightly bubbly white wine, for example, is a perfect compliment to spicy Chinese food. Similarly, Sauvignon Blanc and Spanish Albariño give the impression of sweetness that makes spicy pairings refreshing without the sugar.

3 Dry Whites to Try

Light Reds

Since alcohol intensifies the burn of capsaicin, and oak often overwhelms spicy foods, bold red wines like Malbec and Shiraz are best saved for another occasion.

Lighter reds, however, like Italian Schiava, Pinot Noir, or Beaujoulais, can be great matches with spicy peanut satays or Szechuan beef. These wines also have lower tannins than their full-bodied counterparts, making them flexible across a range of flavors — like all your favorites on the takeout menu.

3 Light Reds to Try