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Using Wine to Balance Heat in Spicy Cuisine


Traditionally, people drink wine with sweet and savory foods common to a eurocentric palate. However, for wine-lovers who do not limit their culinary worlds to european fare, it is a relief to find that wine can be consumed with any cuisine found around the world. The challenge is in pairing wines with flavor profiles that are completely different from european food, and it requires a new approach to choosing a beverage. This is particularly true as food lovers move further into the world of spicy cuisines such as those from India, Mexico, and Thailand. Luckily the wine world has developed a new set of rules that serve to guide wine choices for hotter meals.

  1. The intensity of the food must be matched by the intensity of the wine. (This is directly counter to the european model where wine is only paired with food that has a more powerful flavor.)
  2. Flavors in the wine should contrast, rather than complement the flavors in the spicy food. HIgh acidity in wine counters chillies well, but if the spice comes from acid, seek a wine that will ground the palate instead.
  3. Sweeter and fruitier wines offer a refreshing break from the burn of high-spice meals. Avoid the traditionally prized tannin-rich or oaky flavors, as these will amplify the heat of a meal and burn your mouth. Dry wines are not your friend with spicy food for the same reason. Surprisingly, sparkling wines and rosés, often looked down upon in high-wine culture, are considered the most refreshing options for spicy meals.
  4. All wines should be served cold. Chill even the reds (think about sangria). The reason for this is simple: the literal temperature of the wine will counter the spice-born heat from the food.

For further help, here are some specific recommendations:

Red Wines


White Wines

lighter-bodied chiantis are similar to rosés in their relation to spice.

Most Rosés
Light, sweeter wines. This makes a rosé typically a good choice for spicy meals.

Semi-Dry counters the heat of spice

made with a variety of wines, but the sweetness of additional fruit arms the wine to stand up to spice.

Vin Gris
Drier variation of the typical rosé. Still light enough for spicy food, but not as sweet as most rosés. A good option for those who typically drink red.

Sauvignon Blanc
Fruit-based notes counter the spice and refresh the palate.

Young bottles are delicate enough to enhance mild spice rather than amplify heat.


Pinot Gris
Simple, fruity wine contrasts the intensity of spicy cuisine

Sparkling Reds
Light sensation from bubbles helps refresh the palate. Choose a sweeter version to enhance this.


Sparkling Whites
Light sensation from bubbles helps refresh the palate.

Using Wine to Balance Heat in Spicy Cuisine

With these new rules to guide you, cheers to spicy cuisine!

Susan Anderson is a blogger and locavore-oenophile who also writes about wine storage and maintenance for Vintage Cellars.

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