When things get too spicy – red wine and spicy food
It’s always the same dilemma at a restaurant, what wine to choose with the meal. A safe bet is to ask the wine expert of the house or quickly consult Dr. Google on your mobile device. What if you are having a rather exotic meal this evening which also contains quite a bit of overpowering flavors and spices? What if the food you are having is literally a tongue burner? Most wine experts and probably also most information via Dr. Google will tell you that semi- sweet or sweet white wines are the safest bets with aromatic varietals. Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc are usually the front runners of the recommendations. However, rarely someone will propose you red wine and spicy food together.
What if you don’t actually like white wine and insist to drink your beloved red wine anyways? Be prepared to get a “no, no” from the expert which is also in part understandable. Most red wines are quite rich in tannins. Those tannins – especially if the wine is still quite young – can result in a bitter and astringent aftertaste. Combining that with rather spicy food can give you an unpleasant match for your taste buds.
Is there a truth about red wine and spicy food?
The truth about food pairing is that there is no truth and it all depends on what you like. Who knows? Maybe you even like the burning sensation of a tannic red wine paired with spicy Tom Yum Soup from Thailand. However, here are some guidelines how you can deal with red wine and spicy food.
Useful guidelines how to pair spicy food and red wine
- If you want a red wine opt for a wine that you also could drink chilled. The warmer the red wine, the stronger the tannic structure and bitterness will come through. Bitterness will enhance your feeling for spiciness. The cooler the red wine, the less likely you will have that unpleasant feeling of bitterness and spiciness at the same time. However, be aware that by chilling red wine you might tune done quite a few other flavors of the red wine.
- There are wine styles that promote a lower tannin structure during their vinification such as a maceration gas carbonique. This is the case of vin primeur or Beaujolais nouveau. These wines are usually released a few weeks after picking the first grapes and therefore remain young and very fruity.
- There are varietals that contain less tannin such as Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Dolcetto and Barbera and even some Merlots. Choosing those varietals could be a good option. If you have a rather acidic dish avoid acidic varietals such as Sangiovese and Barbera. A German Dornfelder can also be good option or Red Wines that have been vinified with Thermovinification.
- If you don’t like white but can tolerate a nice Rose, go with a Rose. Rose can be drunk cool and chilled. And it still gives you partly the delight of enjoying a red grape varietal.
- In general it’s good to analyze the dish before choosing the wine. Spiciness is not always the same. Wasabi and red chilies do have a completely different effect on your taste buds. If you go for a smoky, heavily loaded dish with spices such as cardamom, cloves, turmeric, curry etc. then a stronger red wine like Zinfandel, Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon suit well. If it’s more a sour and chilies spicy dish, a less powerful red or a nice Rose are better options.
Always keep exploring
The best way to find out is to explore as much as possible. Remember what worked and what didn’t in order to not commit the same mistake again the next time. Wine and food should complement each other and not fight against each other.