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Sweet and Spicy:

Pairing Wine with Spicy Food

Wine Pairing for Spicy Food

Sweet and spicy are a natural pairing - this combo is part of our innate taste DNA like peanut butter and jelly or buffalo wings and bleu cheese. When you're trying to decide what wine to serve with a spicy dish, definitely keep this pairing in mind. Whether it's Thai, Chinese, Mexican or any dish you're making with a good kick of heat, wines that have a little hint of sweetness to them are always a great bet.

What makes hot peppers hot is an alkaloid called capsaicin. Capsaicin is insoluble in water, which is why drinking water does NOT relieve that burn, but although it is soluble in alcohol, sugar is actually a better antidote to ease the heat. A wine with a little residual sugar will ease the hit of the peppers, thus allowing the flavor of the wine to show through against the spiciness rather than just get lost in it.

In addition, the best off-dry white wines will also show a tasty spectrum of spicy flavors that will play off the other spices in the dish, and a strong backbone of acidity to stand up well with bold cuisines. Riesling, Gewurztraminer and blends with Muscat Cannelli - both in sparkling wines and still wines - are often made off-dry. With sparkling wines, look for those that are labelled "Dry" or "Extra Dry": these are confusingly the slightly sweet styles, "Brut" is the term for the one that is totally dry.

Here are some of our favorites:

Domaine Chandon "Riche" Extra Dry, California ($22)
A blend with a touch of Muscat, this sparkling wine shows the characteristic effusive aroma. Very luscious and full for a sparkler.

2006 Hugel Gewurztraminer, Alsace ($25)
On the dry side for this variety, 'gewurz' is German for spice and reflects the exotic spicy flavors and aroma this classic wine displays.

2008 Navarro Edelzwicker, Mendocino ($13)
A small production, this can only be purchased from the winery. Airy, fragrant and fun, the winemaker describes this as "flowers in a glass".


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