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:
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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