How To Pair Wines With Spicy Food: From Fiery Sichuan Cuisine To South American Jalapeno Heat

Posted: Nov 15, 2019



As a general rule, pick whites with an aromatic sweetness, like a German riesling

If you really must drink red, a fruity Beaujolais is an excellent choice

Choosing a wine to pair with spicy food can be challenging.

In Asia, Sichuan cuisine, with its tongue-numbing, fiery bite, is probably the most challenging to pair with wine, as there are so many aromas, flavours and textures to contend with, ranging from fragrant seafood dishes to the spicy, rich mapo tofu.

Many drinkers would pick a young fruity rosé, with minimal tannins, or a ripe Bordeaux from the Right Bank – usually merlot and, again, with soft tannins.

A better pairing, however, would be a white wine. Given their aromatics, German rieslings are a good choice. If you go with a trocken (dry), there is no need to pick an older, and more expensive one; youthful is good because the dryness and hint of fruity sweetness pair well with the aromatics of Sichuan food. If you’re feeling brave, a sweeter riesling – around the spätlese level – is a good option as, when tasted with the spicy heat of mapo tofu, the wine won’t seem sweet.

How hot can you take your chillies?

Going further afield, a Torrontés from Argentina is a terrific choice because of its floral, lilac-y, jasmine-hued nose. Look for wines made by Susana Balbo, from the Salta region, which are reasonably priced.

If you insist on drinking red with Sichuan food, then go with something that’s on the young side, without too much oak, which will dull the palate. Beaujolais is a great choice, because there’s lots of strawberry fruit in the wine along with a light acidity.

In Japan, the spices of choice are wasabi and togarashi. Some drinkers consider wasabi to be a wine killer, but if it’s used in moderation with Japanese soy sauce, which is lighter than the Chinese version, it is not difficult to find a wine pairing. Gewürztraminers from Alsace, France, or New Zealand are good, or a pinot grigio from Italy’s north – Friuli or Alto Adige.

If you’re in the mood for red wine, I would plump for a simple chianti from Tuscany or a cool-climate pinot noir from Tasmania, in Australia, Central Otago, in New Zealand, or Oregon, in the United States. All of these reds are fruit-forward with the gentle use of oak barrels.

Shichimi togarashi, the Japanese seven-spice blend of ground red chilli mixed with seaweed, sesame seeds and other seasonings, is used for dishes that have fatty unami, such as tuna, unagi (eel), tempura, yakitori, shabu-shabu and many noodles. Any of the above wines would work, and I would even be more adventurous and add grüner veltliner from Austria, with its bracing acidity and dryness, or a young grenache from the Rhone Valley, which has bright fruit flavours of red and green plum.

A Hong Kong myth debunked: we love spicy food
The French – not known for their love of spice – have a hot pepper: piment d’Espelette. It’s not very spicy, measuring just 4,000 on the Scoville scale.

With this, look for the rosés of Provence, and simple reds from the Rhone, such as a St Joseph. Espelette is deceptive – if sprinkled on food just before serving, it has a gentle heat, but when used while cooking, it gets hotter.

South American cuisines have spicy chillies such as jalapeños (up to 8,000 on the Scoville scale) and habaneros (100,000-350,000), usually eaten when they are dark green, because when they turn red, they are ripe, and some of their heat is lost. For fans of these spicy chillies, the best wine pairing is something that has some residual sugar.

Moscato works as its slightly sweet bubbles help tame the heat of jalapeños. If you’ve eaten something too spicy, take a mouthful of guacamole or something else that’s high in fat, which will calm the palate. Whatever you do, don’t drink wine – or any other alcohol – because it will intensify the heat.

By Nellie Ming Lee  November 14, 2019 Source: SCMP.com



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