Spicy Food and Wine Pairings Tips - THEGRAPE

Food & Wine Friday: Spicy Food And Wine Pairing Tips

This Week In Food 101: Spicy Food And Wine Pairing Tips

Have you ever had the unfortunate experience of pairing a Cabernet Sauvignon with chili? Before you say, “What’s wrong with that?” Let us explain. Unbeknownst to many, a spicy chili that you’d assume would be a delicious, savory meal with a bold red wine turns into an awful food and wine experience. We know you love spicy food and the wine was probably terrific (on its own) but in this instance, the spicy chili and bold red wine, packed with tannins, don’t bring out the best in each other. Because the wines tannins only amplify the spiciness of the chili, you’re left scrambling for the relief of a glass of ice water. So where do you go from here when pairing wine with spicy food?

If you’ve had a similar experience or you’d simply like to know what are the best wines to pair with spicy meals, The Grape is going to offer some tips and examples of wine varietals that pair well with spicy cuisines that will not only satisfy your palate but your appetite too! For those of you who haven’t been tainted by such an experience, let this article serve as a reminder of the wines you’d do best to stay away from and which wines pair best with the spicy dishes you love. When you think about the art of pairing food and wine, think about it how you would think about matching people with different personalities. Each of us is drawn to certain individuals for a variety of reasons, including shared life experiences and the same taste in food, film, music and hobbies. Still others of us are attracted to those who are or think opposite of ourselves, yet we bring out the best in each other (e.g. fire-cracker personality being drawn to a more sweet docile personality).

Nevertheless, think of those similarities or even subtle differences in the same context as you would food and wine. Wine and food that share aromas and flavors have a greater potential to play off of each other in a positive way, enhancing the overall dining experience. When this occurs, the temperatures, textures and flavors are magnified and you find yourself sipping your way to bliss after every bite and stuffing your face till you’re completely satisfied. The only question that remains, are you looking to enhance the spiciness or tame it? Sweet wines generally bring down the heat in spicy foods, which is why Gewürztraminer is a great white wine to pair with spicy foods. It’s lush with aromas and has a variety of flavors that only bring out the best in these types of cuisines, especially Gewürztraminer from the wine regions of France and Washington State.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to enhance the flavors in the meal, consider an off-dry wine (meaning not sweet) with high levels of acidity, and lower levels of alcohol. The acidity cuts through the spiciness, and offers a cool refreshing sensation, and kind of cleanses the palate after every bite. Champagnes, sparkling, Rosé, and white wines can all bring out the best in meals with a kick.

So, here a few tips to help you select a wine for a hot, spicy dish:

Grape Tip #1 – Select wines with low to medium alcohol content. An example of this would be wines with 13.5% alcohol content or less. In these scenarios alcohol ruins the whole dining experience.

Grape Tip #2 – Avoid wines that are high in tannins – again, not a good combination with spicy foods. The alcohol comes to the forefront, while the tannins just offset the flavors entirely.

Grape Tip #3 – Stay away from wines with “oak or oaky” flavors (e.g. Chardonnay). These aromas and flavors tend to clash with the spiciness of the meal, over dominate the flavors in the food and can leave you with a bad after-taste or unbalanced flavors.

Grape Tip #4 – Choose wines listed as, off-dry, aromatic, acidic, or fruity. These are all positive qualities that have positive benefits when paired with spicy cuisines.


Wines that encompass these qualities won’t disappoint they’ll have you licking your fingers and plate while you sit back and sip the last bit of your wine with pure satisfaction written all over your face. Here’s a breakdown of what wines wines that pair well with what spicy foods.


White Wines 

Dry, Herbal White Wines

Sauvignon Blanc and Sancerre pair well with foods that have spicy tart, or tangy flavors.


Sauvignon Blanc

Kenwood Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Sonoma County – $9.99

Geyser Peak Winery 2012, Sauvignon Blanc, California – $9.99

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Marlborough, New Zealand – $24.99

Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand – $12.99

Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Western Cape, South Africa – $14.99

Hanna Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley – $16.99



Gerard Boulay Sancerre Chavignol 2011, Loire, France – $27.99

Domaine Vincent Delaporte a Chavignol Sancerre 2012, Loire, France – $20.99

Lucien Crochet Sancerre 2010, Loire, France – $29.99

Poggiobello Friulano Colli Orientali del Friuli 2012 – $19.99

Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Mont Sec 2011, Loire, France – $25.99

Francois Chidaine Vouvray Les Argiles Sec 2011, Loire, France – $21.99


Off-Dry, Fruity White Wines

Gewurztraminer, Rieslings & Vouvrays go excellent with spicy Asian and Indian cuisines, not only do they bring out the best in the foods but the tame the flame of spicy foods.



NV Turning Leaf Vineyards Riesling, E & J Gallo Winery – $8.99

Wollersheim Winery Dry Riesling 2012 – $9.99

Ravines Wine Cellars Dry Riesling 2011, Finger Lakes, New York – $17.99


Gunderloch Jean Baptiste Riesling Kabinett 2011, Rheinhessen, Germany – $19.99

Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 2011, Mosel, Germany – $32.99

Dr. H. Thanisch Müller-Burggraef Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett 2012, Mosel, Germany – $24.99

Carl von Schubert Maximin Grunhauser Abstberg Riesling Spatlese 2012, Mosel, Germany – $24.99



Chateau Ste. Michelle Gewurztraminer 2011, Columbia Valley – $9.99

Pierre Sparr Gewurztraminer Selection 2011, Alsace, France – $16.99

F. E. Trimbach Gewurztraminer 2011, Alsace, France – $18.99


Dry, Light White Wines

Vermentino, Grüner Vetliner and Albarino go well with spicy dishes that have herbal accents



L’Uvaggio di Giancomo Vermentino 2011, Lodi – $12.99

Cantine Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna 2011 – $14.99



Soc. Coop. Arousana Paco & Lola Albarino 2012, Rias Baixas, Spain – $12.99

Don Olegario Albarino 2011, Rias Baixas, Spain – $16.99

Marques de Caceres Duesa Nai Albarino 2011, Rias Baixas, Spain – $15.99



Weingut Fred Loimer Lois Grüner Veltliner 2011, Kamptal, Austria – $15.99

Weingut Laurenz V. ‘Laurenz und Sophie Singing’ Grüner Veltliner 2011 – $16.99

Rainer Wess Grüner Veltliner Qualitätswein Trocken Wachau Süssenberg 2011 – $25.99


Rockin’ Rosé

Rosé wines pair very nicely with these spicy foods: Thai, Indian curry based dishes, or spicy chorizo or sausages.


Château Maupague Côte de Provence Sainte-Victoire Rose 2012 – $9.99

Gallo Family Vineyards White Zinfandel 2012 – $9.99

Acrobat Pinot Noir Rose Oregon 2012 – $12.99

Château Castel Des Maures Côte de Provence Rose Cuvée Jeanne 2012 – $13.99


Château Beaulieu Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence Rose 2012 – $14.99

Domaine de Rimauresq Côte de Provence Rose Sables d’Azur 2012 – $15.99

Maison Belle Claire Côte de Provence Rose 2012 – $15.99

Airfield Sangiovese Yakima Valley Rose 2012 Vineyard Salute Ruby – $17.99


Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Rose 2011 – $17.99

Eberle Syrah Paso Robles Rose 2012 – $18.99

Les Vignobles Gueissard Bandol Cuvée G Rose 2012 – $18.99

V. Sattui Gamay Rouge 2012 – $19.99


Tablas Creek Rose Patelin de Tablas Paso Robles 2012 – $19.99

NV Patrick Bottex Bugey-Cerdon La Cueille Rose – $22.99

Clos Sainte Mageleine Cassis Rose 2012, Provence, France – $25.99

Château Minuty Cotes de Provence Prestige Rose 2012, Provence, France – $29.99

Domaines Ott Château Romassan Bandol Coeur de Grain Rose 2012 – $35.99


The Bold & The Beautiful (Red Wines)

Since spicy dishes do not pair well with red wines that have loads of tannins and alcohol, aim for reds with a fresh, fruity side or ones that are firm with acid. Avoid Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. If you prefer red wines look for varietals like, Spanish Rioja’s, which you may recognize as Tempranillo, Italian Chianti’s and French Beaujolais (Gamay), Pinot Noir or Grenache/Garnacha, chilled Zinfandels and Sangria. These European varietals generally have higher levels of acidity or the earthy tones that pair best with cheeses and mildly spicy dishes.


Pinot Noir

Aphros Vinhao 2011, Vinho Verde, Portugal – $14.99

Mirassou Vineyards Pinot Noir 2011 – $9.99

Lucky Star Wines Pinot Noir 2011 – $10.99

A to Z Wineworks Oregon, Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley – $15.99


Laetitia Vineyard & Winery Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Arroya Grande Valley – $19.99

Acacia Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Carneros – $22.99

FAILLA Pinot Noir 2011 Sonoma Coast – $35.99



Zinfandels pair excellent with Mexican, Tex-Mex and Southwestern style dishes. Due to high acid levels found in tomatoes, consider tomato-based dishes or ones that infuse this fruit (e.g. sauces, salsas etc.). Zins also complement mildly spicy meat dishes like, fajitas, meat with curry seasoning, some chicken dishes as well as enchiladas or lasagna. Remember Zinfandels tend to have higher levels of alcohol and tannins so make sure you pick a Zinfandel with low levels of both and consider chilling it before opening.


Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Zinfandel 2011 – $8.99

Fetzer Vineyards Zinfandel 2011 – $9.99

Bogle Vineyards Old Vines Zinfandel 2011 – $10.99

J. Lohr Painter Bridge Zinfandel 2011 – $15.99

Neyers Zinfandel 2011 Vista Luna – $19.99



Tempranillo pairs well with mildly spicy dishes. Think, Cajun, Southwestern, Spanish and Jambalaya – or even spicy Chorizo, bbq and Paella with a subtle kick.


Vinicola del Pais Crin Roja Tempranillo 2011, Vino de la Tierra, Spain – $8.99

Bodegas Nekeas Vegas Sindoa Tempranillo 2011, Navarra, Spain – $9.99

Bodegas Protos Joven Roble Tinto 2011, Ribera del Duero – $11.99

Familia Eguren Sierra Cantabria, Rioja DOCa 2009, Spain – $11.99

Hijos de Antonio Barcelo ‘Vina Mayor’ Reserva 2008, Ribera del Duero – $19.99



Piccini Chianti DOCG 2011, Tuscany, Italy – $9.99

Bibi Graetz Testamatta Casamatta Toscana IGT 2012, Tuscany, Italy – $12.99

Marchesi Antinori Peppoli, Chianti Classico DOCG 2011, Italy – $16.99


Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico DOCG 2011, Tuscany, Italy – $18.99

Fontodi Chianti Classico DOCG 2010, Tuscany, Italy – $29.99

Renieri Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2008, Tuscany, Italy – $35.99



Altovinum Evodia Old Vines Garnacha 2011, Calatayud, Spain – $8.99

Bodegas Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha 2011, Campo de Borja, Spain – $15.99

Domaine La Barroche Terroir Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2009, Rhone, France – $35.99



Georges Duboeuf Chiroubles 2011, Beaujolais, France – $11.99

Domaine Lucien Lardy Moulin-a-Vent Les Thorin 2011, Beajolais Cru, France – $15.99

Jean-Paul Brun Domaine des Terres Dorees Cote de Brouilly 2011, Beaujolais, France – $19.99


So, if you’re, “feelin’ hot, hot, hot…” now you know to pair your spicy meal with wines that have higher levels of acidity or with sweet wines that are fruit forward. Remember to avoid red wines with higher tannin levels and alcohol contents greater than 13.5%. If you’re looking for a white wine, start with dry whites that are light, more acidic and possessing herbal or floras hints. The team at thegrape.com hopes this has been helpful, making your spicy food and wine pairings far more enjoyable. Salud!


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