I love spicy cuisines. Indian, Thai, Mexican, Chinese… I could go on. But I also love wine, which presents a connundrum. What to serve with spicy food? The problem, as many wine lovers know, is that spicy food brings out the alcohol in the wine, which can in turn make the food hotter and unpleasant. Spicy food can also accentuate oak, so you mask the subtle smokiness or tangy lime flavors of a dish with wood if you partake in even a slightly oaky wine. So what’s a wine lover to do?
The go-to wine is Reisling. I recently attended a fabulous Thai dinner at a little spot in Las Vegas called Lotus Siam where they had all sorts of reislings. Sweet, aged, clear and crisp. It was a wonderful way to sample all of the different flavors a reisling can bring to a meal.
But you need not be stuck with reisling. Bubbly wines also work well, as noted by Eric Asimov in his latest article in The New York Times. “Sparkling wine often complements spicy food for the same reason that beer often works: the bubbles scrub and refresh the palate,” he writes, which I think perfectly describes it. But I would add an additional caveat: look for wines with smaller bubbles, i.e. wines made using the methode Champenoise, where the secondary fermentation (which produces the carbon dioxide) occurs inside of the bottle. Smaller bubbles caress the palate, larger bubbles can irritate your already spiced-up taste buds even more.
I would also go with an unoaked Chardonnay, a Sancerre, maybe a light Gewurztramminer. I don’t tend to like sweet wines with food, as I feel they can overpower other flavors, so I skew toward leaner, drier wines.
When in doubt, experiment. Stay away from alcoholic wines and oak, and have some fun. That is, after all, what wine tasting is all about.