One of the more difficult wine-and-food matches is finding a wine to go with spicy foods, such as curries. Before you start trying, understand the difference between spicy — meaning heavy with spices — and hot and spicy.
Many Pan-Asian dishes can be heavily spiced yet not have intense heat. For example, many Indian dishes have pungent aromas and complex flavors, yet are not necessarily hot on the palate. Similarly, Thai cuisine can be intensely flavored, with the heat of the dish dependent on density of the pepper flakes.
So how to match? Again, start with the heat. If you’re having a high-heat dish, try to go with lower-alcohol wines that have some residual sugar or a perceived sweetness. For example, German Rieslings — specifically from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer — have very low alcohol levels (as low as 6%), and can simultaneously offer a touch of sweetness. A German wine labeled as “QbA” will give you some perceived sweetness, as will one with “Kabinett” on the label. For a bit more sweetness, move up to a Spatlese. All three are likely to offer a refreshing foil to hot and spicy cuisine. Vouvray (from France) has a similarly fruity, almost-sweet flavor profile, though the alcohol is higher. Gruner Veltliner, from Austria, can also be a good choice, as is Alsatian Gewurztraminer, which has complementary aromas and flavors of litchi and rose petals and can be nearly bone-dry or mildly sweet.
Rose wines can also be excellent matches, as most have mild flavors, are lower in alcohol than reds, tend to have a refreshing profile that is similar to white wine, and have enough body and structure to stand up to complex dishes. In addition, many roses have a nice ripe strawberry or watermelon juiciness that resembles hard candy — offering a slight touch of perceived sweetness that foils well against spicy food.
If your heart is set on a red, try a Crianza (Spanish wine based on Tempranillo), which will tend to have a roasted, spiced character that melds well with similarly spicy food. A chilled Beaujolais Cru can be a refreshing match, as can an inexpensive Aussie Shiraz — just be careful about the alcohol level.
You shouldn’t fear matching spicy foods with wines; rather, take it on as a challenge. It can get expensive to try different combinations out at a restaurant, so browse a site like CurrySimple to find spicy additives for home experimentation. For example, you can get packages of Thai-style Red Curry, Green Curry, or Yellow Curry to add to meat, noodles, veggies, or fish, and taste a few different bottles next to the dish. Some matches may not work at all, but others may prove to be mindblowing. And that’s what wine enjoyment is all about — finding the ultimate match.