Pairing Wines and Spicy foods
Given his geographic proximity to great foods from Mexico and the Southwest, noted master sommelier, Guy Stout, based in Texas Hill Country Wine region, is an expert on spicy food and wine pairings..and his suggestions insights on what goes with hot works very well for our region which produces so many cool climate varietals.
Really spicy food contains spices [capsaicin is VERY hot] that actually trigger a chemical reaction on the skin as well as eye and palate and other sensitive body tissues. On contact, they cause a burning sensation. While mild forms like black pepper can be easily tolerated by most, anyone who has chopped chili peppers or hot green ones from the garden can attest to what happens when they rub and eyelid with an unwashed hand.
The normal reaction to a food item that is too spicy is to drink something cold to relieve any discomfort. A giant glass of ice water will work. but it is not much fun.
Spicy foods, especially those very intense ones, stimulate the taste buds and makes them more active. And as in some Mexican and Thai cuisine, this burning sensation is real and for those who have a large number of taste buds, [we all differ in the number of taste buds, ranging from several thousand to more than 10,000 on our tongues] they will feel it even more intensely than others whose mouths and tongues have a smaller concentration of sensors on their palate. A little character is important in all we prepare, because an entre with NO flavors whatsoever is both bland and incredibly boring. But selecting appropriate wines to serve with these foods require a little general knowledge.
It is important to know that anything containing alcohol intensifies palate reactions but that sweetness tends to amend and restrain them, so the higher the alcohol content, and in fact the drier the wine, the less appealing the wine pairing with spicy meals becomes. [This explains, in part why many Thai restaurants serve primarily only low alcohol beers.]
However, since we are much more about wine, we are lucky that our regionally grown, lower alcohol Rieslings, Gewurztraminers and Greuners, as well as our off dry Vidals and even Traminettes, are perfectly suited to most hot to mid range spicy dishes. These wines are generally served quite cold, have at least a hint of residual sweetness and often have an alcohol content under 10%. If the dish being prepared contains red meat and the delicate flavors of these whites would be overwhelmed, red options may be in order. Some of the local off dry reds blends and certainly the lovely semi-dry Rose styles would provide perfect choices for the meal.
We live in a region blessed with viticultural and enological diversityand as we become ever more known for locally produced food stuffs, the pairing aspects of culinary choices are interesting to consider.
Much of the background for this piece comes from a book, Wine Secrets, compiled by a gal named Marnie Old, an author and lecturer from Philadelphia who writes for the Enquirer, and additionally was a speaker last year at the nationally acclaimed License to Steal Conference held each April here at our own Lodge.
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About the author:
Donniella Winchell, Executive Director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association...