In our Ask the Sommelier series, we’re putting your wine-related questions to the world’s top sommeliers. In this instalment, sommelier, founder of Bottles N Jars and co-author of Which Wine When, Bert Blaize explores some common rules to follow and go-to bottles to seek out when pairing wine with spicy dishes.
‘I have a big thing for spicy food, but I find it really hard to select a wine that drinks well with what I cook. Everyone knows that lager and curry belong together, but are there any traditional wine pairings for Indian, Thai or Mexican food?’
Marigold from Birmingham
Sommelier Bert Blaize responds:
‘It can be tricky to pair wine with spicy food because the flavours of the food are so dominant. In a good pairing, the food and wine are in harmony: either they balance each other out, or one element gives something that the other doesn’t have.
‘For me, there are four considerations for the wine you’re planning to pair with spicy food: sweetness, acidity, bubbles and aromatics. Everyone knows that sweetness and spice work really well together. Sweetness is kind to your palate and it does something wonderful to spices. A sweet wine helps your palate process things a little bit better as well, making the spice feel less harsh. Acidity is going to make you salivate, which cleanses your palate – it’s a good reset. I love bubbles with spicy food as well, because again, they reset your palate – like having a beer with curry. And aromatics: put simply, a lot of spicy foods have got wonderful aromatics, too.
‘Riesling is my favourite place to start when looking for a good wine to go with spicy food. It’s got so much structure and concentration – you get expressive wines from a really long ripening season. With some of the riper examples you get a lot of exotic fruit flavours. It’s a grape with naturally high acidity, too. For those reasons, Riesling stands up well to spice and heat.
‘I also adore German and Austrian Sekt [sparkling wine] with spicy food, although it is really not very common over here in the UK. Peter Laeur and Peter Jakob Kühn both make amazing Riesling and Sekt. And, of course, Gewürztraminer is known for being naturally aromatic and sweet.
‘You can also look to Portugal, France and Italy for aromatic off-dry white wines. In the book I wrote with Claire Strickett, Which Wine When, we recommend serving Padrón peppers with Albariño, off-dry Pinot Gris with Thai green curry, and Asti Spumante with Goan fish curry.
Stay away from big tannins
‘Because New World wines are often grown in hotter climates, they tend to have higher alcohol levels than Old World wines, and that alcohol will clash with the spice. But places like the Clare Valley in Australia make amazing Riesling wines – for example, Mount Horrocks makes a really expressive Cordon Cut Riesling.
‘You could also go for a South African sparkling wine – something like Le Lude, which comes from just outside of Franschhoek. They make a great sparkling rosé Méthode Cap Classique (using the same method as Champagne), which has tart, crunchy red-fruit flavours.
‘I really like Pet Nat [Pétillant–Naturel] wines with spicy food as well. The other day I tasted something from a Leicestershire winemaker who makes a blend called The Ancestral Red, which is fun and a bit funky. Given Leicestershire is typically cold, wet and miserable, it’s a high-acidity, juice-forward sparkling wine. I think that would work well with jerk or other spicy Caribbean flavours.
‘Lastly, it’s common that you don’t match a big, heavy alcoholic wine with spicy food because the alcohol will clash with the spice – stay away from big tannins. But if you do want to go for red wine, then go for something youthful, fruit-forward and tart with crunchy, high-tone red fruit: Beaujolais, Valpolicella or Dolcetto would all work well.’
Interview by Ellie Broughton