Fiery food and wine: Feel the burn!

I love some of the world’s most palate-scorching cuisines. Offer me a plate of Thai, Indian, Mexican, Caribbean, Cajun, or spicy African food loaded with chili peppers and fiery spice, and I’ll dig right in, sweating and crying happy tears.

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But I like wine with my dinner too, and let’s be honest: Successfully pairing wine and fiery fare can be a challenge. For many, pouring wine on top of a bit of fiery food is like pouring alcohol on a burn. How do we deal with that? We know, of course that the painful feeling from consuming capsaicin, the active ingredient in hot chile peppers, is not a physical burn but only our brain tricking us. No matter how hard it hurts, it’s not going to damage flesh, but this may not help much when you’re screaming in happy pain.

I come back to this question from time to time because it’s a never-ending learning process. When I last addressed it in this column almost five years ago, I suggested three simple approaches to choosing wine for hot-and-spicy fare:

* Avoid very high-alcohol wines. Save your big 16% Zins and New World Shiraz for another day. Look instead for food-friendly table wines in the European style, with stated alcohol levels in the 11% to 12% alcohol range or even below.

* A touch of sweetness may help. I’m not calling for a dessert wine, but a lower-alcohol wine with just a touch of sweetness balanced by natural acidity seems to ake a more mellow partner than a bone-dry wine when the food is very hot.

Fiery Nigerian rice and collards from Funmi's Cafe in Louisville.

Fiery Nigerian rice and collards from Funmi’s Cafe in Louisville.

* Go for the bubbles. Something about the carbonation in sparkling wine (and beer, too) seems to “scrub” the palate after painfully hot food. Hold the pricey Champagne, but an Italian Prosecco or Spanish Cava or even a white or pink wine with just a touch of carbonation – like the Austrian rosé featured in today’s tasting report below – will do the trick.

The other day, though, I ran across a startling alternative approach:

* Embrace the burn! “Chilli thrill-seekers could meet the heat head-on with a ‘spice booster’ wine,” as master sommelier Matthieu Longuère MS phrased it in an article “Matching wine with Curry – Le Cordon Bleu,” in Decanter, the British wine magazine.

“Choose whether you want to feel the heat or play it cool,” Longuère wrote. “Feel the heat with new world Chardonnay or Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blends, or Play it cool with German Riesling, Grüner Veltliner or Gewürztraminer.”

I hadn’t thought of it this way before, but embracing the burn makes a strange kind of sense. If you love fiery fare, ask for the higher numbers on the chile-pepper chart on the restaurant menu, and feel more joy than horror when your burning mouth is sending happy signals up to your brain, then why would you mind if your wine accelerates the heat? Bring on those happy endorphins that yield hot-and-spicy food’s pleasant and entirely legal high.

Or not. I think I’m going to try it soon, but this choice, of course, is entirely up to you. I’d love to know what you think about pairing wines and fiery food, and I hope you’ll join the conversation with a post on our WineLovers Discussion Group (WLDG) forum or at our WineLovers Facebook Page.

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Today’s Tasting Report

Stefan Pratsch 2018 Niederösterreich Rosé ($13.99)


Made with organic Zweigelt grapes, this pretty, pale salmon-pink Austrian ros&eacute’ foams when it pours and settles back to a rim of tiny bubbles in the glass. Delicious aromas offer a mix of summer fruits – strawberries up front, backed by raspberry and melon – that carry over on the palate with an added note of pleasantly bitter peach pit. Carbonation shows as a light prickle, with light acidity serving to balance a subtle hint of sweetness. Gentle 11.5 percent acidity makes it a good option for summer sipping. Red berries linger in a moderately long finish. The wine is certified organic and vegan. U.S. importer: Winesellers Ltd., Niles, Ill.., Cincinnati. (June 25, 2020)

FOOD MATCH: Great for sipping on its own or served with cheese. The importer suggests it as an aperitif or with seafood. It’s also a natural with hot and spicy fare, and went surprisingly well with a fiery rice and veggie dish from a local Nigerian restaurant.

WHEN TO DRINK: The sturdy screw cap will protect it for a while, but with all lighter-style rosés, I’d drink it sooner rather than later, certainly over the next year or so.

VALUE:’s $14 average U.S. retail matches my local price. It’s a fine value at this point.

You can download detailed fact sheets and wine-shop shelf “talkers” from this link from importer Winesellers Ltd.

Check prices and find vendors for Pratsch Niederösterreich Rosé on

Follow this Wine-Searcher link to find listings for other wines from Biohof Pratsch.

Join this month’s Wine Focus conversation, Alsace and its grapes, in our WineLovers Discussion Group.


More affordable wines

Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10 or less that I’ve told you about during the past year or two. Please tell us about your favorites!

  • La Vieille Ferme Vin de France Rosé ($8.99)
  • La Fiera Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($8.99)
  • Laroque Cité de Carcassonne Cabernet Franc ($9.99)
  • Domaine de Pouy 2016 Côtes de Gascogne ($7.99)
  • Alamos Mendoza Malbec ($9.99)
  • Caposaldo Chianti ($8.99)
  • d’Arenberg McLaren Vale “The Stump Jump” ($9.99)
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