Wine Tips & Tricks

Tested: Wine with Spicy Food (Video)

There’s been a rumor floating around about pairing wine with spicy food. It started on facebook as a casual conversation with a sommelier buddy of mine. He had a good argument in favor of a higher-alcohol wine with spicy foods. It sounded like this:

Alcohol is a solvent to capsicum and thus, a high-alcohol wine may actually work better with a spicy meal.

This little nugget of information swirled around in my brain because the science behind it seemed logical. The only way I felt like getting behind high-alcohol wines with spicy food was to test it myself. See the video below.

Pairing Wine with Spicy Food

CAUTION: Do not try this at home. You will regret it later.

Alcohol is a solvent to capsicum and a high-alcohol wine will work with spicy food.
(capiscum = the spice element in chile peppers measured in scovill units.)

In the video we tested 4 wines with 5-Star rated Spicy Thai Noodles with Beef from In The Bowl restaurant. This restaurant has a warning on their menu stating that their spice ratings are higher than most Seattle restaurants. We agree.

Q: What is the best wine with spicy food?

Answer: An ice-cold low-alcohol sweet white wine.

But Why?

This type of wine is the best spicy food pairing, but not for the reasons you might think.

Most importantly the wine must be cold to help quench your palate.
The sweetness helps by coating your burning tongue.
A low-alcohol wine permits you to drink more wine to alleviate the burn.

Recommended Sweet White Wines with Spicy Food

Testing dry red wine with spicy food in the name of science. We swear.

Red Wine With Spicy Food

We were surprised to discover that a very full-bodied dry red wine with high alcohol worked rather well with spicy food. We would recommend a dry red wine with richly spiced meats, such as cumin-pepper ribs or spicy barbeque, which works as long as the wine is bold enough to stand up to the food. To make this pairing work, put your wine bottle in the fridge and chill it. The colder the better.

Spicy food and high tannin wine
We were surprised to discover that the presence of highly spiced foods nearly elemented the taste of tannin in our demo dry red wine.
Recommended Dry Red Wines with Spicy Food

Myth Busted? What We Concluded After Testing

I tested a high-alcohol sweet red wine, Sandeman Port, with spicy food as well as a glass of Bourbon. I advise that this is a horrible idea. Don’t do it.

Hi my name is Madeline and this is Wine Folly. Today it’s all about wine with spicy food. I went and got the spiciest food I could find in my area: this is some 5-star spicy Thai and I have a bunch of different kinds of wine.

“It’s pretty hot… hoo!”

Now, the traditional favorite with spicy food is a Riesling and a sweet Riesling with lower-alcohol. Then I also have some other wines. I have a dry red wine, something with a lot of tannin, a little bit higher alcohol. And, a sweet red wine with high alcohol a Port. And, a dry white wine. This sort of covers the gamut of available wines. And there’s two reasons why we should try these wines. First, is it going to counteract the spice? And, second, does it actually taste good as a pairing.
Maybe a higher alcohol wine is a good idea because alcohol is known as a solvent to capsicum. But how that interacts in my mouth and my stomach is for us to find out. Oh! One more thing: I also have a glass of Bourbon which is the highest alcohol thing I had lying around in my house. So let’s try it out and see how it works.

First, I need to get the “burn.”

Might as well bring it up a notch.

Oh god I’m so terrified of this bite.

Oh my god, my mouth is on fire! Let’s see if the Chardonnay helps.
Chardonnay, I can barely taste underneath all this spicy food. It feels cold and nice which is a benefit because for some reason my brain wants to put something cold in my mouth right now. It seems like a good idea, but my mouth is still burning.

Dry red wine: smells good. When I drink this wine I can taste it a little bit more. And it actually tastes like it’s interacting with the spice on my palate a little bit. This is kinda awesome, I wasn’t expecting this: this is a pretty tannic wine, with a lot of acidity and relatively high alcohol like about fourteen point five percent. And… it’s actually working a little bit on the spiciness in my mouth. More so than the dry white wine. It’s actually slightly pleasant although my stomach is still burning. Big time.

I’m just going to finish that off next so we can try the next wine which is going to be the sweet wine, the Riesling with low alcohol. Now in theory, this is going to be better than the dry red wine because this is the most recommended wine for spicy Thai food.

“Smells awesome!”

I’m waiting for it. Okay! So on the initial taste this wine works extremely well. The major issue and the thing that I think makes this wine work the best…

“This Siracha is like ketchup, it’s awesome!”

…is it’s cold enough. So the psychology is: cold things make my mouth feel a little quenched. It’s also sweet. That initial burst of sweetness on the front of my tongue. Your sweet receptors are towards the front of your tongue. Sort of covers up all the spice in my palate initially and it kind of runs through to the back of my throat and it feels good.

So uh, the last wine I want to try is a high-alcohol and high sweetness wine and that’s going to be Port. It’s also a high tannin wine and it also has high acidity so it basically has all the components of wine, just like maximized. So,

Is Port maybe the wonderful wine that goes with spicy food?

I dunno! Let’s find out.

um. It’s uh… a little… It’s room temperature. My mouth is still burning. It’s sweet like on the initial taste it’s sweet and it’s nice but my mouth is still on fire. It hurts so bad. Um… I’m going to just go ahead and try the Bourbon before I start crying… uh to see if alcohol is the thing I really need in my mouth right now.

“Oh god.”

You know, the Bourbon just made things worse. My mouth is burning from the front all the way to the back. And my stomach is on fire. And I feel like I am trying to kill myself.

Bourbon does not go.

mmmm. Don’t drink Bourbon with spicy Thai food. It’s a terrible idea. It’s horrible.

About Madeline Puckette

James Beard award winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year. I co-founded Wine Folly to help people learn about wine. @WineFolly

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