With Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day upon us, there is a pretty good chance you will be eating out in the next few weeks. And with winter settled in, food with some heat is likely to be on the menu. Whether it’s a football party with finger food or a romantic four-course repast at an upscale restaurant, spicy cuisine is a comfort food for many people at this time of year.

While ice cold beer is typically the drink of choice for hosts and guests, wine lovers should take heart. With some basic guidelines and a little imagination, wines can be deliciously paired with favorite dishes from some of the world’s hottest cuisines.

The Basics
Well-chosen wines can actually enhance the flavors of dishes that are hot or spicy, sweet or sour, bitter or rich with butter and other dairy ingredients. A dry, spicy vintage complements the heat of the meal, while a sweeter wine offers a pleasing contrast for the palate. Remember that your choice of wine should be based on the dominant flavors of the food, not on whether it contains beef, chicken, pork or seafood, or is vegetarian.

Avoid wines with a strong oak taste and high alcohol content. The oak can overpower flavors, oversimplifying the complexity of the dish. A high alcohol level can make hot dishes seem even hotter.

Fruity aromatic off-dry wines are a good bet. They have a mild sweetness and go well with many Asian cooking styles. Off-dry wines contain some residual sugar from the production process, which contrasts with and balances the hot flavors.

While white wines may seem the logical choice to accompany spicy hot food, don’t overlook the crisp, lighter red varieties. Stick with those that have lower levels of alcohol and tannins.

Pairing up
Let’s take a look at some popular spicy cuisines and wines that go well with them.

  • Mexican and Tex-Mex: Sauvignon blanc. While the taste of this white wine can vary significantly depending on the climate where it was produced, Sauvignon blanc from France’s Loire Valley and New Zealand is known for being crisp, elegant and fresh. If the dish contains meat, opt for the fuller-bodied Fumé Blanc label. Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc is a reliable choice.
  • Indian and Middle Eastern: Shiraz, Grenache. Food from these areas features earthy brown spices such as cumin, coriander, cardamom and fennel. These two red wines have a slight spicy taste that will complement and define the variety of spices commonly used.
  • Thai and Chinese. Riesling. Riesling has just a touch of sweetness and a low alcohol content. It does a good job of smoothing the harsh edges of powerful chiles while enhancing the sweeter recipes that use sweet and sour and coconut-based sauces. It’s all you need to know about what to serve with these popular Asian cuisines.

Other options to consider include Zinfandels, Pinot Gris, Pino Grigio, Rosés, Gewürztraminers, and sparkling wines and champagne.

In the store
You are confronted by store shelves bursting with fine wines from all over the world, and the pressure is on. How to know which would be perfect to serve with a plate of Arroz con polo or bowl of tom yum goong?

If you are lucky enough to live near a wine specialty shop with a knowledgeable staff, don’t hesitate to ask questions and listen to suggestions. Below are three quality choices available at the Cork Stop.

  •  Riesling Feinherb. Später-Veit is a 17-acre vineyard in the village of Piesport in Mosel, one of 13 designated wine regions in Germany. It specializes in Riesling and produces at least five varieties.
  •  Lamoreaux Landing Riesling. Closer to home, this winery has been operated by the same family for three generations on the east shore of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York. Lamoreaux Landing also produces Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Gewürztraminer, Muscat Ottonel, Grüner Veltliner, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir,
    Merlot, sparkling wines, and ice wines.
  • Seigneur de Fontimple Vacqueyras. Vacqueyras refers to red, white and rosé wines from the parishes of Vacqueyras and Sarrians in France’s southern Rhone Valley.
  • Ponzi Pinot Gris. Ponzi Vineyards has grown Pinot Gris grapes since 1978, The winery is one of about 300 located in the 150-mile-long Willamette Valley of western Oregon, a region famous for world-class Pinot Noir.

And while you’re being creative, why not spice up the winter with a spicy food wine tasting party?

By Audrey DeSisto