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matching alcohol with spicy foods?

coookie Apr 18, 2011 03:28 PM

this is a difficult topic to search, but i couldn't turn up anything, so: what spirits, wines, or beers do you hounds quaff with spicy food?

for example, i've read that rieslings are recommended. true? false? other ideas?

for what it's worth, the cuisine in question is szechuan, but broader responses are welcome!

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  1. l
    LauraGrace RE: coookie Apr 18, 2011 03:41 PM

    I don't know if you'd have better luck on the booze-specific boards, but here are my thoughts: sweeter wines like rieslings and gewurtztraminers are traditionally recommended. But. Belgian beers (sour ales, saisons, and old-style lambics especially, but also ordinary witbiers) work really well with both spicy and rich foods, IME. So do sparkling wines, particularly those of the reliable and inexpensive cava and prosecco types! :) Not being much of a fan of sweeter wines (or of fruity wines generally), and having neither the budget nor much of an inclination to explore more sophisticated rieslings and the like, I am much quicker to turn to a saison or a prosecco when faced with a tough-to-pair food.

    1. chris2269 RE: coookie Apr 18, 2011 03:45 PM

      One of the best wines with spicy foods are Rieslings. not the cheap sweet ones . Good German /Alsace Rieslings.

      Here are some under 25
      Weingut St. Urbans-Hof
      2007 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett
      Mosel, Germany

      2007 Riesling, Grand Cru, Steinklotz
      Alsace, France

      2005 Dry Riesling
      Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, CA

      Also IMO Pale Ales and IPAs work great with spicy food

      My personal favorites
      Stone Pale Ale
      Stone IPA
      Sweet Water 420
      Serra Nevada IPA ....

      I could go on and on and on

      2 Replies
      1. re: chris2269
        ChipDipson RE: chris2269 Apr 19, 2011 05:46 PM

        Definitely go with a nice hoppy India Pale Ale if you are going with beer. I've read that the hop resin counteracts the effects of the capsaicin. I like to pair a Bell's Two Hearted with a spicy Thai curry, makes a great balance.

        1. re: ChipDipson
          MGZ RE: ChipDipson Apr 20, 2011 08:39 AM

          Although I certainly question the "hop resin" theory, I do enjoy West Coast IPA's with well-balanced, spicy Asian foods. I think the pairing works, however, only in part to the capsaicin element. It is the floral qualities expressed by many of the dishes that are best matched to overt hoppiness.

          As you will see from the following thread, there are certainly knowledgeable and well-articulated dissenters from the suggestion:


      2. Sam Salmon RE: coookie Apr 18, 2011 03:46 PM

        For wines young whites specifically but not exclusively Riesling, Gewürztraminer & some Ehrenfelser.

        1. b
          bulavinaka RE: coookie Apr 18, 2011 05:08 PM

          I can tell you what to stay away from - higher alcohol dry drinks. We eat a fair amount of spicy food, and we usually drink wine or beer with our food (occasionally a mixed drink), and we've found that higher alcohol wines that are dry can give spicy food a huge super boost. I surmise that the residual alcohol acts as a solvent and readily releases the capsaicin. We can tolerate this with most foods, but since you mentioned Sichuan cuisine, that is one that comes to mind that really gave me a jolt when first pairing the two together. Sichuan cuisine in general is at a different heat level than most other foods. We were drinking a semi-dry Alsatian Riesling with an alcohol content of around 13.5% and my mouth exploded. I sampled this again and same result. We now only limit alcohol to beer, sweetish lower-alcohol wines and sparkling rosé with the really spicy stuff. I think around 11% is the limit before crossing the threshhold. IMHO, the dry/semi-dry wine recs already given can apply to less potent spicy foods.

          1 Reply
          1. re: bulavinaka
            twyst RE: bulavinaka Apr 24, 2011 06:11 PM

            Ive noticed this as well. Drinks with high alcohol content often intensify the heat from spicy dishes.

          2. Midlife RE: coookie Apr 18, 2011 05:11 PM

            One of several from the Wine board:


            1. DiveFan RE: coookie Apr 18, 2011 05:44 PM

              I'm not a big fan of the style, but I've found that a quality white zinfandel matches up pretty well with many spicy dishes. Unfortunately it is difficult to find one with the barest hint of sweetness, around 11 to 12% alcohol and with some zin character extracted. Don't even look at the soda pop made by the big boys.
              The cava/prosecco suggestion got me thinking about the above And that a 'extra dry' blanc de noir sparkler would be good for consideration.

              5 Replies
              1. re: DiveFan
                Midlife RE: DiveFan Apr 18, 2011 11:28 PM

                I'm really seriously interested in what you'd consider a "quality White Zinfandel". I don't drink them any more but have no problem with others enjoying them. Are you singling out Beringer or Sutter Home as 'quality'? At one point there was a discussion here about a few White Zins being produced by 'real' quality wineries back before Sutter Home made them so popular. I don't think I've been aware of any with "the barest hint of sweetness" since then.

                1. re: DiveFan
                  DiveFan RE: DiveFan Apr 19, 2011 03:46 PM

                  "Are you singling out Beringer or Sutter Home as 'quality'?"
                  Heck NO! Their WZ's are noticeably sweet, bland, IIRC usually less than 11% alcohol. Gallo and other bulk producers often stop fermentation below 10%, a sign of high residual sugar.

                  Sorry I don't have a short list of small producers whom I would recommend - when I fancy one I just use the above limits, darker rose' color and avoid the national brands. I would look for grapes grown in cooler microclimates - usually less sugar to deal with.

                  1. re: DiveFan
                    Midlife RE: DiveFan Apr 19, 2011 05:26 PM

                    I'm really curious because "high quality White Zin" is usually thought of as an oxymoron. But, as I said, I recall some rather good ones (more like a rose more than likely), maybe 20+ years ago. I have nbo recollection of specific alcohol content.

                    1. re: Midlife
                      Will Owen RE: Midlife Apr 19, 2011 05:41 PM

                      The Gemello Winery in Santa Clara (now defunct, I'm sure) made a delightfully crisp and dry zinfandel rosé when I lived around there '67-'74. So when the white zins came out I got all excited, then gravely disappointed.

                      There's a Chinese-Vietnamese seafood restaurant we like that sells Fischer, an Alsatian beer. We didn't get anything terrifically spicy the night we had that, because our French sister-in-law has a limited tolerance for such things, but I think it would go very nicely. The northern European beers of Germany and Denmark, with their lemony top-notes, I think would be even better. Sierra Nevada IPA would be tasty enough, but its lovely bitterness keeps it from being very thirst-quenching, and then there's the alcohol.

                      1. re: Will Owen
                        buttertart RE: Will Owen Apr 21, 2011 12:18 PM

                        There are some nice Italian and Spanish rosés that go well with spicy Chinese and Indian food - especially like grenache rosé for this - if we're not drinking Sylvaner or Pinot Blanc, or beer.

                2. huiray RE: coookie Apr 18, 2011 05:55 PM

                  Drink tea or water.

                  If you must, rice wine/spirits or sake.

                  1. k
                    kevin47 RE: coookie Apr 18, 2011 06:07 PM

                    With Szechuan, consider the pinot family. That's particular to the types of flavors in that cuisine, though. For really fiery, burn your mouth stuff, the standard advice holds true.

                    1. Breadcrumbs RE: coookie Apr 18, 2011 06:45 PM

                      I would highly recommend a white wine from Mendoza in Argentina made from the Torrontes grape. This wine is aromatic and fairly fruit forward w peach, lychee and apricot flavours.

                      We especially love Torrontes w Thai and Szechuan food.


                      For spicy barbecue, I'd recommend Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat beer which is terrific, especially w pork.

                      Of course Corona is another well-known choice for spicy pairings too.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: Breadcrumbs
                        Sam Salmon RE: Breadcrumbs Apr 18, 2011 10:12 PM

                        Torrontes is a wine I've always considered to be 'Gewurtztraminer lite'-nice enough but indistinct.

                        Corona of course has the dubious distinction of being the second worst beer in Mexico.

                        1. re: Sam Salmon
                          Tripeler RE: Sam Salmon Apr 19, 2011 02:11 AM

                          Interesting what you say about Corona, Sam. So what would be the worst beer in Mexico?
                          I find that Bohemia is one of the better ones.

                          1. re: Tripeler
                            Sam Salmon RE: Tripeler Apr 20, 2011 08:16 AM

                            My vote for Worst Mexican beer is Sol-completely undistinguished is a polite term for that swill.

                          2. re: Sam Salmon
                            Midlife RE: Sam Salmon Apr 20, 2011 12:11 PM

                            Well Corona is certainly a very mild and rather uninteresting beer taste, but how does that make it "bad"?

                            1. re: Midlife
                              LauraGrace RE: Midlife Apr 20, 2011 01:53 PM

                              What makes Corona "bad" is the same thing that makes Twinkies "bad" -- the ingredients. Generally speaking, adjunct lagers (i.e. ones made with rice and/or corn because they're cheaper than barley and wheat) use pre-processed grains and hops, plus take brewing shortcuts to get to the end product, which they can then sell cheaply to be consumed ice-cold with a lime! :) And there is a place for those types of beers, but craft and traditionally-brewed beers are made with higher-quality ingredients and no shortcuts, so I would definitely feel comfortable rating a Corona as "worse" than, say, a Belgian witbier or a German Kolsch, just given ingredients. I mean, de gustibus and all that -- it's not a moral judgment or anything, just an observation about ingredients and method, IMO.

                              In the end, if you're craving a Twinkie, I can't make you have a slice of this lovely homemade vanilla sponge layer cake filled with creme bavaroise, but I think most of us would agree that the Twinkie is not quite as good. ;)

                              1. re: LauraGrace
                                bulavinaka RE: LauraGrace Apr 20, 2011 02:23 PM

                                Had a vanilla cake with a rich cream frosting the other night with a Ten Fidy Imp Stout (in the can no less) - I liked it. A Twinkie? Hmmm - maybe a Yoohoo?

                                I'm not one to knock beers with rice in them - I like the Asian brews as well and many are typically brew with rice. I think those beers pair with much of the cuisines very well. However, I have to admit - if I've been on a long streak of drinking US craft brews or the more appreciated stuff from Europe, taking a swig of a Koshi Hikari Echigo does throw me off.

                              2. re: Midlife
                                ChipDipson RE: Midlife Apr 20, 2011 02:07 PM

                                If you are going to be spending 8-9 bucks on the markup of an "Import" (Corona is in the midst of being acquired 100% by InBev) why not direct your money toward a superior product made in your region. By now most people can find a quality beer made in their state, or at least in the surrounding ones... Sorry this is all off topic.

                          3. b
                            beevod RE: coookie Apr 19, 2011 07:13 AM

                            Pretention aside, all wines and beers go with all food. Choose what you like.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: beevod
                              LauraGrace RE: beevod Apr 19, 2011 08:35 AM

                              I agree that preference is probably the first consideration when choosing what to drink with dinner (see for example the margarita I had with my Indian food last night), but I don't think it's pretension to put more thought into matching the flavors of the food with a complementary flavor of beverage, anymore than it's pretentious to attempt to match the flavors of your main course with the flavors of a side dish. Can you eat creamy mashed potatoes with ma po tofu? Probably, but it might not be the *best* pairing. KWIM?

                              1. re: beevod
                                Ricardo Malocchio RE: beevod Apr 19, 2011 08:51 AM

                                Better advice from Banfi:

                                "Tannin and fish oil represent one of the strongest chemical reactions in the food and wine pairing kingdom. Tannin is a bitter, astringent compound found in all red wines and in white wines that have spent time in wood. It combines chemically with fish oil, in the presence of alcohol and salt, to create a bitter, metallic taste on the palate. When tannin (in wine) and fish oil (in fish) come together, the wine ends up tasting like copper or aluminum foil and the fish tastes fishy.

                                "Naturally, the oilier the fish and the more tannic the wine, the worse the reaction. It has nothing to do with the color of the wine. An over-oaked chardonnay when paired with seafood, can give you a bad case of metal mouth. Conversely, a lightly tannic red such as Placido Primavera Sangiovese, can work perfectly with sea fare.

                                1. re: Ricardo Malocchio
                                  coookie RE: Ricardo Malocchio Apr 19, 2011 09:06 AM

                                  fascinating; thanks! a friend had this very experience with a dry pot fish the last time we ate at this restaurant and we were all very confused by it.

                                2. re: beevod
                                  coookie RE: beevod Apr 19, 2011 09:04 AM

                                  that's ... unhelpful. as others have correctly and easily inferred, the point of my question is to figure out what alcohols go well with spicy food without inducing further pain.

                                  1. re: coookie
                                    egit RE: coookie Apr 19, 2011 02:47 PM

                                    As most of the people above have inferred, "dry" beverages are probably going to boost the heat factor. Big tannic reds that would work with a rib-eye or rack of lamb are probably going to blow your head off if you're eating something spicy. Any drink that is somewhat astringent (tannic) is probably going to hurt more than help.

                                    Fruity wines or frothy belgian-style beers (saison, witte, weiss, abbey, etc) will probably work better. Fruity doesn't necessarily mean sweet, but I would lean towards whites over reds, because even slightly tannic wine can amplify the heat.

                                    I have no scientific knowledge why, only painful, painful experience due to the fact that I like spicy food and tend to favor reds over whites/roses. :-/

                                    1. re: egit
                                      Midlife RE: egit Apr 19, 2011 03:39 PM

                                      While that does sound right I've often seen the suggestion of full-bodied reds (like Zinfandel or Petite Sirah) with spicy food as an alternative top sweet wines. The wisdom there is that the wine should either counter the food's heat (sweet) or be able to go along with it (heavy red). The problem for me is that, if the food is really spicy, my taste buds are dulled so much that only an inexpensive sweet white seems to make any sense.

                                      1. re: egit
                                        odkaty RE: egit Apr 19, 2011 04:48 PM

                                        I normally have a tannic red alongside hot curries, to no ill effect.

                                        Scientific and wine knowledge aside, I agree with cookie — choose what you like. I cannot stand sweeter wines, and rarely find whites palatable.

                                  2. Aravisea RE: coookie Apr 19, 2011 02:06 PM

                                    Milk or beer. For example - one of those Thai iced teas with condensed/evaporated/etc milk is great to cut the heat of a hot curry.

                                    1. BobB RE: coookie Apr 20, 2011 02:59 PM

                                      Haven't seen this one mentioned yet: hard cider. I find it pairs beautifully with vindaloos and other spicy Indian dishes. The slight sweetness sets off the heat nicely, and the low alcohol content (compared to wine) makes it easy to quaff.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: BobB
                                        Sam Salmon RE: BobB Apr 21, 2011 10:48 AM

                                        Good point Bob-been wondering about ciders as food accompaniment as we're starting to see some nice ones produced here in BC-Thanks.

                                      2. d
                                        dijon RE: coookie Apr 21, 2011 12:01 PM

                                        I like wine but hot and spicy food generally call for a decent dark beer. I keep a case around as a foil for spicy chinese, mexican etc. Usually there is a local all purpose dark beer around, bock is available this time of year, Negra Modelo, "Blackend Voodoo" is a great natural match with spicy cajun etc etc.

                                        1. limster RE: coookie Apr 21, 2011 12:33 PM

                                          Low alcohol (alcohol can amplify the spicy qualities) and a bit of sweetness (which often goes well with spicy foods that aren't already intrinsically sweet).

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: limster
                                            BobB RE: limster Apr 22, 2011 10:16 AM

                                            We are thinking alike, limster. See my post just above.

                                            1. re: BobB
                                              limster RE: BobB Apr 22, 2011 11:34 AM

                                              Yeah - cool! With Sichuan, something vaguely citrusy might also match the Sichuan peppercorn well.

                                          2. s
                                            saucyjohnny RE: coookie Apr 22, 2011 11:14 AM

                                            I find that a nice New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with spicy foods. Just enough grapefruit to cut thru the spice and a slight passion fruit to complement the flavors :):)

                                            1. r
                                              Ricardo Malocchio RE: coookie Apr 22, 2011 12:15 PM

                                              I'm a huge fan of off-dry, aromatic white wines with spicy food, particularly Southeast Asian.

                                              But sometimes I prefer a dry wine that goes well with anything from Spanish to Indian to Mexican ... and so I give you (cue the Ricardo broken-record always-recommending-that-wine music): R. LOPEZ DE HEREDIA VINA TONDONIA GRAN RESERVA ROSADO!!!


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