Wine Matching Masterclass, Part III: How to match wine and spicy food

Drinks: Wines

In the last of our series on the basics of food and wine matching, Hakkasan’s wine buyer, Christine Parkinson, tells you how to go about pairing wines with spicy food

Until recently, no one thought you could drink wine with spicy food. Now we know you can, and with no history of matching wines to cuisines such as Indian or Thai, your customers will tend to have an open mind. That means you can suggest anything from dry to sweet, fizzy to fortified, and chances are you’ll make a sale.

Spicy sausages

Salami and chorizo sausages can pack a really spicy punch (the same goes for pepperoni pizza). The heat usually comes from some sort of chilli, but with the added issue of a lot of fat, and the bold flavour
of cured meat.

THE WINE Fruity wines work well here, but you’ll need more acidity than you would for a curry. Dolcetto or Lambrusco both make sense, but a dry rosé from Provence or the Loire does just the same job. Raise the bar a little by suggesting a St-Emilion, which will be fresh enough and has enough flavour to stand up for itself.

CHRISTINE PICKS: Château de Barbe Blanche Lussac St-Emilion 2004 for chorizo

Indian curries, baltis and tikkas

These curry dishes generally get served with a beer, but wine can be as good or better. The key is to go for a wine with some sweetness: sugar eases the ‘burn’ of chilli.

THE WINE Soft, fruity reds generally work well: Chilean Carmènere and South African Pinotage are both contenders. Avoid high alcohol if you can, though, as it will feel very hot after a mouthful of chilli. For a funky option you can’t beat a sparkling Shiraz from Australia – especially as it comes chilled! Any off-dry white will be fine too, provided it has enough character: try a big, juicy New World Chardonnay or a tasty German Riesling.

CHRISTINE PICKS: Botalcura Chardonnay La Porfia 2005 for Indian curry


Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes are fairly well known, but chilli con carne is so popular it’s almost British! The trick here is not to be fooled by the meat content. You might think you need a lot of tannin to cope with all the minced beef, but spicy dishes tend to make tannins feel hard, so keep away from any wines that are too chewy. Think Côtes du Rhône or Rioja.


Chinese cuisine is not necessarily spicy, but many customers assume that it is. The spiciness comes from Szechuan pepper and ginger as well as chilli. The issue here is complex seasonings, often paired with sweetness and oily textures (especially in Cantonese cuisine).

THE WINE Wine needs a lot of personality to handle this onslaught. Sherry is a front-runner with most Chinese, so this is your chance to sell that dry Amontillado. Most rosés do well too, and almost anything from Alsace will be brilliant.

CHRISTINE PICKS: Finca Las Moras Shiraz Rosé for Chinese


Spicy snacks are on bars everywhere: wasabi peas, spicy peanuts or chilli prawn crackers tend to be nibbled with wine by the glass rather than by bottle, so bear this in mind when writing your list.

THE WINE If your by-glass choice is limited, just steer customers towards the sweeter choices. If you have a full range on tap, then off-dry Riesling or demi sec Vouvray will be fresh enough not to dampen the appetite. Better still, be daring, and offer a chilled dry madeira – it keeps for ages once opened so it’s an easy by-the-glass listing.


This is the best-known Indonesian dish, and with moderate spicing and lots of peanut character it’s a natural foil for creamy white wines. As with all these dishes, a little sweetness helps a lot, and ripe, fruity New World wines are a safe bet.

THE WINE If your customer wants the reassurance of a classic name, Chablis will cope the best – especially if it’s a premier cru. If you’ve got a customer prepared to experiment, then white port combines nutty flavours and sweetness in an unexpectedly food-friendly way.

CHRISTINE PICKS: White Porto by Gilberts for satay chicken

Thai curries

Thai curries use more coconut, but the really decisive factor is the fresh, leafy flavour of lemongrass or coriander. For this reason, whites are often a better bet.

THE WINE Gewurztraminer could have been made for Thai green curry. Taking this as your reference point it’s easy to match other floral, zesty wines such as Torrontés, Muscat, or an English Bacchus. If your customer wants a red, go for wine with a herbal note, such as Lagrein from Northern Italy, or a Graciano-dominated Rioja or Navarra.

CHRISTINE PICKS: Seifried Estate Gewurztraminer 2008 for Thai green curry

Top Tip!

Sweet wines are usually kept for dessert, but don’t be afraid to offer them with a hot, spicy dish. Think of the sweetness in a mango chutney and you’ll see why a glass of Sauternes or Banyuls can be great with a curry.

Wine and spice in a nutshell

  • Avoid high alcohol with chilli-spiced dishes
  • ‘Hot’ spices are ‘cooled’ by sweet wines
  • Spicy foods need low or soft tannins
  • Wines must have a strong personality to stand up to spicy dishes

Thank you to Chalié Richards for supplying the wines.
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Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – January / February 2010

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