Sommelier Astrid Young’s strong attraction to exotic, spicy foods has sparked an endless search for spice-friendly wines. Here are our thoughts on dousing the heat of three different cuisines.
"Ingredients like ginger, chili peppers, raw scallions, cashews, lychee, soy sauce, fermented fish and black bean paste are tough on many wines, but those that survive shine,” says Astrid Young. Look for wines with aromatic personality, such as Gewürztraminer, Torrontes, Muscat, Viognier and Chardonnay Musque. Wines with a hint of residual sugar do best, and bonus points go to those with fuller body and richer mouth feel without resorting to excessive alcohol. Trapiche Broquel Torrontes ($16) Argentina's Salta province is home to this strong, aromatic white variety. Its floral aromas and solid mouth feel pair easily with spicy seafood, as well as sweet and tart dishes. Malivoire Gewürztraminer ($25) This rich, exotic wine showcases the Beamsville Bench district in Ontario's Niagara Peninsula. It's eyebrow-lifting with spicy barbecue pulled-pork sandwiches and hot stir-fries.
Switch from chili peppers to habaneros, toss in tomato and avocado slices and top everything with refried beans, and you have a whole new set of challenges in matching up the wines. Astrid likes the "low-acid fruit bombs" of Zinfandel. "Their brightness and high-toned berry flavours work their way to the surface, no matter how pungent the nosh," she says. Scott Harvey Mountain Selection Zinfandel ($23) From Amador County, California’s premier Zin-growing district comes this wine with big, bold black raspberry tones, softly textured mouth feel, and long, elegant finish. L.A. Cetto Petite Sirah ($12) Who better to produce wine for Mexican cuisine than a local winery?
"Big in the mouth" is how Astrid describes the cuisine of India. "Every dish is different, and so is every interpretation of the same dish. To stand up to these intense flavours and aromas, a wine must also have powerful and fresh fruit flavours," she says. The best overall wine for spicy food is Pinot Noir, but Astrid also likes the concentration of New World shiraz and Cabernet Merlots. Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery Fats Johnson Pinot Noir ($16) This delicious lighter-style Pinor Noir is produced by Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley. Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet ($16) Australian shirazes have more concentrated fruit flavours than those from other regions. This one is no exception, with bold blackberry and black cherry notes, and a soft, easy finish.