Complementary or clashing wines for spicy food.
Wine varieties to put to the test:
Riesling is a stand-out white wine choice when it comes to finding a wine for tackling spicy food. Oaked wines clash with spice, but with riesling you get pure fruit. Riesling's characteristic lime and lemon flavours, with it's high natural acid, help tone down the heat of chilli and allows the wine's fruit flavours to really shine through.
Semillon is another lemon fresh style that is made without oak, but is best drunk as fresh as possible, aged Semillon is probably a bit soft and broad to handle hot spices.
Sauvignon blanc has many attributes that make it a good dinning companion for South African, Indian cuisine. With a high natural acid to handle the heat, no clashing oak and an abundance of herbaceous characters, it works beautifully with herbs and spices.
A wine that might not be at the top of the list, but should is Traminer. It's an aromatic variety that echoes many exotic cuisines and often has a touch of residual sugar that can help to calm the heat of chilli. It works beautifully with dishes using fresh ginger, like curries.
Red wines can be more difficult to pair, however a strawberry-scented, slightly earthy Pinot Noir will work well with lamb dishes or dishes laden with cinnamon and star anise, particularly, biryani (breyarni) and pilau. Shiraz works well with the aromatic spices of South African, Indian beef and lamb curries, but look for softer styles.
Beers: If finding wines to pair with spicy food becomes too hard, then head for the beer fridge. Beer has a natural affinity with spice. Clean, fresh and super-cold largers, rather than heavy ales, make the best accompinment for South African, Indian cuisine.
Wines that clash: not suited for spicy food.
Chardonnay, with its prominent oak and rich, creamy texture, is not so happy when confronted with spice. Will only cause heartburn when combined with spicy food.
Cabernet sauvignon is an aristocratic grape, The variety produces very small berries, which means plenty of tannin from the skin and the seeds. Tannin and Chilli are natural enemies that should be kept apart at all costs. Put them together and they will clash horribly.
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