HEAD SOMMELIER AND MANAGER OF LUTYENS RESTAURANT
ICOOKED a curry on the weekend, which made me think about choosing wine to accompany spicy food. It’s easy to fall back on the old standby of beer, and I often do (Franziskaner Weissbier from Bavaria, usually) but there are some easy guidelines that will help make your wine selection much simpler.
First, if you want to drink red wine, select one without much tannin (this is also the case if you want to chill red wines). Chilli sensitises your mouth to texture, so tannins in the wine will be accentuated. Choose Beaujolais, a lighter Pinot Noir or Loire Cabernet Franc. Similarly the chilli will emphasise the alcohol content so it’s best to steer clear of the 14-16 per cent monsters. Keep to light and fresh reds.
Secondly, choose wine that has a bit of sweetness to it, which will tone down the chilli heat. I’m not talking dessert wines here, but this is the perfect job for off-dry German Riesling as it reduces the impression of heat on the palate. Even though there’s lots of talk about Gewürztraminer with spicy food (Würzig is German for spicy), Gewürz is normally very floral (think roses and carnations) and this, combined with quite a typically high alcohol content and rather soft acidity, make it a non-starter for me because as it’s too perfumed.
It can be tricky to predict how sweet German Riesling will be. Although Germany makes outstanding dry Riesling that’s not what we’re looking for today – we want something slightly sweeter. Look at the alcohol content for a handy way to get an idea of how sweet a particular bottle will be. The alcoholic fermentation is a zero sum game between fruit sugars that the grape has accumulated over the growing season and alcohol, so the sweeter the wine, the lower the alcohol content. Avoid fully dry Riesling (typically 12.5 to 13 per cent) and look for a Riesling with 9 to 10 per cent alcohol to go with your curry.