Log In / Join Now

Ask Dr. Vinny

Do you have a question for Dr. Vinny? Ask it here...

Dear Dr. Vinny,

Correct me if I am misinformed. I note that some world-renowned chefs serve a red-hot, spicy entrée, which is supposed to open up our palates in preparation for a wine tasting. Do you concur?

—H.F.C., Malaysia

Dear H.F.,

I’ve never heard of that, but I don’t doubt it happens—hot chilies do sensitize taste buds. There’s something very satisfying about sipping something refreshing after you experience some heat.

But from my experience, spicy foods can interfere with—not enhance—the experience of a wine. When my mouth is on fire from a habanero pepper, I can’t taste much else until the pepper note fades away.

When pairing wines with spicy foods, it helps to pick a wine that’s low in alcohol (alcohol can make things taste “hotter”), low in tannins (which can also clash with heat) and perhaps with a small amount of residual sugar—not necessarily an overtly sweet or dessert-style wine, but one with just a dollop of sweetness, or perceived sweetness, that can soothe spicy tones. That way, you can have your chili pepper and eat it too.

—Dr. Vinny

Wine Basics

We break down the basics—how to taste, serve, store and more. Plus:
» Maps of major wine regions
» Grape variety characteristics

How-to Videos

Learn to taste wine like a pro, pull a cork with flair, get great wine service in a restaurant and more

Wine Spectator School: All courses are FREE for WineSpectator.com Members

Learn from the experts and get the most out of each sip. Take one of our online courses or take them all—from the ABCs of Tasting to in-depth seminars on Food Pairing, California Cabernet, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Sensory Evaluation and more.

Browse our course catalog
Check out the professional wine sales and service courses
Learn Wine Forum: Got questions? Get answers

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.