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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Is there a red wine that pairs well with spicy foods? I love spicy food, but I’m not a fan of the sweet or off-dry whites people often recommend.
—Mitul, Lisbon, Portugal
Before we get to reds, I’d also like to suggest Champagne or other sparkling wines, which can both be dry and complement spicy foods. You might want to give them a try. I’m also a huge fan of dry rosés, which are equally refreshing and versatile food wines.
When it comes to red wine and spicy food, the concern is that the flavors can clash, or that one will overwhelm the other. Generally speaking, higher alcohol levels in red wines can get in the way, and the lower acidity and higher tannins can result in a bitter, astringent note.
That said, you may be able to find reds that aren’t going to get in the way of a spicy dish—lighter-bodied, fruit-focused reds like Beaujolais, Grenache-based wines like Côtes du Rhône, or simpler versions of Merlot or Zinfandel. You can also try to focus on the dominant flavors of the dish. For example, if the dish has a smoky-spicy note, as with barbeque or chipotle peppers, you might want to try a smoky-spicy wine like Malbec or Tempranillo.
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