Wine and Fire
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed January 17, 2002. For more information go to www.wineloverspage.com.
We're talking about SPICY fire today: the endorphin-inducing glow of hot chile peppers. Let's tiptoe across the tricky ground of matching wine with hot-and-spicy Asian fare.
Turning to Madhur Jaffrey's new "World Vegetarian" cookbook, I tried Aloo Gobi, a Punjabi-style dish that turns home-fried potatoes and cauliflower into a satisfying dinner with the help of a lot of fresh ginger and a spice-rack full of Indian flavors.
I added peas to Jaffrey's recipe, partly to avoid criticism for offering dinner with nothing green in it but mostly to add a green-veggie component that I hoped would heighten the dish's affinity with white wine. And I kept the cayenne within reasonable limits to hold things to a wine-friendly level of heat, but had a jar of bright-red Vietnamese sriracha sauce handy so I could doctor dinner to taste and observe how increasing the heat would affect the wine match.
What wine to serve? I've found that slightly sweet wines work well with hot-and-spicy fare, and the intriguing aromas of Riesling often make a happy marriage with the exotic flavors of Asian cuisine; so a typically "off-dry" Riesling might be just the thing. But what about a DRY Riesling?
I grabbed a bottle from one of my favorite Marlborough wineries, Grove Mill, and the match worked well. The wine offered a burst of Riesling character on the nose and palate, full of pine and minerals and aromatic white fruit that sang in tune with the ginger, cumin and coriander in the dish; and although the wine lacked the consoling sweetness of a German Spatlese or Auslese, its honeyed, unctuous texture, just a bit short of bone-dry, worked similar magic in balancing medium-hot spiciness.
Things got a little more tricky when I added more hot sauce, though; and by the time I put in enough to turn the dish from turmeric-tinted bright yellow to spicy pink, it became apparent that the best solution for truly fiery dishes is beer. If you're matching hot-and-spicy dishes with wine, I recommend keeping the fire under control.