Sunday, February 08, 2009

Beating the Heat

I’ve been experimenting with wine pairings for hot, spicy food. It’s one of the items on my 2009 checklist.

The first challenge was white bean chicken chili, a spicy broth-based stew with lots of cumin and cayenne pepper. The wine pairing was purely accidental. I happened to have an open bottle of Jean-Claude Bougrier Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie Le Landreau 2006 ($7.99 at Total Wine & More).

This worked out better than I could have imagined. The wine was cold, crisp and zingy with acidity. It stood up perfectly to the chili, which is augmented (a little too) generously with Monterey Jack cheese and sour cream. It’s simple and inexpensive, so I didn’t worry about losing nuances amongst the spices.

Next up was black bean chicken chili. This is a tomato-based chili with lots of chili powder and heat – a little more daunting to match with wine. I picked two wines – Casa Lapostolle Merlot Rapel Valley, Chile 2006 and Stoneleigh Riesling Marlborough 2007. They finished neck-and-neck.

I was a little stunned by the performance of the merlot. Reds gets lost in spicy foods sometimes, but the fruit stood up to the spice and the noticeable tannins seemed to help too. The rielsing worked as expected; it was cold, off-dry and had plenty of fruit to balance the heat and spice.

Last night it was pork Vindaloo, a super spicy stew from the state of Goa in India. Depending on who you ask, this dish is made in a number of different ways. My iteration was hot – damn hot. It was the kind of hot that makes you want more even as your eyeballs are bursting into flames.

In keeping with my rather random wine selections, I choose a bottle of Chameleon Cellars Carignane 2005. It didn’t stand a chance.

The heat and spice beat the wine into submission. I gave up after a couple sips and enjoyed the rest of my glass after dinner.

Today, I had another bowl of the Vindaloo for lunch. This time I went for a sure-fire match – beer. Magic Hat’s HI.P.A., a seasonal offering from the Vermont Brewery, was the perfect match – hoppy, crisp and just fruity enough to punch through the heat.

So, what do you drink with your favorite hot/spicy dish?


Anonymous said...

If I may put a small twist on this discussion, I actually enjoy a spicy beer with pizza. The pizza not being spicy, the beer being something that if you didn’t eat anything with it you might not make it through your first beer let alone a sixer. I know there are several spicy beers, but the one I’m most familiar with is from Cave Creek .

It’s a light lager, typical of your miller lite variety, but at the bottom or sometimes top of that effervescent brew is one lone taunting pepper.

Sure this brew gets a bad rap. I doubt they sell much of this either since it’s hard to get down more than one in a sitting. That is because this beer needs to be enjoyed with food. This isn’t a brew that you sit on your couching during a game and down a six pack, you don’t reach for one after a hot day of fencing so your neighbor’s dog quits crapping in your yard. It compliments all the food you wish were spicy… so I say skip the little red flakes at the pizza parlor table…. Save the Tabasco sauce, don’t worry your once fresh peppers buried in the fridge are now moldy.. grab some hot BEER.

Is there any good pepper wines out there?? Maybe:

*I’m in no way affiliated with nor endorsing Cave Creek Chili Beer.


John said...

Chili beer? I want in.

Interesting thoughts about food and beer pairing. I heard recently that Italians consider beer the proper match for pizza, which was a bit of a surprise for me. I think they'd approve of the chili beer as well.

Hot pepper wine? Well, I think I'll get my capsaicin elsewhere.

Anonymous said...



Dr. Debs said...

Oooh. Red wine and vindaloo is not a pairing I would go for! Try off-dry Riesling. That' our go-to choice for Indian food. And pepperoni pizza with hot peppers is fantastic with Lambrusco, by the way.

John said...


What did we do before Google?

Dr. Debs,

I should have known better, although some very jammy reds pair reasonably well with hot/spicy food. I agree with you on the riesling, and I've got to get my hands on a good Lambrusco.

Thanks to both of you for reading.

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