For six years, I’ve been a proud member of a 25-year old group called the Woolybuggers. This group includes some of the best fathers, husbands, businessmen and friends I’ve ever met. Annually, this group gets together for a 2-3 night fly fishing trip. We fish of course, but more importantly we gather each evening on the porch of the lodge sharing stories, catching up and remembering those we’ve lost. Tradition of the group dictates that we smoke cigars, sip quality tequila and eat homemade salsa that our members bring from Colorado and Arizona, among other places. By my standards, these salsas are SMOKING HOT and yes, we were sipping on the aforementioned tequila or throwing gas on the fire as I call it.
With another year past, I want to honor my friends and share some tips and wines to try the rest of the year with their affinity for HIGH heat food.
WINE CHARACTERISTICS THAT WORK WELL WITH HEAT
LOWER ALCOHOL – alcohol can increase the heat sensation. Think tequila poured on habanero salsa 😉 Also, with the food heat you might just want to drink more liquid to cool things off. The lower alcohol allows us to drink more as needed without pushing us to the dark side from too much alcohol.
LIGHTER BODY – Heat from the food can make the tannins and oak elements of many fuller bodied wines more pronounced and push the taste toward bitterness.
SWEETNESS – sugar in wines tend to coat the mouth and tame heat. You’re not going to drink thick dense desert wine here, more like off dry whites with a hint of sweetness.
SPECIFIC VARIETALS OR STYLES THAT WORK WITH HEAT
RIESLING – dry or just off dry – I recommend Riesling often and unless someone knows a fair amount about wine, there is a chance I hear, “I don’t like sweet wine.” Let’s fix this. Riesling is not all sweet and when it does have sweetness the degrees vary greatly. Riesling is considered by many the best food wine and hot food is no exception.
GEWURZTRAMINER – maybe this is new to some readers. This grape produces a very aromatic wine that often has some degree of sweetness. So, it too fits well with the heat and is often a good fit with spicy Asian food.
CHAMPAGNE or SPARKLING WINE – you can choose your dryness level from Nature (no sugar added) to Extra Dry to Demi Sec. Maybe go with a Champagne or Sparkling Wine labeled Dry or Extra Dry, as contrary to the name “dry” these are actually on the sweeter side of the Champagne spectrum.
ROSÈ – keep it cold and crisp, it seems like there are a million to choose from these day.
CHENIN BLANC – again, this might be new to some reader. This is a versatile white with good crisp acidity, a light profile and some inherent sweetness. It can be dry or off-dry. We tasted an off dry version below. Loire Valley France and South Africa are the primary producing regions/countries.
BEAUJOLAIS – if you insist on red, this can be lighter bodied fit. You might even chill it a bit.
OUR TASTE TEST
We grabbed three bottles from the recommendations above and paired these with hot buffalo wings we made at home. We remove the skin from our wings, grill them and make a traditional butter and hot sauce based wing sauce. The wines we paired are below and we’ve included the price, source and alcohol level, which factors into the heat.
1) Rosé – Mascota Vineyards La Mascota 2016 Rosé 14.4% alcohol. $11.69 from Total Wine.
2) Riesling – Anam Cara Cellars 2014 Dry Riesling Nicholas Estate Chehalem Mountains, Oregon, 14.4% alcohol. $20.69 from Total Wine.
3) Chenin Blanc – Famille Bougrier Chenin Blanc Vin de Pays Du Val De Loire 2016, 11.4% alcohol. $9.44 from Total Wine.
All three wines worked well with the heat. Two things were clear in the high heat tasting: 1) the wines needed to be colder than the temperature we usually serve white wine and, 2) drinking the wines with high heat food is about simplicity and not about thinking or breaking down the wine like in a tasting. If you want to do that, taste the wine prior to eating.
I preferred the Chenin Blanc with the hot wings. It contained more residual sugar than the other two and I appreciated the additional body of the wine for the mouth coating which helped tame the heat. Jana preferred the Rosé, not so much for the heat reducing ability of the wine relative to the Chenin or Riesling, but just due to overall taste preference. Truth be told, she is a Rosé nut.
Final thoughts. There are times for wine to shine and times for wine to play a supporting role. When you are spicing it up, use wine to complement the food and let the spicy shine. Your big and complex reds can stand on their own another time.
Thanks to all the Woolybuggers and especially the 13 that made it this year: John, Denny, Bob, Paul, Tom L., Tom O., Jerry, Pete, Kurt, Dick, Mike #1 and Mike #2. You guys are the best.
For those looking for additional content on this topic, please check out: Wine Folly on Wine Pairing with Spicy Food