Do you love foods that bring the heat? Make sure you have the right wine to complement and cool down those hot flavors.

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grilled-chicken tostadas with tomatillo-cilantro salsa
Credit: Christopher Testani

Spicy foods aren't only addictively delicious—they're also good for you: Chile peppers are rich in antioxidants, and certain spices can decrease inflammation and even boost your metabolism. We often hear that wine can pair nicely with spicy foods, but each type of heat requires a different style of vino. Here, we're sharing wine pairings for four popular types of spicy cuisines.

Pair Rosè with Mexican Cuisine

The extensive use of chile peppers, indigenous to Mexico, is one of the defining elements of this rich cuisine. Over 150 chile varieties can be found across the country. Regional cooking and traditional recipes utilize jalapeños, serranos, habaneros, anchos, and poblanos. Sometimes fresh, often dried and powdered, and even smoked—the range of heat varies and each chile has a different nuance of flavor. They can be hot, earthy, even sweet and fruity.

The perfect wine for the dynamic range of chile flavors? Rosé! There are several aspects to rosé that make this a fabulous pairing. One key factor of pairing any kind of spicy food with wine is to look for wines that are lower in alcohol: Because alcohol amplifies the sensation of heat, lower alcohol wines can help balance out your palate. Rosé is typically in the 11-13 percent ABV range. The fact that rosé is a fruit-forward wine style is a nice contrast with earthy and smoky flavors, and serving it chilled is a refreshing counterpart to fiery flavors. Since rosé comes in many levels of body and intensity, it's a versatile pairing partner. Try a berry-toned sparkling rosé like Segura Viudas Cava Brut Rose ($9.99, wine.com) with Shrimp and Avocado Ceviche. A bright, citrusy, and dry rosé like Chateau Minuty M Rose 2019 ($21.99, wine.com) will match with the tangy filling of Corn-Stuffed Poblano Chiles. And for red meat dishes like Chili-Rubbed Skirt Steak Tacos, choose a ripe, intense, and juicy red fruit-driven wine like Fantini Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo Rosé 2018 ($11.99, wine.com).

Pair Prosecco with Indian Food

Indian cuisine is incredibly sophisticated in the use of spices. While some well-known recipes like Vindaloo utilize hot chiles, many other dishes use a blend of aromatic spices that may include cinnamon, coriander, turmeric, cumin, cardamom, and garam masala. 

Because there are so many intense spices, textures, and flavors in Indian cuisine, the best tip is to keep the wine simple so as not to compete with the complexity of the food. Prosecco is light, fizzy, refreshing, and can have a pleasant sweetness if you choose an extra dry style. The sweetness will balance out the heat in fiery dishes, and the bubbles will keep your palate clean when indulging in creamy dishes. The other plus for prosecco when pairing with Indian food is its versatility. When sitting down to a family-style Indian-inspired meal, you might have lentil dal next to a vegetable curry alongside a lamb korma, so you need a wine that can go with everything. Try Masottina Prosecco Brut ($15.99, wine.com) paired with Tandoori-Marinated Chicken with Cucumber, Lime, and Chiles, Villa Sandi Prosecco ($13.99, wine.com) paired with Shrimp Tikka Masala, and Torresella Prosecco ($14.99, wine.com) with Lamb Curry.

Pair Gewurztraminer with Thai Cuisine

In Thai recipes the hot peppers can be fresh, pickled, crushed, fried, or dried, and are often combined with other fragrant herbs and spices like lemongrass, ginger, coriander, and cilantro. Gewurztraminer (Guh-VURHTS-tra-mee-ner) is a white wine grape grown in Northern Italy and France which has a lush, tropical character: lychee, white peach, ripe apricot, and rose petal are all typical tasting notes. Gewurztraminer has a natural sweetness that helps calm down heat fumes in your mouth should you get a particularly fiery bite. Keep in mind that the styles from Italy's Alto-Adige region are generally a bit sweeter than the version made in Alsace, France. Some new-world areas like New York's Finger Lakes are starting to have success with this interesting grape as well.

Try Elena Walch Gewurztraminer 2019 ($23.99, wine.com) paired with Thai Green Shrimp Curry, Trimbach Gewurztraminer 2016 ($23.99, wine.com) with Spicy Thai-Style Lettuce Wraps, and Dr. Konstantin Frank Gewurztraminer 2018 ($18.99, wine.com) with Thai Beef with Chiles and Basil Over Coconut Rice.

Pair Off-Dry Riesling with Cajun Dishes

Hearty Cajun cuisine from Louisiana has French roots but packs plenty of heat thanks to the liberal use of cayenne pepper and hot pepper sauce, as well as smoky elements like andouille sausage. A Cajun spice blend might vary according to the cook, but traditionally contains some combination of cayenne, paprika, black pepper, oregano, and garlic.

Riesling is a fantastic pairing; just make sure that with a higher heat level in your dish, you select an off-dry or medium-dry version—this means there is a moderate amount of residual sugar present in the wine, that will calm down and balance all that heat. When it doubt, check the back label and find a scale created by the International Riesling Foundation called the Riesling Taste Profile. It will indicate how sweet or dry the wine is. We recommend Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling 2018 ($9.99, wine.com) paired with Cajun-Style Barbecued Shrimp, Josef Leitz Dragonstone Riesling 2018 ($19.9, wine.com) with Cajun Jambalaya, and Fox Run Vineyards Semi-Dry Riesling 2018 ($14, foxrunvineyards.com) paired with Chicken Gumbo.

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