White wines really come into their own in this category. Either fresh, crisp, mineral wines with high acidity that enhances the spices in the food, or sweeter wines with some residual sugar that soften and tone down the heat.
Spices fall into three categories, - sweet, like cinnamon and cardamom – aromatic, like coriander, - and hot, like black pepper and the taste bud anaesthetising chilli. Dishes often contain all three spice categories, so you have competing intense flavours all trying to assert themselves!
Remember that alcohol activates our oral pain receptors, so avoid combing high alcohol wines with chilli which contain the active compound capsaicin- which also functions as a pain receptor in the mouth.
Red wines are usually far too tannic and astringent with this type of food as they tend to dry out the mouth and leave a bitter taste. Oak can have the same effect as it can clash with spices.
The hotter the dish, the more it cries out for a white wine, but if your preference is for red wines then, as always, there are exceptions to the rule, which are often better lightly chilled.
Full, fruity, dry whites are the classic partner to fiery Indian food – exuberant New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, and zesty, citrus flavoured wines like dry Riesling, Verdejo and Albariño /Alvarinho – the high acidity in these wines neutralises the heat of chili.
For big meaty curries, a full bodied (but not oaky or tannic) fruity red wine would work – try a Shiraz, especially with spicy lamb dishes.
Tikka Masala dishes are complemented by both red and white wines – try a Spanish Tempranillo, or that great all rounder, Beaujolais for the red, and a Chenin for the white– South Africa have some lovely examples.
Rosé wine works very well, especially those made from the Cabernet Franc grape variety – try a Rosé d’Anjou from the Loire. Succulent juicy New World numbers are also good.
Owing to their acidity, Champagne and Sparkling wines like Cava are a decadent, but surprisingly good match with mild Indian food!
The inherent flavours of Thai food are hot, sweet and sour, with predominantly fragrant ingredients of lemongrass, lime, ginger, chilli, coconut milk and coriander.
Thai food pairs particularly well with exotic Gewürztraminer, which has beautiful perfumed flavours of lychee’s and rose petals and, although it smells sweet, it finishes dry and can take on the heat of chilli. Try examples from Alsace, New Zealand and Chile. Gewurz is German for spice, and the literal translation of this grape variety is “The Spicy Traminer” – it goes brilliantly with ginger!
Opulent Pinot Gris, pungent Sauvignon Blanc’s and ripe New World Rieslings are also good whites with this cuisine as they enhance citrus and ginger flavours. For something different, also try dry Muscat.
Reds don’t tend to pair well with Thai food as coriander can make them taste bitter. But you could try a Rosé with some residual sugar; just remember to chill it first.
Chinese food is extremely varied and can taste spicy, salty, sweet, fruity and sour, often all served at the same time!
Off-dry whites compliment the inherent sweetness of Chinese food - Rieslings are a good match, try a German Kabinett or Spätlese with subtle dishes, and an Australian example with weightier ones. Spicier dishes go nicely with Australian Semillon, and heavenly Gewürztraminer suits sweet and sour combinations very well. For something different – try a delicately perfumed Torrontés from Argentina!
A light juicy New World Pinot Noir would also fit the bill if you want a red, as would a fruity Beaujolais or Grenache, especially with beef and duck dishes.
Rosé wine works surprisingly well with Chinese cuisine – suggestions as for Indian.
Japanese food is known for the freshness and quality of its ingredients. In general it has subtle, delicate flavours, and also deeply savoury flavourings of dashi, miso and soy sauce.
Dry Non-Vintage Champagne and Sparkling wine match well and will not overwhelm this fine cuisine.
German Rieslings and uncomplicated Chablis pair nicely with sushi and sashimi, as do Rosés – try a Rosé Sancerre for something different, and even a delicate dry Rosé Champagne!
Teriyaki and Teppanyaki dishes are able to cope with weightier wines like a New World Chardonnay, and if you want a red, the earthy flavours found in Pinot Noir compliment savoury soy sauce – we’re talking Umami here!
Be warned that pungent wasabi annihilates most wines – you need a high acidity white like Sauvignon Blanc to even think about standing up to this Japanese version of horseradish.
Of course the classic partner to Japanese food is Sake – so why not go native!