South-east Asian food can be a real challenge for those looking to pair their favorite local fare with a nice bottle of wine. With chili being such an important part of the food in this region, I am often asked what wines I recommend when eating spicy food. When pairing wines with spicy foods, we need to understand one very important element of the dish – heat. Many people I speak to generally perceive Shiraz to be a great match under the thinking of powerful and spicy wine, must match powerful and spicy food. While the concept follows the general rules of wine pairing – “match flavors with flavors”, the downfall is the alcohol content in Shiraz – especially those from Australia.
Alcohol is inherently hot, and by adding this to an already fiery mouth. The burning sensation of the food becomes amplified by the alcohol, offering you no respite from the attack your palate is under. I believe some of the best pairing for the spicy dishes in the region can be found in the “aromatic” section of the wine list at Olea Mediterranean Restaurant. Medium-sweet Rieslings are a place to start, as too is Gewürztraminer due to its aromatic profile matching that flavors of the region.
The lower alcohol content these varietals often have, combined with the chilled serving temperature and residual sugar do a great job of taming the fire in your mouth, while the aromatic palette will generally enhance underlying flavors. For those of you who really want to stick with red wines – stay clear of tannic, high alcohol varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, and look to Beaujolais or Zinfandel for your fix. Their lower tannin content will rein in bitterness and bring out some great nuances of your dish.
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