Spice Advice

“I tend to cook with a lot of spice and heat, especially during the summer. Can you recommend wines that will go well with that type of food and still be refreshing summer drinks at the same time?” - Tom (Newberg)

I have intimate experience with this problem. I also enjoy cooking with spice, and nine times out of ten, I over-spice my food, making it a little hotter than intended. The trick to pairing with spicy cuisine is to find wines with a little sweetness.

Don’t be afraid of sweeter wines just because you may have had too many cheap ones when you were younger and they made you sick. There are many styles that are made mostly dry with very little sugar in them, but just enough to pair nicely with heat-driven foods.

Look for whites such as Riesling, Gewürztraminer or Muscat. Generally, those styles are not fermented all the way to dryness, so there is a bit of sugar left. The spiciness in the food actually pairs down the sweetness in the wine and, at the same time, the wine minimizes the heat in the food, each complementing the other.

Oregon has a number of producers making delicious versions of these wines such as Trisaetum, Argyle, Amity, Sokol Blosser and REX HILL, to name just a few. Ask the wine steward to show you which styles are off dry or just slightly off dry. They are there to help and will be happy to explain what they know.

One important note: Watch out for wines with elevated levels of alcohol. When you try to pair spicy food with a wine that is higher in alcohol, the food tastes even hotter and the spice will in turn, making the wine seem to have more alcohol than it actually does.

With all that said, as I always like to remind folks: Drink what you like with what you like and always try new things. You never know what will work best for your unique palate, so sample it all - just not at the same time, or you WILL be sick!

- Jenni Cossey

E-mail me at to submit your questions, and I’ll see you next month.

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