Pairing Spicy Food & Wine, Gen X versus Millennial Drinkers



Do you have trouble pairing wine with spicy dishes? What flavours can survive a spicy pairing? How do you pair wine and dishes with a lot of heat like Tex-Mex or vindaloo chicken? Why are Gen Xers so different as wine drinkers than millennials, and how is marketing to them changed? How can you improve your blood pressure and lower your risk of Alzheimer’s with wine?

On today’s episode of Unreserved Wine Talk, I’m sharing my tips for finding the right wine for every spicy occasion and exploring both an interesting insight into wine marketing and a fascinating recent study in the world of wine. Enjoy!



  • Why is it tough to pair wine with spicy dishes?
  • What flavours can survive a spicy pairing?
  • Which wines pair well with spicy foods?
  • Why do those wines work well alongside spice?
  • Which wines pair well with mildly spicy dishes?
  • Which wines pair well with very spicy dishes?
  • How does capsicum affect our perception of the taste of wine?
  • How do wine and spice interact with your palate?
  • Can you pair red wine with spicy dishes?
  • Who makes up Gen X?
  • What wine consumption trends are we seeing with Gen Xers?
  • How can the wine industry capitalize on the high spending Gen Xers?
  • Why are stories so valuable in marketing?
  • What do winemakers say about marketing to different generations?
  • What differences do we see in how Gen Xers engage with the wine community?
  • What initiatives are being implemented to market to Gen Xers?
  • How is a recent study looking at resveratrol and astronauts?
  • How does being in space affect the human body?
  • Why does resveratrol have a potentially positive impact on blood pressure and Alzheimer’s disease?




Wines that can take the heat

Wine with Spicy Dishes

When faced with spicy cuisine, wine lovers don’t have to cry in their beer. Fiery dishes such as pad Thai, jalapeño-stuffed burritos, Indian tandoori, Texas barbecue, Cajun crabs and gumbo, Szechuan kung pao pork, or Jamaican jerk chicken, are cuisines that didn’t develop alongside regional wines over centuries as did European fare. Trying to find wines that will complement food that is at once sweet, sour, and spicy can be a challenge but here are several tips to help you choose.

Keep your cool

The flavors that survive heat are sweet and sour. That’s why both crisp and slightly sweet wines can cool the palate after a fiery onslaught. Examples include wines made from riesling and muscat. Look for those from cool climate regions, such as Germany, Canada, and Alsace where the wine preserves its refreshing acidity. These wines are the equivalent of diving into the ocean after getting a sun burn: invigorating and soothing. Long after you’ve swallowed, their silver thread of acidity lasts as long as the hot wire of spice in your mouth. They also have complementary aromas and flavors of spices, limes, lemons, green apples, and flowers.

With mildly-spiced dishes, you can drink dry whites such as New Zealand sauvignon blanc, Australian riesling, Italian pinot grigio, and Alsatian pinot blanc. Their herbal aromas work well with ingredients in green curries such as basil, tarragon, coriander, lemon grass, and lime.

Sweet meets heat

For hotter dishes, such as pad Thai, mustard-based fare and wasabi (green horseradish paste), Cajun (from the Nova Scotia Acadians who were exiled to Louisiana in the seventeenth century by the British) and Creole (from New Orleans itself), a touch of sweetness helps to quench the flames when bone-dry wines taste too austere. A little sweetness won’t taste syrupy if it’s matched by crisp acidity.

Try German riesling, especially those labeled from the first two categories in the range from semisweet to the sweetest: kabinett, spätlese, auslese, beerenauslese, to trockenbeerenauslese. (The latter three are dessert wines and therefore too sweet.) Mosel region rieslings tend to be lighter in body and alcohol and therefore better with these foods than those from the Rhine. For wines from other countries, look for “off-dry” on the label or a sugar code of 1 to 3, as 0 is a completely dry wine and dessert wines are about 15 to 20. For this reason, rosé and white zinfandel work well. (Yes, I said white zinfandel, that’s not a typo.) These also work well with sweet-and-sour Chinese sauces and ingredients such as pineapple, coconut, and sweetened yogurt.

Capsicum, the compound in chilies that makes them hot, doesn’t wreck wine’s flavors, but it does diminish our perception of them. So choose value-priced wines since the fine nuances of expensive wines are easily obliterated by bold flavors.

Don’t add fuel to the fire

The heat from spicy dishes not only numbs your palate, it also creates a stinging sensation when it reacts to alcohol, making the wine feel hotter than it actually is. High alcohol wines are like lighter fluid to a campfire: the flavors of both the food and wine go up in smoke. Salt—prevalent in soy, oyster, and fish sauces—also accentuates alcohol. So look for lighter-bodied wines with an alcohol content of less than 12 percent. These come from the cool climate regions mentioned above since the grapes don’t ripen as fully as in hotter climes, resulting in wines with lower levels of alcohol.

Follow the spice route—or not

Gewürztraminer (guh-vertz-tra-meener) is liquid salsa to many spicy dishes. The direct translation of the German word gewürz means “spice,” which may be why it has become the default wine for any spicy dish. However, the wine is more perfumed than it is spicy, and personally, I don’t think it deserves such a wide reputation for these dishes. The dry versions are often too austere for some spicy dishes that cry out for a touch of sweetness and the wine’s assertive aromas of rose petals and lychee nuts are not to everyone’s taste. Instead, try exotically perfumed wines from France made from the grapes marsanne and viognier, or from California white blends such as: Symphony Obsession and Bonny Doon Ca ‘ del Solo Malvasia Bianca.

Cushion your landing

Even though I believe that white wines generally go better with spicy dishes, there are several reds that work, especially round, smooth ones that are like plush cushions to soften the spiciness. These absorb the heat without overwhelming the flavor of the food and work well with mild Indian tandoori, chicken tikka masala, and gentler curries. Plummy reds with supple tannins are ideal, such as Chilean merlot; Californian zinfandel; French beaujolais and gamay; and pinot noir from Canada, Oregon, California, and New Zealand. Australian shiraz cuts both ways in style: some are plush and smooth (these work), while others are peppery and tannic (these don’t).

Likewise, heavy doses of tannin and oak mask the fruit flavors and acidity in wine, and aggravate the perception of heat. Tannin and spice are both tactile but in different ways and tend to rub against each other; one inevitably dominates and diminishes the other. (Tip: I find that reds served a little cooler than room temperature are more refreshing when they’re partnering with spice.)

Many non-European cuisines involve serving a range of dishes at a meal, so there’s no one perfect wine. Why not take a dim sum approach to choosing your wine: sample several to find the ones you enjoy most. It works for almost all but howlingly-hot dishes which are too volcanic for any liquid except lava. For these I recommend water—from a fire hydrant.


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Transcript & Takeaways

Welcome to episode 44!

I have some delicious wine topics to chat with you about in today’s Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, including:

  • How do you pair wine and spicy dishes, especially those with a lot of heat kike Tex-Mex or vindaloo chicken?
  • Why are Gen Xers so different as wine drinkers than millennials, and how is marketing to them changed?
  • How can you improve your blood pressure and lower your risk of Alzheimer’s with wine?

I’ll include links to my pairing tips, the wines I recommend for spicy dishes, the article on marketing wine to Gen X and the research study on wine’s impact on blood pressure and Alzheimer’s in the show notes at

In my Get Wine Smart course that’s relaunching soon, I take an even deeper dive into spicy food and wine pairing. I can’t wait to share this with you soon!

Before we dive in, I’d like to share with you a spotlight on a member of our podcast community with you. Hope from Jordan Provisions in California, posted on Facebook, “Hello Natalie, I look forward to your podcasts! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with me and so many others. Kindest regards, Hope”

Hope, I’m glad you enjoyed it and I’m sending you a copy of my Ultimate Food & Wine Pairing Guide. I’m sure you’ll find it a handy reference when you’re deciding on which wine to drink with your meal.

If you’d also like a free copy of my Ultimate Food & Wine Pairing Guide, just email me at [email protected] and let me know what you like about the podcast and what I can do to improve it for you.

If you’re listening to this podcast on the day it’s published, I’d like to invite you to join me for a live video chat on Facebook this evening at 7 pm eastern. We’ll tackle questions like:

  • How can you pair wine with Thanksgiving turkey and all the side dishes?
  • What is the new defect in wine called mouse, and what does it smell like?
  • Which wine trends should you ignore?

You’ll find me at 7 pm at… pour yourself a glass of wine and join the chat or sit back and watch.

Alright, let’s dive into our topics today.


You can also watch the video on Pairing Spicy Food & Wine, Gen X versus Millennial Drinkers that includes bonus content and behind-the-scenes questions and answers that weren’t included in this podcast.


Well, there you have it! You’ll find links to great wines in stores now that pair well with spicy dishes, my pairing tips, the article on marketing wine to Gen X and the research study on wine’s impact on blood pressure and Alzheimer’s in the show notes at

What was your favourite tip or quote from this episode? Share that with me on Twitter or Facebook and tag me @nataliemaclean, on Instagram I’m @nataliemacleanwine.

If you liked this episode, please tell a friend about it, especially one who’s interested in pairing wine with spicy dishes or wine can help with both blood pressure and Alzheimer’s. My podcast is easy to find, whether you search Google on its name Unreserved Wine Talk, or on my name.

Finally, if you want to take your ability to pair wine and food to the next level, join me in a free online video class at

I can’t wait to share more wine stories with you.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to this one. I hope something great is in your glass this week, perhaps a terrific glass of wine with spicy Tex-Mex!



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