Best Wines for Spicy Food

Move beyond beer for a drink that plays nicely with spicy dishes. Here are our picks for the best wines to pair (surprise: it’s not only whites)

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Grilled Oysters with Chipotle Glaze

Pop a few dozen plump Pacific oysters on the grill and then top with this creamy, spicy glaze, courtesy of chef Dory Ford of California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium. What a way to kick off a party!

Recipe: Grilled Oysters with Chipotle Glaze

Pair with: Riesling. With an almost briny minerality in addi- tion to its sweet fruit, it's a great oyster wine. For these smoky-hot ones from the grill, the wine needs a boat-load of fruit to match the spice, and our bottle pick more than delivers. Recommended bottle: Penner-Ash 2009 Riesling (Willamette Valley).

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Harissa Lamb with Lemon Mint Chickpea Salad

Super quick, and plenty flavorful, the harissa marinade does double duty as a spicy sauce once the lamb is cooked.

Recipe: Harissa Lamb with Lemon Mint Chickpea Salad

Pair with: Zinfandel. The rich, sweet fruit of this grape is great for taming the harissa heat in this dish. And the brimming berries in the Zin make a good foil for full-flavored lamb combined with mint. A hit of black pepper in our bottle pick creates a bridge too. Recommended bottle: August Briggs 2010 Zinfandel (Napa Valley).

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Spicy Thai Fried Rice with Shrimp

Day-old leftover rice gives this fragrant fried rice the best texture, but you can also make it with rice cooked and cooled the same day.

Recipe: Spicy Thai Fried Rice with Shrimp

Pair with: Brut Rosé. Sparklers take well to the sweet-sour tang of many Thai dishes. The wine’s tight bubbles come across as creamy, which is a good backdrop for shrimp and rice, and its crispness makes the fresh herbs pop. Recommended bottle: Montenisa NV Brut Rosé (Franciacorta DOCG, Lombardy, Italy).

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Devilish Chorizo Chili with Hominy

Not only is this chili easy to make ahead, it actually improves with time. If you like your chili very spicy, add an extra teaspoon of chipotle powder. Serve it with hunks of warm cornbread.

Recipe: Devilish Chorizo Chili with Hominy

Pair with: Cabernet. It isn’t our usual go-to red with spicy food, but the chiles in this dish lend warm, earthy heat as opposed to sharp spice. And our bottle pick has earthy red fruit that matches. Recommended bottle: Boomtown 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (Washington).

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Fried Chicken Sandwiches with Spicy Slaw

Rich fried chicken needs something crunchy and cooling for counterbalance, and this zesty slaw fits the bill.

Recipe: Fried Chicken Sandwiches with Spicy Slaw

Pair with: Pinot Gris. This is a fairly rich white wine that can wrap around fried chicken. But it also has crispness that keeps you wanting another taste of the exotic flavors both wine and slaw offer. Recommended bottle: Morgan 2010 “R & D Franscioni Vineyard” Pinot Gris (Santa Lucia Highlands).

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Spicy Eggplant, Pork, and Tofu Stir-Fry

Spicy garlic sauce gives a big flavor punch to simple stir-fry in this Asian-inspired dish.

Recipe: Spicy Eggplant, Pork, and Tofu Stir-Fry

Pair with: Riesling. A very slightly off-dry Riesling makes a great foil for the heat in many Asian dishes and maybe because of its rich mouth-feel and sweet fruit, Riesling has a special place in its heart for pork. Recommended bottle: Charles Smith Wines “Kung Fu Girl” Riesling 2007 (Columbia Valley).

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Green Chile Cheeseburgers

The magic ingredients in these burgers are the pasilla chiles, roasted on a gas burner or under a broiler 'til nicely blackened. Melt sliced or grated cheddar cheese on top during the last few minutes of grilling.

Recipes: Green Chile Cheeseburgers

Pair with: An earthy, meaty red blend that includes Syrah and Tempranillo. The fruit tastes great with chiles and cheese. Recommended bottle: Matchbook “Tinto Rey” 2005 (Dunnigan Hills).

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Spicy Pork Ribs

Marinating ribs in already-prepared harissa paste, a Tunisian spice, saves time and guarantees spicy, lick-your-fingers-good ribs.

Recipe: Spicy Pork Ribs

Pair with: Zinfandel. Cultivate the urge to reach for a Zin any time you have pork ribs on the table: The two are one of the food-and-wine world’s great matches. These particular ribs are on the hot side (use less harissa if you like), but our bottle pick, blended with Petite Sirah and other grapes, has a level of rich fruit and spice to make it work. Recommended bottle: Venge “Scout’s Honor” Proprietary Red 2006 (Napa Valley).

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Spicy Soy-Ginger Grilled Rockfish with Asparagus

A sweet and spicy ginger sauce is drizzled over perfectly grilled rockfish and tender-crisp asparagus in this succulent recipe.

Recipe: Spicy Soy-Ginger Grilled Rockfish with Asparagus

Pair with: A floral white blend. Exuberant florals are looking for some exotic, tropical flavors in a match. Recommended bottle: Eberle 2009 Côtes-de-Robles Blanc (Paso Robles).

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Spicy Shredded Beef

A little like a Mexican sloppy Joe, this juicy dish is best sandwiched in crusty French rolls and topped with shredded cabbage, red onion, sliced tomato, cilantro, and sour cream.

Recipe: Spicy Shredded Beef

Pair with: Merlot. With gentler, rounder tannins than Cabernet, Merlot takes more easily to spicy dishes, and it’s an especially good match for the texture of long-braised beef chuck. Our bottle pick also offers great red fruit and crushed herbs that loop into the Southwest seasonings here. Recommended bottle: Hawk Crest Merlot 2005 (California).

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Chile and Spice Grilled Turkey and Mole Gravy

A chile-rubbed bird cooked on the grill and served with mole gravy makes for a richly seasoned dinner.

Recipe: Chile and Spice Grilled Turkey and Mole Gravy

Pair with: Zinfandel. Besides being comfortable with a whole range of tangy, spicy Thanksgiving food, fruity Zinfandel also tames a Southwestern or Mexican Thanksgiving menu. Recommended bottle: Scott Harvey 2010 Zinfandel (Amador County).