Liquid Assets

White Wines Go Fine With Hot Dining

Since we explore all things picante this issue, I thought it might be nice to go through the wines that match up best with capsicum's heat. This is one area where the old truth about matching wine and food by geography just doesn't hold up. The reason is, most wine is made in climates where truly tongue-numbing food isn't served. France, Germany, Northern California, Oregon, and Washington all go for herb-based dishes with lots of flavor but little heat. There are exceptions.

Spain and Italy both serve spicy foods and match them up with local wines. But they seldom use the jalapeños, serranos, and habaneros so beloved by Texans. Our favorite native Texas hot foods are generally Tex-Mex concoctions heavy on the grease. Unfortunately, the best wines for hot peppers are usually white and would be overwhelmed by the fat. This is why you see most people (wisely) drinking beer or iced tea with their chile-smothered cheese enchiladas.

But we Austinites are blessed with hundreds of spicy ingredients and restaurants that serve them. There, you can find dishes made in a clean style where fresh flavors dominate. A great example: Asian foods can set blisters on the roof of your mouth, yet the flavors remain distinct, and the fat doesn't coat your taste buds. And dishes made in true Mexican style can be very fresh and pure, which will match up nicely with wine. The question is -- which wine?

There is one area of the world that makes wines that go with virtually all spicy foods. Alsace, the little, cool-climate area of eastern France, has evolved into the world's greatest winemaking area for spicy foods. Their local cuisine emphasizes mustards and vinegars, but a nice touch of serendipity allows their white wines to make magic with peppers.

Gewürztraminer is a perfect Alsatian wine with spicy dishes. In fact, the word "gewürz" means spicy in German. It has some of the most seductive aromas in wine: recalling the likes of lychees and roses and peaches. In Alsace, it also develops a mineral taste that operates with its intensely sweet aroma to produce a very complex wine. Don't be tempted by non-Alsatian versions. In every other place it's made around the world, Gewürztraminer is simply fragrant. In Alsace, it is a work of art. Some of the best inexpensive brands are Pierre Sparr ($14), Trimbach ($16), and Hugel ($17). If that's too much, then check Alsace's blended wines, the one place you can still find some bargains. Look for Hugel Gentile ($12), Pierre Sparr Alsace One ($13), and Dopff et Irion Crustaces ($9).

If you are one of the few folks who won't buy French (a big mistake -- don't blame the farmers for the politicians), the Alto Adige area of Italy makes similar, if somewhat lighter, wines. A good wine retailer can help you pick. And if you want to stick with Texas wines, Flat Creek Winery, just north of Lake Travis, makes a delicious muscat, another grape that goes well with spices. Their Travis Peak Select Muscato Blanco ($13) is wonderful, but it is getting rare. The only stock left is at World Market.

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Pierre Sparr, Trimbach, Hugel, Hugel Gentile, Pierre Sparr One, Dopff et Irion Crustaces, Travis Peak Select Muscato Blanco

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