Over the years, countless wine writers have recommended Gewurztraminer as a sublime wine-pairing partner for spicy Asian fare.
And they have been correct in their recommendation—although not always for the right reason.
Typically, the reason cited for the pairing involves matching spice with spice. When eating spicy food, one way to complement the dish is to pour a wine that also exhibits a spice quality.
But here’s where it gets a little tricky: The spice associated with Gewurztraminer is not in the flavor of wine; it’s in the aroma. “Gewurz” translates to aromatic.
That said, Gewurztraminer still makes a solid pairing partner, and here’s why: A “typical” Asian dish involves some fat (which may come from either the meat or the oil used, or both), some salt (often from soy sauce) and a certain degree of chili heat, otherwise referred to as spice.
When those elements are in play, it’s important that the accompanying wine not be high in alcohol, because the alcohol tends to take center stage and mute the flavors. So, that’s one “check mark” for Gewurztraminer, which typically is low in alcohol.
It’s also important to pick a wine with a solid acid base. This provides a counterpoint to the spice, and helps keep the palate refreshed, rather than “fried.” Again, a good, dry Gewurztraminer can be very refreshing. Give Gewurz another “check mark.”
Finally, the wine should be relatively “simple” in flavor because there’s no way it’s going to compete favorably with the flavor of the dish. So, we seek out wines that emphasize their fruit flavors primarily, with very little or—even better—no oak influence within its flavor spectrum. That’s a third “check mark” for Gewurztraminer.
Another solid wine choice when enjoying spicy Asian fare is Riesling, which is quite similar to Gewurztraminer in mouthfeel, acidity and range of flavors.
It’s great to have your own personal “go-to” wines, but every so often, it can be very rewarding to exit your comfort zone and try something different. Dining on spicy Asian fare provides a perfect excuse for trying a dry Gewurztraminer or Riesling.