To answer the question of what wine to pair with food that is spicy, we need to know something about capsaicin, the pain- or pleasure-producing component of Chile peppers, and the food and wine pairing relationship.
Capsaicin activates pain receptors in the mouth. These pain receptors are also sensitive to temperature. Hot beverages, like sake or tea, will turn on these pain receptors and kick up the heat. Cold drinks will turn off the pain receptors, but as soon as the mouth warms up again, the burn returns.
However, when pairing wine with spicy foods there are benefits to consider in pairing spicy foods with Riesling wine. Wine by itself tastes different than wine paired with food. The wine’s effect on the food’s flavor is similar to the way spice affects a food flavor.
Capsaicin is fat soluble. A dairy drink that is cold, high in acidity to stimulate salivary flow, but with some sweetness proven to ameliorate the burn, makes yogurt an effective antidote.
When it comes to wine and spicy food pairing, Rieslings, particularly low alcohol German Kabinett and Spatlese, are effective at soothing the burn because they have a lot in common with yogurt: the cold temperature turns off the pain receptors, high acidity stimulates salivary flow, and the sweetness soothes the palate from very hot or spicy foods.
Hot and spicy Thai dishes, or hot curries, taste best with sweet dessert wines.
Some hot and spicy Thai dishes, or hot curries for example, often taste best when the food is paired with sweet dessert wines. The sweet, botrytis-affected wines that can be paired with spicy foods are rated in ascending order of sweetness: Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese. The low alcohol (8-10%) compared to Alsatian, Austrian and southern hemisphere Rieslings (12-15%) is an added benefit because alcohol also activates oral pain receptors (think about a shot of vodka) and will therefore kick up the burn.
Expensive wines made from Riesling are late harvest dessert wines and can be a compliment when paired with very spicy foods.
These wines are produced by letting the grapes hang on the vines well past normal picking time. Evaporation is caused by the fungus Botrytis cinerea (“noble rot”) or by freezing, as in the case of ice wine (in German, Eiswein), where water is removed and the resulting wine offers richer layers on the palate. These concentrated wines have more sugar (in extreme cases hundreds of grams per liter), more acid (to give balance to all the sugar), more flavor, and more complexity.