Hot Pepper and Wine

Hot pepper (capsaicin) taste in food usually ruins or at least masks the taste and aromas of wines. Alcohol extracts more and more of the capsaicin chemical in hot foods from any food residual in your mouth. Thus after you eat a spicy Sichuan (Szechwan, Szechuan) or Thai dish, or buffalo-style hot wings, or even Latin foods containing jalapeño, the skin (mucosa) in your mouth, tongue and palate burns even more that when you first ate the food.

The burning may be welcome if you really like hot, spicy foods but it totally masks any taste of the wine and makes it indistinguishable from having a shot of vodka or tequila. Low alcohol wines (10-12% ABV) are less”burny” with hot foods, but perhaps beer at 5% alcohol would be a better choice.

If you love hot sauces, beer is a good choice

Black pepper doesn’t have capsaicin but its spiciness is due to a chemical compound called “piperine.” It is a different kind of spicy, and much less so than the capsaicin characteristic of chili peppers. Although a full-bodied, higher alcohol Zinfandel might still pair well with Steak Diane, or a Chianti Classico go well with a Cacio e Pepe pasta, you should still be careful with your wine selection with any heavily black (or white or green) peppered food dishes.


Any cuisines that feature frequent use of hot peppers, such as Northern African, Pacific Rim, India, or Latin America, tend also to consume much less wine and spirits per capita. The capsaicin in their food may be why they also consume much less alcohol with meals. The take-home principle form this is that if you like the international foods featuring curry, harissa, berbere, Thai chiles, Szechuan peppercorns, etc., you should limit or remove the capsaicin components of any recipes you might make at home.