It's easy to order a margarita with spicy Mexican food or a beer with peppery Cajun fare. But many restaurants offering spicy Latin, Asian or Louisiana dishes have wine lists designed to match their dishes.
Wines with crisp acidity and lower alcohol levels, such as New Zealand sauvignon blancs, complement spicy heat in a variety of cuisines. Slightly sweet aromatic whites like German- style rieslings and gewurztraminers and Spanish verdejo and txakolina also are good pairings. Other options include Champagne or sparkling wines and dry roses. With red wines, high alcohol and oaky wines tend to overwhelm even spicy dishes. Good options are lighter, low-tannin, fruity wines like grenache or Beaujolais, but with just a little chill.
At John Besh and Aaron Sanchez's upscale taqueria Johnny Sanchez (930 Poydras St., 504-304-6615; www.johnnysanchezrestaurant.com), the menu is driven by the Mexican cuisine Sanchez ate as a child in his mother's restaurant. The wine list features nearly 20 wines, and all are available by the glass.
"I love to pair Gulf fish tiradito with Campo Viejo Brut Rose Cava, a crisp sparkling rose from Spain that enhances the fresh acidic tiradito with its lime, avocado, papaya and jalapeno flavors," says General Manager John Melnyk.
Melnyk also recommends cava with shrimp ceviche with charred habanero-coconut vinaigrette, lime and pickled onions. "With a bright acidic dish like this, the bubbles in this wine cut right through the acid."
One of Sanchez's favorite producers is Terrazas de los Andes, a winemaker in Mendoza, Argentina. "Their malbec is lush and full of dark fruit that blends perfectly with our wood-grilled carne asada," Melnyk says
Spain's Herencia Garnacha Negra goes with arroz con pollo, wood-grilled chicken served with crispy fried rice, roasted poblano and serrano peppers, avocado, Cotija cheese and roasted tomatoes. "This wine, with just a touch of a chill on it, can pair well with this smoky dish," Melnyk says.
Brothers Michael and Jeff Gulotta and Jeffrey Bybee opened the Asian-inspired MoPho (514 City Park Ave., 504-482-6845; www.mopho-nola.com). Michael Gulotta formerly was chef de cuisine at Restaurant August and was named to Food & Wine magazine's 2016 class of Best New Chefs.
"Our prevailing philosophy was not to be a traditional Vietnamese restaurant with the same pho and other dishes like our neighborhood Asian eateries prepare," Jeff says. "The Asian peoples who developed this cuisine lived an entirely different way — without the influence of wine in their food and drink culture."
The restaurant offers 20 beers and 19 wines, all available by the glass.
"When we initially opened ... we saw that the Vietnamese pantry did not lend itself to a large variety of wine styles," Jeff says. "We continued our efforts to find interesting pairings looking along lesser-traveled paths for wines that could partner with the amount of spice and seasoning that the dishes call for."
Chicken wings get spice from lemon grass and Thai chilies, and Jeff recommends pairing them with Austrian Szigeti Gruner Veltliner sparkling wine.
He points to another sparkling wine, Argentinian Baja Tanga Rose Sec Cuvee, for fried shrimp spring rolls, crispy Brussels sprouts and fried P & J oysters.
"This rose sparkler lends itself to these kinds of dishes with that saltiness and crunchiness," Jeff says. "The wine's fruit-forward style balances the pairing with its clean effervescence and structure."
Jeff also suggests drinking Leitz Out riesling with MoPho's fried oysters. "The wine is crisp, with a pleasing minerality and low residual sugar," he says.
At the late chef Paul Prudhomme's French Quarter restaurant K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen (416 Chartres St., 504-596-2530; www.kpauls.com) he adapted Cajun recipes for a fine dining environment.
Prudhomme's approach to Cajun cooking featured well-seasoned dishes with more nuance and subtlety than spicy heat. General Manager Brenda Prudhomme-Miller, Paul's niece, and her husband, executive chef Paul Miller, maintain a wine list with more than 150 bottles.
Chicken and andouille gumbo has a dark roux and fragrant seasonings and Prudhomme-Miller recommends pairing it with Educated Guess cabernet sauvignon. She recommends California's Rombauer chardonnay with blackened Louisiana drum. A blackened stuffed pork chop with marchand de vin goes with The Prisoner, she says.
For beef tenderloin medallions blackened in a cast iron skillet and served with debris sauce. Prudhomme-Miller suggests a pairing with Orin Swift Cellar's Saldo zinfandel.