Many American wine drinkers prefer their wines to be as strong as possible — big, red, and robust, with at least 14 percent alcohol. But there are many circumstances where a wine's sheer power can be more of a weakness than a strength. The most obvious of these is when wine is being served alongside spicy foods, which can bring even the mightiest of big reds to their knees, leaving them tasting unpleasantly harsh, bitter, and boozy. Faced with the same challenge, lighter white wines that fall below 13 percent alcohol, such as Rieslings, rise to the occasion, particularly if they also contain a hint of natural grape sweetness. Like figure skaters skating circles around muscle-bound hockey players, their very lightness plays a key role in their dexterity and grace. This makes more sense once we know that alcohol itself is the main culprit when wine clashes with spicy food, and that the hotter the dish, the more sweetness can provide the palate with soothing relief. This happens because spicy heat is not a flavor, per se, but more a physical sensation of burning in the mouth. Because alcohol irritates and prolongs the burn, it is the lower-alcohol wines (and beers) that best tame the flames. This delightful Washington Riesling is a perfect choice for foods with a spicy kick. It features bright flavors of green apples, rhubarb, and jasmine blossoms, with a pleasing touch of sweetness.
Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Washington, $11.99 (Regularly $13.99; sale price through Jan. 28.) PLCB item #7465