A top chef explains how to get the most bang for your Bordeaux when it comes to spicy food.

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Chile Wine Pairings
Credit: Romana Lilic/Getty Images

Mexican food can be very complex—spicy, acidic, floral, and rich. Pairing wine with so many assertive flavors can be challenging.

Gabriela Cámara, chef and owner of Contramar in Mexico City and Cala in San Francisco, says, “Light, fruit-forward wines pair well with spicy and acidic Mexican food.” And for grilled and raw seafood dishes, she prefers bright, coastal whites.

“But overall, chiles are the foundation of Mexican cuisine,” she says. Chiles add flavor and sweetness to dishes in addition to heat. Although capsaicin, the chemical that gives chiles their heat, is soluble in alcohol, higher-proof drinks can add to the burning sensation, so opt for wines and low-alcohol beer. The fizziness of effervescent wines can also help when your mouth feels like it’s on fire, so try light, sparkling wines with more intense chile-spiked dishes.

A big red like a Zinfandel can actually accentuate the heat of mildly spicy dishes in a good way.

For hotter but not fiery tastes, try a low-alcohol red like a Beaujolais.

Medium: NV Poema Cava Brut($15)

The bubbles in a light sparkling Cava seem to magically lessen heat—Don’t ask why, just enjoy.

Medium Hot: 2017 Nik Weis Selection Urban Riesling ($16)

Off-dry German Rieslings are ideal when spiciness starts to get fierce.

Hot: Pacifico Lager ($2)

At melt-your-face heat levels, give up on wine and go for beer. Your life will be better. Seriously.