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In This Issue
 Fire extinguishers I love fiery fare. I love wine, too. But I rarely love fiery dishes and wine together. What's the problem here?
 Bruno Verdi 2005 Oltrepò Pavese Sangue di Giuda Paradiso ($12.99) Fizzy, frothy, sweet and tart, this Lombardy red is fun but not silly. And it goes great with fiery fare.
 Sing, Sang, Sung In which I fight a past participle and the past participle wins.
 Tour and poll If you haven't yet voted in our French wine-tour poll, please help me out and do it today.
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Fire extinguishers

I love fiery fare, the hotter the better. From five-pepper Thai or Sichuan to Indian vindaloos and on to searing Jamaican, sweat-provoking Cajun or the lovely earthy heat of Mexican chile peppers, I say, "Bring it on!"

I love wine, too.

But I rarely love fiery dishes and wine together. What's the problem here?

Let's review a little food chemistry: The active ingredient in hot chile peppers is called capsaicin (pronounced "cap-SAY-uh-sin"), a flavorful substance that prompts your trigeminal nerve to release "substance P," a chemical messenger that tells your brain something's burning. The brain responds, scientists say, by producing endorphins - natural painkillers that generate a sense of well-being. It's something like a "runner's high," without the exercise.

So far, so good. But here's the bad news: Following that happy heat with a gulp of wine can turn this mellow burn into a less pleasant pain. It's not unlike pouring alcohol on a burn, and in fact that's pretty much what you're doing.

Of course, I still keep trying to find wines that work with heat, or at least that won't absolutely war with more modestly hot-and-spicy dishes.

If you want to join me in the quest, here are a few tips I've learned for matching wines with hot stuff:

  • Fizz helps. Carbonated bubbles seem to scrub some of the heat from your palate, whether it's beer or bubbly. Try a sparkling wine.
  • Low alcohol. If part of the problem is that alcohol intensifies the burning sensation, go with lighter wines with alcohol content below the 12 percent level.
  • A little bit of sugar. I'm not sure what chemical process is in play here, but in my experience, off-dry to gently sweet wines seem more friendly to spicy fare than bone-dry items.
  • Tangy acidity. If alcohol exaggerates the "burn," it seems that tart acidity might be a problem too. In practice, however, high-acid wines seem to create a mouth-watering effect that can dilute the fire.

This set of criteria pretty much rules out inky blockbusters like big Shirazes and roughly tannic reds such as California Cabernets and immature Bordeaux. But it leaves sparkling wines, German Rieslings, Italian Moscato d'Asti and even high-acid food wines like Chianti and fruit-forward items like some of the less powerfully alcoholic Zinfandels very much in play.

But here's something to think about: Does any wine incorporate all of the above criteria ... fizzy, low-alcohol, slightly sweet, acidic and fruity? Well, yes, as a matter of fact. The Italian Lambrusco fits this description to a T, and that rhymes with "P" and that stands for, well, "peppers."

Now, Lambrusco is not a niche that most wine enthusiasts regard highly, particularly because mass-market Riunite and Cella have flooded the international market with very inexpensive, industrially produced models that wine geeks (not entirely fairly) rate as swill. Artisanal Lambruscos can be delightful, though; and a somewhat similar, much more obscure treat from Lombardy, Sangue di Giuda, makes an even more intriguing low-alcohol, fizzy red quaff ... if you can find it.

I reported about this time last year on the 2004 Sangue di Giuda. For today's tasting, I tried the just-arrived 2005 with a fiery Sichuan tofu-and-ground-beef stir-fry. Its frothy, sweet-yet-acidic fizz and very low alcohol made it a surprisingly good match, and its fresh fruit and bitter-almond flavors couldn't have been better with the dish.

Sangue di Giuda Bruno Verdi 2005 Oltrepò Pavese Sangue di Giuda Paradiso ($12.99)

Clear dark ruby with glints of reddish-orange, it pours with a quick froth, and tiny bubbles ring the glass. Dried plums and warm fruitcake spices provide aroma interest, and the flavor is softly sweet but not "sticky," very quaffable with low (7%) alcohol and a touch of bitter almond in the finish. Meant as a compliment, it's a Coke for grown-ups. U.S. importer: Rosenthal Wine Merchant, NYC. (Sept. 11, 2006)

FOOD MATCH: The wine's frothy fizz, sweet-tart flavor and low alcohol make it a startlingly effective companion with fiery chile-pepper dishes. It was not merely quenching but an intriguing flavor match with a fiery Sichuan tofu and ground-beef stir-fry.

VALUE: Never mind that you can get cheap Lambrusco for $5: This one's a worthwhile experience at an entirely reasonable price point.

WHEN TO DRINK: It would be silly to cellar this fresh, fruity treat. Drink it up over the next year.

Sangue di Giuda = "San-gway dee Joo-dah"

WEB LINK: Bruno Verdi has an in-depth and informative site about the family winery, its history, vineyards and wines, online in Italian and English. Here's the English-language home page:
The U.S. importer has similar information in English plain-text format:

FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Bruno Verdi's wines aren't widely distributed. I get them from Chambers Street Wines in NYC,

To find other vendors and check prices for Bruno Verdi wines, click to the databases on

To read and comment on today's column in our non-commercial WineLovers Discussion Group, click:

Today's article is cross-posted in our Netscape WineLovers Community, where we also welcome comments and questions.

To contact me by E-mail, write I'll respond personally to the extent that time and volume permit.

Here's a simply formatted copy of today's Wine Advisor, designed to be printed out for your scrapbook or file or downloaded to your PDA or other wireless device.

Sing, Sang, Sung

Writers are generally embarrassed to admit errors, which is why the scorrections in your daily newspaper are usually listed on a back page even if the original mistake appeared in big letters on the front.

But my egregious use of the past participle "sung" where I should have used the past tense "sang" in Monday's edition inspired such kind, gentle but firm corrections from a few grammarian readers that it would be wrong for me not to acknowlege it. Particularly since my college major was, er, in English, and so I should have known better.

I am now writing "It has only been about a year since I last sang the praises of Muscadet" on the blackboard. One hundred times.

This week's poll:
Which French wine region would you like to visit with me?

In Monday's edition, announcing our plans to return to France next year for a wine-and-food tour with our friends at French Wine Explorers, I invited you to particpate in an online poll to choose the wine region of France that you'd most like to visit with me.

We've had a good response, but in the interest of planning I'd like to have an even larger turnout. So, even if you don't think it's likely that you'd join such a tour, I would still love to have you cast a theoretical vote. It just takes a minute, and you don't have to log in to our CompuServe forum to participate. Simply click to the poll,
and click the region that interests you most.

And of course, if there's even a small chance that you might like to participate personally in such a tour next spring or summer, please contact me by E-mail at and let me know. There's absolutely no commitment, but I'll be happy to add you to French Wine Explorers' list for personal notification.


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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.

Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2006
Copyright 2006 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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