Indian food is as varied and exciting as the world of wine. The spices, rich flavours and fresh ingredients in Indian food can take some serious thought into which wines will work best with the flavours, weight, intensity and spice of the dishes.
And while you’ve probably heard (and applied) the “curry and a beer” union, we recommend giving your palate a treat next time you enjoy an Indian feast and finding the perfect wine match for Indian food.
Indian curries get their distinctive aromas and flavours from a combination of spices including curry leaves, coriander, cumin, tamarind, garlic, ginger, chilli, pepper, mustard seed, cinnamon, cloves and turmeric – to name a few. The spices are often toasted before being crushed our ground into a powder or paste, then fried in hot oil to release the flavours. These flavours are so complex and rich that finding the right wine can be a challenge. But it’s easy if you apply a few simple guidelines.
Match the weight, texture and intensity of the food to the weight, texture and intensity of the wines – white or red. But make sure you look for wines with upfront fruit.
Finding a wine match for a curry depends on the final ingredients.
Meat curries will naturally make a great match for red wines. Smart picks would be aromatic, fresh reds such as Grenache, cool-climate Shiraz with more delicate flavours (newsflash: Shiraz isn’t always big, rich and powerful), or fuller-bodied Pinot Noir – nothing too fragile.
If you’re keen on a Cabernet, perhaps look for a Cabernet blended with Malbec or Merlot to help round out the tannins. A softer palate will withstand the contrast of creamy, rich curry sauces than one with firm, drying tannins.
Lamb curry can match surprisingly well with a glass of oaked Chardonnay, unctuous Viognier or aged Marsanne.
For curries with chicken, seafood or vegetables, white wines can also help carry the spices nicely. The bright acidity and fresh fruit flavours in Riesling and Pinot Grigio, or the luscious rose-petal sweetness of Gewurztraminer work well with the richness of curries.
Tomato-based sauces tend to work better with white wines – the acidity clashes with red wines making them seem metallic and hollow.
Hint: don’t serve white wines too cold with Indian food. Straight from the fridge, the wines will be too cold to release the perfumed aromas and delicate flavours. Let them warm up a few degrees and you’ll enjoy the combination of fresh, lifted fruit flavours and rich, spicy food.
Rosé is a great choice for many Indian dishes, with the right balance of fruit flavour and acid crispness to work well with a variety of dishes. Rosé is the perfect choice for those moment when you can’t choose (or are disagreeing over) which wine to open.
A mild, creamy dahl made with lentils, split peas or dried beans opens the door to a range of white wines rather than red wines, which will be too harsh for the softness of the dish. A rich, buttery white such as Chardonnay, or toasty honeyed aged Semillon or Marsanne will have the ideal character to complement the lightness of the dish.
Eggplant tends to absorb the flavours in which it’s cooked, so choosing a wine will depend on the spices and flavours of the dish. Dark spices will suit lighter-bodied red wines like Grenache, Sangiovese, Tempranillo or Merlot, whereas lighter spices will sing with the aromatic qualities of white wines like Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio and Moscato.
Creamy spinach dishes such as saag paneer with spinach and Indian cheese or saag aloo with spinach and potato match beautifully with the richness and creaminess of rich white wines such as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Semillon or even fruitier whites like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Riesling.
Indian desserts tend to be intensely sweet and often incorporate milk, rice and nuts. The delicate flavours of Indian desserts deserve equally delicate wine matches such as Moscato, sweet-style Riesling or dessert wines. Avoid wines with too much acidity and they will taste harsh alongside the sweetness of Indian desserts, instead look for wines with softer acidity and sweet fruit.
Matching wine with Indian food can be a voyage of discovery. Experiment with different styles to see what works, and what doesn’t work, and you may be pleasantly surprised at how well your favourite wines match with your favourite Indian dishes.