The compatibility of Indian dishes and wine is a hotly debated subject.
For years, the quality of wines offered in UK curry houses was so poor, we happily drank lager with our chicken jalfrezis. Now we are drinking more wines, eating more take-aways – and restaurants have responded by dramatically improving their wines.
One of the first lessons in vino and curry pairing is not to go with your usual pinot grigio. Think hard about matching flavour and aromatics – and calming down the chilli heat.
To help with this challenge I enlisted two Indian food and wine experts; Edinburgh wine merchant Zubair Mohammed of Raeburn Fine Wines – and Bangalore-based food and wine writer Ruma Singh (www.rumasingh.com).
Mohammed says it must be “proper” Indian food – made with fresh ingredients.
“My first tip is to avoid fizz,” says Mohammed. “I don’t think gas works with food as it causes a metallic taste.”
“As a rule I avoid bone-dry whites,” he adds, “Off-dry whites like German Kabinett riesling or demi-sec Loire vouvray with residual sweetness work better, as sugar takes heat out of the dish.”
Singh says riesling, gewurztraminer and chenin blanc are good spicy matches. Wine with natural acidity is also important to keep freshness in hot and sour dishes. Both suggest avoiding oaky whites and choosing moderate alcohol levels.
When it comes to red wine, Mohammed recommends “avoiding tannic, high-alcohol reds”. Singh agrees, suggesting Rhône reds.
Tannins clash with chillis, so try lighter, fruitier, fresher reds with good natural acidity. Favourites are Loire cabernet franc for Mohammed and New World pinot noir, rather than burgundy, for Singh.
Singh thinks the ideal wine to serve throughout a meal is rosé. “They combine the structure of a light red with the crisp acid of dry whites.”
She points out that it is not correct to bunch all cuisines of the whole Indian sub-continent together. “It depends whether the specific Indian dish is spicy (chilli-hot), in creamy gravy, or cooked in a tandoor like some northern cuisines, or pepper-hot as the cuisine from Kerala down south. However, new age Indian cooking with an accent on healthy eating has meant a shift to subtler flavours which make more interesting wine pairings,” says Singh.
Spicy prawn Malawar
Spicy seafood and coconut curry needs a fruity white or rosé. For an unusual sweet-sour white try Single Vineyard Malagousia 2015 (£15, www.winetrust100.co.uk) from Macedonia in Greece. If you prefer Italian whites try the crisp, zesty Falaghina Beneventano 2015 (£10.89, Valvona & Crolla).
Singh recommends either fruity New World pinot noir or riesling with lamb kebab, depending on how spicy it is. Try delicious, zippy, off-dry Marlborough Greywacke Riesling 2015 (£18.99, Majestic Wine).
Mild spices in a creamy coconut sauce need good acid whites with some residual sugar such as Badenhurst Secateurs 2014 (£12.99, Raeburn Wines). Alternatively, try off-dry, lightly spiced Marlborough Tikohi Pinot Gris (£10.79/£11.99, www.laithwaites.co.uk).
Chicken tikka masala
Needs fruit-forward, full-flavoured white. Try multi-varietal spicy Peter Lehmann Layers 2014 (£10.99, Henderson Wines) – with just 11 per cent alcohol, or opt for easy quaffing Hilltop Neszmely Czersegi Fuszeres (£7, Asda).
Subtle lamb curry needs fruity, high-acid reds like Loire cabernet franc, bourgogne rouge or beaujolais. Try Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune 2008 Domaine Rollin (£15.99, Raeburn Wines) or for an inexpensive option, Fleurie La Croix des Celestins 2014 (£7.99, Lidl).
A robust lamb dish including ginger, coriander and Maharastran goda masala is best with Chilean Max Reserva Carmenere (£15, Asda online; Ellies Cellar) or Feiler-Artinger Blaufrankisch 2014 (£11.29, Waitrose).
Indian sommeliers recommend anything from Loire cabernet franc to Alsace gewurztraminer with spicy vindaloo, but dishes with this level of heat can kill your taste buds. Mohammed thinks lamb vindaloo can match well with fruity Rhone reds, whilst Singh suggests gewurztraminer with chicken vindaloo.
Tikohi Pinot Gris 2015 - STAR BUY
Quince, honey, just off-dry Kiwi white, a versatile choice with creamy, spicy curries.
Brundlmayer Zweigelt Rosé 2013 - STAR BUY
Ripe, fruity Austrian rosé with a touch of residual sweetness; delicious matched with spicy prawn curry.
£15.99, Raeburn Wines
Côtes Du Rhone Villages Chusclan 2014 - STAR BUY
Lifted fruit notes and fresh acidity would work well with lamb-based curry.
• Join Rose’s Alsace, Rhone & Savoie tasting in Edinburgh on 22 September, £42, www.rose murraybrown.com