By Rob Hemphill
I am often asked, “can you drink wine with curry, and if so what is a good wine to serve with it”? Absolutely, curry and wine match really well, but what you must do is to pair up the heat in the curry with the fruit and freshness in the wine, so bringing out the best in both.
Many main ingredients used in Indian or Indian based dishes may be hot and lively, but they are wine friendly. There is a misnomer that no wine matches any curry, therefore people just stick to watery, thin lagers to wash down the complex array of spices in the curries.
A still wine is preferable to a lager or tea. In curries laden with chillies, the fizz in the lager aggravates the tongue and palate as it races around the mouth, while the tannin in herbal teas is too severe and clashes with spicy foods.
The ideal styles of wine to go for to help quench the curry fire are:
- Lightweight, high acid, low tannin, slurping reds that take kindly to being chilled. Something like Beaujolais would fit the bill well.
- A similarly styled off dry, new world pink made from flavoursome grapes is also a good choice. These grapes are grown in a good location by winemakers who are taking pink wine production much more seriously.
- Many white wines are acceptable, but the rule of thumb with whites and hot food is to choose something with higher acidity and plenty of fruit flavours. Simply try wines that are young and fresh with crisp acidity.
Some budget wines will suffice if you skip the more powerful ingredients when making the curry, like chillies and spiced garlic, but we like those extra flavours. So we need to find a few wines that really suit hot, spicy dishes. Like all good wine and food pairings, a balance of flavours must be made in both to complement each.
A difficulty pairing wine with Indian cuisine is that everyone orders, or cooks several side dishes at once, this makes it hard to match the perfect wine. But here are a few white wines [with general tasting notes] which should work well – the whites have the edge over the reds in my book:
- Riesling, medium dry – A waxy wine with delicate, flowery tones. Vibrant tropical fruits on the palate with a citrus freshness to cut through the heat. Long and well balanced.
- Gewurztraminer, off dry – This wonderful aromatic wine is perfect to counteract the heat and add some lovely tropical flavours to the meal like cinnamon, honey, apricot, pear, and rose petals. Alsace in France and New Zealand are renowned for their concentrated versions.
- Sauvignon Blanc, dry or off dry – Again, New Zealand with its cool climate, produces some of the best Sauvignon Blancs as well as Australia. Look out for the herbaceous flavours of grass, lemon-grass, apple and gooseberry which together give this wine its unique character and freshness. Drink while still fairly young and lively.
- Chenin Blanc, off dry – Grown in the Loire Valley of France, South Africa and California in the United States. A young Chenin Blanc is a subtle, vibrant wine, often with scents of guava giving way to tropical aromas, such as quince and ripe melon, as well as some herbal undertones.
Remember to try and balance the flavour of the wine with the spiciness of the food. Look for dominant flavours and aromas to use as markers. Don’t be shy to experiment with different wine types and vintages, and soon you will have a database of flavours in your mind ready for the right occasion.
Next time you have a curry, be brave and get the taste buds working. Find your perfect wine to accompany the spice-rich fire that awaits, and try not to always settle for a lager or beer.
There are a host of lovely wines to serve with all types of curry, so go get ’em!
Rob Hemphill has been a professional winemaker for over 20 years, and is now a freelance marketing writer living in Ireland. He specializes in wine consultancy and has a wide knowledge in vines, vineyards and wine growing techniques as well. His favourite varietals are Gewurztraminer and Shiraz.