Curries and Wine: A Blessing or a Disaster?

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What’s a good beverage that conjures up in your cerebral cortex when you think of Indian food? I can bet you it’s not even alcohol that first comes to your mind. Who in their right minds can pair a spicy lamb vindaloo or a creamy, rich vegetable korma with any spirits? Aren’t they already scorching enough to light up our guts that we need to add more fuel of fermented grapes? Isn’t mango lassi or chilled water all one can take with these savory curries?

Turns out India has had a long love affair with wine. The Persians brought viticulture to the Indus valley during the 4th century B.C. The Vedic holy scriptures even make references to a rice wine fermented with honey called sura. The Portuguese brought the ports and fortified wines. The Dutch picked up the baton, grew more grapes in the south west regions of India. Had the phylloxera insect not preyed upon half of the world’s grape vines during the 18th and 19th centuries, India would have been producing sommelier samurais by the millions! Not all hope is lost, nevertheless. India has made a mighty comeback in the past decade.

Everyone knows the old adage that reds go with meats and white wine with fish. But what about the vegetables? India cooks over 55 versions of lentils across the country. Most vegetarian dishes have layers of sweet, spicy and salty flavors.

Below are 3 most favorable wines that my friends and I have found to work well with the spicy dishes. Enjoy!

Riesling

One of the most flavorful, fruity and aromatic white wines of the world. Depending on your palate, you can choose from a bone dry Riesling from Washington, New York or Trocken (dry) Germany or a sweet one from any regular German Rieslings that don’t say Trocken on the label. Upstate New York produces respectable, drinkable and very reasonably priced Rieslings. Hot, zesty curries need a cool balancer which this wine provides. Rieslings greatly compliment spicy food notes and allow you to experience each ingredient on its own turf. Don’t drink your white wines too chilled as the practice masks the amazing aromas of the wine. Just pull out the chilled wine from the refrigerator and let it chill out on the counter top for a few minutes before the pour. Look out for a dry Riesling called SURU from Long Island or a semi-sweet Kabinett Riesling from Germany. Affordable and delicious!

Sauvignon Blanc

This is one of my favorite white wines to be had with Indian food. Not overly sweet with delicious notes of citrus, grass and minerals, it never overpowers but rather complements the layered nuances of curries. Crisp, elegant and fresh are the descriptors used by wine experts to dish out this wine. I recently had a delicious Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre region (or Sancerre wine as popularly referred to) with my homemade fish curry. It almost felt like my mouth was saying finally you got thisto me. The smooth citrus notes of the wine really made the cilantro and cloves of the fish curry sing hallelujah. Pick up a Sancerre or any Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand with Indian grubs next time. You will love it!

Pinot Noir

It is typically a dry, fruity, light to medium bodied wine. Aromas of raspberries, blackberries, raisins, strawberries engulf the wine. It is one of my most favorable (arguably the only) red wines to enjoy with Indian dishes. A lightly structured wine is very important to counterbalance the rich, creaminess of the ethnic food. Known as a noble grape, it is one of the hardest grapes to grow andget it right. The only other red wine that’s a close second would be a light Zinfandel. Whatever you do, please don’t game up high booze content and high tannic reds with Indian dishes. It will add heat and bitterness to an already flavorful palate, not to mention a possible dash to the loo! So… please pair up a delicious Oregon or a Burgundy Pinot Noir with that maharaja cuisine next time!

Gautam Sachdev