When paired with the right food, wine can enhance the dining experience, adding interesting nuances, flavor and textures. Pairing wine with food is an art that leads to a greater appreciation of both the food and the wine. Here are some pointers on how to pair wine with Indian food.
Indian cuisine is a smorgasbord of flavors, colors and spices. The cuisine varies widely from state to state and sometimes even from neighboring town to town. Some regions prefer rice, others wheat, some parts favour mustard oil, others coconut oil and so on. Ultimately, great tasting food is the one unifying factor across regions.
The cooking method used determines the predominant flavors in Indian cuisine (for example, the smoky flavors from the ‘tandoor’). The predominant flavor of a dish is also influenced by the base for the curry (or sauces), the use of seasonings (such as ginger, garlic, and choice of spices) or the blending of ingredients such as a masala with herbs.
Thus, the overall flavors of a dish result from a combination of these elements, of which there are a myriad of choices
At a traditional Indian meal several dishes are served at the same time and are meant to be shared.
Therefore, the wine/s chosen for such a meal need to be versatile, to pair with and enhance the experience of Indian regional cuisines.
Matching Indian food and wines seems a complex task on its face but becomes simpler by following a few thumb-rules.
Here are some suggestions to consider while pairing wines with Indian food:
The complement principle - Choose a wine that is similar in some ways to the dish.
Look for the right balance – the wine should not dominate the food, neither should the food dominate the wine. Choose a light bodied wine for lighter dishes, a medium bodied wine to go with fuller dish and a fuller bodied wine with heavier dishes.
The contrast principle – Choose food and wine that are dissimilar to each other
The contrast principle means looking at flavors or textures in the wine that aren’t in the food but would enhance it.
Indian dishes often are a combination of many ingredients and flavors. They can be identified with a particular overall flavor, such as Spicy, Sweet, Bitter, Smoky or Rich; then one can pair these flavor profiles with either a complementing wine or a contrasting wine.
Sweet – Key Ingredient
Popular dishes with sweetness - Pumpkin ‘Subzi’, Dhansak Dal (a Parsee dish).
Complementing Wine: Choose a wine with sufficient sweetness or an off-dry style of wine to accompany the food like the Early Dark Chardonnay (white), Early Dark Rosé .
Avoid: Contrasting wine such as dry Sauvignon Blanc as it will clash with the flavours. Red Wines in contrast will seem sour in taste.
Spicy – Key Components
Popular spicy dishes – Goan Vindaloo, Andhra Chicken Curry
Complementing Wine: Medium to full body with a fruity profile and soft and velvety tannins – like the Early Dark Reserve Negrette - Syrah - Gamay .
Contrasting Wine: Medium to full bodied White or a Red Wine with crisp acidity, concentrated fruit and slight sweetness to tone down spices – like the Early Dark Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (white) or the Early Dark Cabernet – Merlot (red).
Sour – Key Components
Popular dishes with sourness – Goan Prawn curry, Ambti (Maharashtra), Ulli Theeyal (Kerala), coastal fish curries.
Complementing Wine: Choose a flavorful crisp dry White Wine or medium bodied Red wine with enough acidity to match the food – like the Early Dark Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, Early Dark Rosé or Cabernet - Merlot .
Avoid: Off dry-styles of wines, which will be sourer and feel much more acidic in taste.
Smoky – Key Components
Dishes – Tandoori Chicken, Grilled Lamb Chops
Complementing Wine: Choose a mature Red Wine with fine textural elements in the tannins that brings out the subtle spices from the meat – like the Early Dark Reserve Negrette - Syrah - Gamay.
Contrasting Wine: Dishes with caramelization on the outside and a moist inside, such as lightly spiced paneer and vegetables from the tandoor, may be paired with rounder, richer and fruitier wines – like the Early Dark Chardonnay & Rosé .
Rich – Key Components
Dish – Dal Makhani, Butter Chicken
Complementing Wine: Choose a silky texture aromatic White Wine with fresh acidity to cut through the fat – like the Early Dark Reserve Sauvignon Blanc.
Contrasting Wine: Full bodied Red Wine with modest tannin and oak to match the richness in the food - like the Early Dark Reserve Negrette - Syrah – Gamay .