“Traditional wine pairings don’t apply to Indian cuisine,” says Alpana Singh.
At 26, Singh became the first woman of South Asian descent to be certified as a Master Sommelier. She thinks it’s possible to pair wine with Indian dishes, despite the mistaken assumptions some people make about the country’s cuisines.
“I feel like it’s a general stereotype attached to food from regions that aren’t associated with wine production,” she says. She thinks Indian cuisine “doesn’t get the same attention as Eurocentric dishes or dishes from traditional wine regions”.
Scott Carney, dean of wine studies at the International Culinary Center in New York, notes that wine isn’t always part of the experience in the United States. “Some cultures regularly drink beer with their food,” he says.
A former sommelier at Junoon, an Indian restaurant in New York, Carney thinks some people are hesitant to pair wines with Indian cuisine out of respect for the flavors of the cuisine, believing that “drinking should take a back seat to the complexity of the spices,” he says. However, he found that “guests were willing to try pairings” at Junoon.
There are several ways for wine to complement the cumin, cardamom, coriander, and even red chili spices found in dishes like chicken tikka, dal makhani, and lamb vindaloo. Here are four key tips from Indian food and wine experts.
Pay attention to sauces and spices
When it comes to finding the right wine for an Indian dish, spices will usually take precedence over protein.
“Things to consider when pairing Indian cuisine are spices, sauce and seasoning,” says Singh. “We’re talking about very aggressive spices like cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, ginger, and garlic.” Finding a wine that resists these flavors is key.
Because of the residual sugar, Singh says a German Riesling Kabinett pairs well with dishes like palak paneer, a dish with cubes of soft cheese and a creamy spinach sauce.
Sandra Guibord, wine educator, agrees. “The freshness and acidity of a Riesling won’t overpower the spinach and will complement the creaminess,” says Guibord.
Tannins can increase the perception of spice and can overpower spicy dishes and accentuate bitterness. “You want to find a way to balance the essentials like sweetness, tartness, sourness, heat and spiciness, and texture,” adds Singh.
Pair dishes like chicken tikka masala with a merlot, says Guibord, because “the smoky flavor of tandoor cooking and subtle spices shine through when paired with a wine with softer tannins and fruitiness.”
Fruity wines with lower tannins can also complement the spiciness of Indian dishes, says Brent Karlicek, Certified Advanced Sommelier and Beverage Director for Upward Projects. Look for fruity reds like Cru Beaujolais or try a Gewürztraminer or Pinot Gris. “Maybe Gamay wines could be better when the heat is higher because of the ripeness of the fruit,” he says.
Be aware of alcohol content
Singh says spicy dishes like lamb vindaloo, which contains coconut, vinegar and lots of hot peppers, shouldn’t be paired with high-alcohol wine. Alcohol will amplify your perception of spice. This combo will cut the taste of other key ingredients.
Instead, Guibord advises a Grüner Veltliner. “The acidity in this wine will tone down the heat without overpowering the spice and flavor,” she says.
Red wine pairings for Indian dishes
A common misconception is that all Indian dishes contain chili pepper as the dominant seasoning. But many Indian dishes don’t have an overabundance of heat.
“Cilantro, cumin, and garam masala aren’t necessarily hot,” says Singh. “If you’re going to make a lamb dish with garam masala flavors, a Malbec is absolutely delicious with it.”
Keep in mind, though, to steer clear of a high-alcohol Malbec if you’re going to add chilies.
“Palak paneer can be paired with a deep, earthy Tempranillo or a peppery Zinfandel,” says Sidney Roberts, owner and chef of Indian restaurants G’Raj Mahal and Mumtaz Table & Bar in Austin. “Nothing holds up better and balances the pepperiness of a curry like Jalfrezi better than a Zinfandel. It’s so hot and spicy.
Although you won’t find many pork dishes on Indian menus, Roberts thinks Tempranillo is the right choice for the mild flavors of Mumtaz’s Pork Rechaad, a hotly spiced stew served with braised cabbage and pineapple. confit.
The American barbecue can provide some tips for skewers or boti meats. Try them with a Syrah or a Côtes du Rhône. “Anytime protein is fluffy, you need fluffy wine,” Singh says.
When in doubt, try Prosecco or Rosé
“I love Prosecco with Indian food, for several reasons,” says Singh. It tends to be lower in alcohol than reds or still whites, for example, and the notes of green apple and stone fruit can be refreshing. “It helps neutralize the heat and I love the cleansing effect of the bubbles,” she says.
Singh finds Prosecco goes especially well with samosas and anything with rich, creamy sauces, like makhana or butter chicken.
Roberts likes rosé with chaats and tomato cream sauces like tikka masala or makhana.
“We’ve been incredibly lucky with dry, crisp rosés to provide a nice balance to so many dishes on the menu,” she says.