5 Wines to Pair with Indian Food Classics

 


The best Indian food I ever had was when my friend Aman’s parents would visit from Ahmedabad and his mother would cook wonderful meals for us. Beautifully seasoned, all vegetarian, and all made with love in the traditional style of Gujarat. Unfortunately, I never wrote down the names of any of the dishes and have never seen anything like them on a menu since.

Indian cuisine is highly diverse as you’d expect from a nation of 1.2 billion people with a wide range of ingredients, religions, and different histories that all come together to shape the local dinner table—a table that traditionally hasn’t featured wine. 

But Indian food has found wide popularity around the world due to centuries of international trade and the South Asian diaspora. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to skip a thesis-length examination into pure, authentic Indian cuisine and instead focus on the dishes that are commonly found in small family restaurants and takeaway shops outside of the subcontinent. 

This genre has often been cited as notoriously difficult to pair with wine, but I think that stems from lack of experience as well as a fear of working without a net: no established rules like red with beef and white with fish (which I break all the time). You can have fun with all sorts of surprising combinations. You may not find these wine options at your neighborhood restaurant, but you can certainly enjoy them back home with piles of steaming basmati rice and slightly crispy naan. 

Photo credit: Amber Indian Restaurant

Appetizers

There are dozens of different Indian appetizers, and not all of them are deep fried… but many of the most delicious ones are. Whether we’re talking about pakora (batter-fried vegetables) or samosas (stuffed and fried pastries), there are a lot of different ingredient and spice combinations to be found out there, not to mention the various dipping sauces like mint, tamarind, raita, etc. What to do with so many different potential flavors? The answer to this question is almost always sparkling, which will also hold up for anything with heat. 
 
Try NV Michelle Brut from Columbia Valley Washington 63% Chardonnay, 19% Pinot Noir, 18% Pinot Gris $13, 11.5% abv.) This is one of my go-to bubblies, previously sold under the name Domaine Ste. Michelle. If I could just keep a few cases around the house at all times I would do so. A touch of sweetness from the dosage will help make it a welcome choice for wine novices. It's got a light apple and citrus profile, and there's enough body here to stand up to a wide range of foods, which makes it ideal for that appetizer course with a group of friends. 
 
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Chicken Tikka Masala

The least authentic of the dishes but also the most popular and familiar. Tomatoes are not native to India and some theories peg the invention of the dish to 20th century England, where cream and tomato soup were combined to make a mild but savory curry that would not terrify the British palate. The ingredients and preparation vary wildly across the world, and you’re probably stuck thinking that the place you first had it represents the one true recipe. Chicken and tomato sauce makes me think of Italy, so let’s go with a 2012 DaVinci Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige/Trentino, Italy (90% Pinot Grigio, 10% Chardonnay $12, 12.5% abv.) 
 
There’s a lot of boring Pinot Grigio out there, but I’m always excited to encounter one with a little more power. Additionally, rice dishes are popular in Northern Italy where this particular wine originates. This bottle shows peach and apricot with a touch of buttery popcorn underneath, making me think that the Chardonnay saw a little oak and gives the wine a little deeper structure. Bright fruit, tart acidity, and a medium finish. Serve well-chilled for that casual mid-week dinner in front of the television. 
 
Photo credit: Jaalibean

Saag Paneer

Is it too late to start a movement to make saag paneer a staple at every American Thanksgiving? While made with a variety of greens in India it is generally made with spinach in the U.S. and combined with cream and masala spice blends. We’ve all had creamed spinach, but the best part comes from the cubes of freshly made cheese that provide a wonderful textural contrast as well as adding a unique dairy flavor. I decided to choose a 2012 Martín Códax Albariño from Rías Baixas, Spain (100% Albariño (link grape), $15, 12.5% abv.)
 
There are many ways to pair a wine with food, and one is contrast. Here I wanted something to cut through the rich flavors and provide refreshment. This vintage of the popular Spanish white opened up with melon and floral aromas. On the palate, it shows mild white fruit flavors with bright, medium acidity and a slightly tart finish. Find a way to serve these together this holiday season and your family will be giving thanks to you.
 
Photo credit: Kohinoor Restaurant

Aloo Gobi

A midwestern combination of cauliflower and potatoes would probably be one of the most boring dishes ever on both the visual and flavor scales. Yet it is amazing how two humble vegetables can be elevated with generous seasonings including ginger-garlic paste, peppers, and cilantro leaves for garnish. When made with oil instead of ghee, it is also one of the most flavorful vegan dishes I’ve ever consumed. Which means I’m going to uncork a 2011 Hugel Gewurztraminer from Alsace, France (100% Gewürztraminer $23, 14% abv.)
 
Gewürztraminer is a standard pairing for anything spicy, non-European, and otherwise confusing, but there are times when the old rule fits. This bottle showed up sweet and spicy, round with low acidity. Really a classic Gewürztraminer and highly representative of Alsatian winemaking. It provides a little relief from the heat while also not being overwhelmed by the spices in the food. 
 
Photo credit: Palakkad Chamayal 

Lamb Vindaloo

Vindaloo comes from the tiny state of Goa, which was a Portuguese possession for 450 years until the 1960s. And thus vindaloo is the Goan adaptation of the Portuguese dish carne de vinha d'alhos—meat with wine and garlic. In vindaloo vinegar is substituted for the wine and is often made much hotter. I like dry rosé with lamb, I like sparkling wine with hot food, and something from Portugal seems appropriate. Try a 2012 Quinta das Arcas Conde Villar Rosé Vinho Verde, Portugal (100% Espadeiro, $10, 11.5% abv.)
 
This has just a slight fizz that mostly disappears as the wine rests in the glass. There is an alluring tart apricot skin aroma but with a gentle light fruit body. Once again, this is a dry rosé, and one with a light raspberry finish that keeps you coming back for more. While most of the Vinho Verde consumed here in the United States is well under 10% alcohol, this one clocks in at nearly 12%, so pace yourself as you get thirsty. 
 
Photo credit: Sula Indian Restaurant
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Comments

  • Great. I would love to have these dishes prepared and served each wine choices you have picked.thank you for opening me up to a new way of paring.

    Nov 14, 2014 at 11:36 AM


  • Snooth User: pamela2
    Hand of Snooth
    348797 10

    Have you ever tried Caymus Connumdrum with Indian food? I did a few years ago as part of a pairing exercise to match this wine with the most typical take out foods of NY and my favorite was the Chicken Tikka Masala.
    Try it and have fun!

    Nov 14, 2014 at 12:43 PM


  • Snooth User: cma238
    1295124 214

    Pamela2 that sounds wonderful! Any options for...naan & cheese?? I know paneer is a cheese but what else?

    Nov 14, 2014 at 1:57 PM


  • Snooth User: pamela2
    Hand of Snooth
    348797 10

    Naan, even with cheese, is very mild: any light red or white will do. I'm biased to Beaujolais this time of year but this one is an easy pairing. I love that bread (and I am French so it says a lot), but usually get cheated by my kids who jump on it before we have anytime to get some.
    :)

    Nov 14, 2014 at 3:34 PM


  • Snooth User: zinfandel1
    Hand of Snooth
    154660 1,085

    I love Indian food but never sure about the wines. Thank you for clarifying.

    Nov 14, 2014 at 4:26 PM


  • Beer always comes to mind as the best alcoholic beverage to accompany Asian or spicy food, but wine is also quite appropriate when correctly chosen. All of the wines you suggest are great with Asian or spicy food, but your choices are so good because I believe you have picked exactly the right varietal to go with its most appropriate dish. Well done! I have chosen the same or very similar varietals to go with Thai food. Fresh water should be served with the wines and save the tea for before or after the meal.

    Nov 14, 2014 at 4:36 PM


  • Snooth User: catseda
    1112970 21

    This is a great article. Not only beautifully written but crave-inducing also. Guess I'll be having Indian food for dinner.

    Nov 14, 2014 at 5:40 PM


  • Snooth User: Ben Carter
    1265097 20

    Glad you all enjoyed it! The research was delicious.

    Nov 15, 2014 at 7:30 AM


  • Snooth User: Damndit
    551960 218

    This might sound strange but believe me this paring works with most Indian dishes. Australian Sparkling Shiraz, good ones would be Seppelts, Rockwood, Turkey Flat and the soon to be released Molly Dooker. As mentioned in the article a wine with a touch of sweetness generally pairs very well with Indian food. Sparkling Shiraz does have this sweetness as well as the spice Shiraz has along with its mocha and red berry flavours topped off with the oak imparted flavours of Vanilla and coconut, it just seems to compliment the spice and coconut flavours in the food. Give it a go and I think you will be very pleasantly surprised!

    Nov 19, 2014 at 3:53 AM


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