For most people, the world of wine is often seen as mysterious, seductive, esoteric, and yet mostly confusing. Particularly, wine and food pairing is an especially common dilemma. The obscurity of choosing wines that compliment complex foods is even larger of a reservation. India, a country fairly novel to wine drinking, is suddenly witnessing a fanatical growth in people who have started enjoying and experimenting with a glass of wine. With wines being predominantly a discovery of the West; it has not been easy for us Indians to combine them with Indian cuisine. It is only experimentation and self-discovery that will lead to some acceptable answers on, “Which wines qualify with an Indian meal?”
“Wine is bottled poetry.”
- Robert Louis Stevenson
Not only is India an immense country; each part our nation boasts of a varied gastronomy. There are specialties that not only differ between each state, but also from one district to another. Hence, to merely set rules on how to couple wines with kinds of Indian food is a knotty matter to resolve.
There are of course, the monotonous Old World rules. Red wine to be had with meats, and white wine to be consumed with poultry, fish & seafood. But this is long gone and obsolete. And whatever happened to the vegetarians? Since a substantial fraction of the Indian population is vegetarian, surely there must be some means for them to enjoy a glass of wine with a meal of their preference. These rules can obviously set directives, but they are not to be complied with in all circumstances. In fact, I would encourage people to discover their own individual matches, and realize their favorite wine and Indian food combinations.
Indian food is associated with spices. Dishes like Chicken Tikka Masala, Tandoori prawns, Kadhai Paneer are frequently piquant and with complex flavors and aromas. Wines highly eminent in tartness like the Sauvignon Blanc, would go well with these sort of meals. I would also opt for a young red Cotes Du Rhone or an Australian Shiraz and keep it in the refrigerator for a tad bit longer than usual. It is particularly important to serve wines at a suitable temperature. White wines at 5-8 degrees and reds at approximately 15 degrees. Keeping the Indian room temperature in mind, I would advise serving wines at cooler rather than warmer temperatures. Spicy foods taste much more pleasant with a cooler accompaniment. One must also keep in mind the alcohol content of the wine. I would steer clear from any wine bottle above 12% alcohol percentage while serving an Indian meal (Most wines vary between 10.5-12.5% alcohol.) This information is usually accessible on the back label of the wine bottle.
There are some superb white wines that I would especially duo with Tandoori food. This type of preparation is usually low on the spice, yet laden with aromas and flavors. My all-time favorite is a chilled Gewürztraminer from the region of Alsace in France. A white German Riesling is also a brilliant option If difficult to acquire from your nearest wine store, I would recommend a local White Zinfandel, which is a pink wine. This wine is usually slightly sweet and yet has balanced acidity and fruity notes which make a good marriage with Paneer Tikkas, Reshmi Kebabs, and Tandoori breads.
Dessert wines like the Sauternes of France or a delicious Port wine is consumed in most parts of the world with select desserts, cheese or by themselves after a meal. Indian desserts are usually rich with ghee and sugar,,and tend to throw most wines off balance instead of accentuating the taste. Although there are some Indian desserts like the cottage cheese based, semi sweet “Sandesh” that is traditional to West Bengal, which would pair well with a sweet Muscat or even a rich Semillion.
There is some widespread debate on how well Indian wines pair with Indian food. I personally, am optimistic on that rationale. Wine usually compliments the traditional cuisine of the country of its produce. I would recommend Indian produced Shiraz, the Viognier and Chenin Blanc. Sparkling wines pair excellently with Indian cuisine. So I would say a flute of Champagne or even an Indian produced sparking wine would be a safe bet. I would also like to mention that Merlot is a red wine that does not agree with Indian food due its very tannic nature, as the spices in the meal usually overpower the flavors of this grape and vice versa. I would press on the fact that no food is off-limit to wines. It is only a matter of discovery matched with a series of trials and errors before you have the prized combination. The realm of delicious matches is only limited to your imagination.
About Shagun Mehra
Studied Hotel Management Post Dip student from Ecole Les Roches, Switzerland and completed my bachelors in English Literature, and studied Culinary Arts and Wine Study from Le Cordon Bleu Paris. Stays in Mumbai presently, and already organizing workshops for amateurs on Wine Appreciation and Tasting.