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The Spice Conundrum

Friday, July 17, 2015

Indian food is a medley of ingredients, best identified by its heady spices and complex flavours. Because of this, there’s a general belief that you can’t pair wine with an Indian meal, but that’s not necessarily true! Forget the usual meat and fish options and take a look at our guide, as Dev Goswami & Sara Shah bring you a lowdown on pairing traditional food with wine

When it comes to understanding wine, we’ve come a long way. We are now more open to using the drink   to compliment certain meals. But, pairing Indian food with wine is still considered to be an experiment that could go wrong. And, since most Western cuisine is not as heavily spiced, the chances are that Indian food will overpower the flavour of the wine, since our cuisine is comparatively heavier on spices. However, while pairing Indian food with wine is a risky proposition, when you do get it right, there’s nothing quite like it! Ashwin Rodrigues, owner of Good Drop Wines, explains, “It’s not necessarily true that wine tastes better with Western cuisine. It’s really about pairing the right wine with the right food. You just need to ensure that your food doesn’t overpower it. For example, the sweetness of semi-dry, sparkling wine, complements spicy dishes, while the fizz refreshes your palate.” Understanding what wines are best suited to Indian flavours can help you throw a more memorable dinner party, as well as make your meals tastier. So, here’s what you need to know.


The rich and diverse amalgamation of spices and flavours makes pairing Indian food with wine a complex process. Here are a few rules that you should follow when you’re serving wine with an Indian menu.

  • If you’re a fan of Indian spices, make sure to pick a wine that is acidic in nature. This will help to highlight the spices and make your dish more flavourful.
  • If you are entertaining guests who aren’t used to Indian spices, or those who have a low-tolerance for spice, pick wines such as Pinot Gris, Riesling or Gewürztraminer. These contain a certain amount of residual sugar that will balance out the extra spice.
  • Pairing wine with Indian food is all about maintaining a balance between the wine and your food. Ashwin tells us that you should avoid serving wines that are rich in tannins or those that have high alcohol content, because they don’t go well with spicy food. He explains, “Remember that these wines, just like your food, have robust, overwhelming flavours and so, pairing them with Indian cuisine is akin to fighting fire with fire.”
  • A basic understanding of your menu and the flavours of the dishes that you will be serving will help you choose what wine to serve with your meal. Sweet, fizzy wines usually taste great with most Indian preparations as they cut through the spice and refresh your palate. Fresh, younger wines, on the other hand, pair well with salads and lightly-spiced gravy dishes.

Wine connoisseurs will find it easy to pick wines that go with Indian cuisine. However, if you don’t know enough about wine, this list will help you choose. Take a look.

A fresh, fruity wine, Sangiovese is usually prepared in the Chianti region of Tuscany, in Italy, and is best paired with heavily-spiced preparations such as chicken biryani. It is a heavy red wine and the fruity flavour balances out the

This German wine has a flavourful hint of lychee and rose along with an aromatic sweetness that makes it perfect for spicy, tandoori-based vegetarian dishes, or dishes that are rich in ginger, garlic and cardamom.

Another fruity wine, Riesling is highly acidic in nature and pairs best with greasy meat dishes. The acidic nature helps to cut through the greasiness of dishes such as Rogan Josh.

Champagne or Sparkling Wines
Champagne and other sparkling wines can be paired with several different Indian dishes such as saag, dal makhani and heavy paneer and potato-based dishes. Champagne has a bubbly, acidic texture that cuts through the heaviness of such dishes and leaves behind well-balanced flavours.

And, lets not forget our delicious desserts! It may sound outrageous, but there are certain wines that bring out the best of Indian dessert. Desserts such as ras malai, gulab jamuns and phirni will go perfectly with the Sauternes from France, the Tokaji from Hungary and a Chenin Blanc from the
Vouvray region.

Europeans aren’t the only ones who can manufacture great wine. It’s true that vineyards in India only cropped up around a decade ago. But, ever since their advent in our country, efforts have been made to churn out the best quality wine. While it may take a while for Indian wines to match up to their foreign counterparts, we do have some exceptional wines that are
a must-try.

La Reserve by Grover Vineyards
With a heady aroma and intense flavour, this wine is matured in imported French oak barrels. The La Reserve is a classic Cabernet-Shiraz blend, with flavours of chocolate, coffee beans and vanilla alongside a wonderful hint of spice.

Indus Sauvignon Blanc from Indus Vineyard
The Indus Sauvignon Blanc, a white wine that is made in the Indus vineyards at Igatpuri in Maharashtra, has gained a lot of recognition among wine connoisseurs in India. The wine stands out because of its citrus fruit, cut grass and passion fruit aromas and has an excellent, dry texture.

Sula Rasa Shiraz by Sula Vineyards
One of the finest red wines in India, the Rasa Shiraz won a silver medal at Syrah Du Monde, an international competition to recognise the world’s best Shiraz blends. It is renowned for its intense, spicy aromas and sheer concentration of fruit and is known to be an elite wine that is only produced in the best vintage years.

Reveilo Chardonnay Reserve
Unlike most white wines that are made in metal tanks, the Reveili Chardonnay Reserve is matured in oak barrels and has a beautiful, light, creamy texture. Its exquisite blend of peach and passion fruit makes this a must-try.

Sula Riesling by Sula Vineyards
With low acidity and a dash of sweetness, the Sula Riesling is a popular, but difficult wine to source. It is much lighter than other white wines and is the perfect accompaniment to light dishes.

A Few Snack Suggestions
We usually think of wines as a drink to be served only during special celebrations or when you’ve organised a proper, sit-down dinner.

However, you’d be surprised to find that you can pair wines with several basic snacks as well. So, the next time you’ve got friends visiting, don’t be afraid to open a bottle of wine. Ashwin has a few suggestions that you can try.

  • Most tandoori appetisers and kebabs that aren’t spicy will go well with reds.
  • On the other hand, if you prefer very spicy tandoori items, pair them with a sparkling wine.
  • A simple roasted masala papad will make for an interesting snack when it’s combined with white wine.
  • Seafood lovers can pair fried malvani fish or prawns koliwada with a Shiraz or a semi-dry, white wine.
  • You can also serve sparkling wines with simple snacks such as chicken tikka and sev puri.

The Failsafe Options
Okay, so we’ve told you about what wine goes with what flavour. But, what dish do you actually serve? Not all of us are knowledgeable enough to draw up a menu based on the tips that we’ve given you so far. So, Ashwin suggests classic preparations such as Butter Chicken, Lasooni Prawns, Lamb Curry, Chicken Biryani, Lamb Vindaloo, Chicken Kormaa and Saag Paneer. You will never go wrong with them!

A Three-Course Indian Dinner
Whether it’s because you don’t have the time to organise a proper menu or because you still aren’t sure about what wine to serve with your meal, this sample three-course menu that Ashwin suggests will make it easy for you.

Tandoori fish or any tandoor-based chicken dish will pair well with a ­­sparkling wine.

A rich Rogan Josh with rice is a good idea. Serve it with a spicy Shiraz or a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Rasmalai is a delicious, rich dessert that will go well with any late-harvest wine.

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