Indian food is packed full of aromatics and punchy flavors. When it comes to pairing wine with Indian food, you want to take into consideration heat, specific flavors of the dish, alcohol content, and texture in order to make that perfect match. It's easy to just reach for a beer, but if you nail the wine pairing, you won't look back.
Guidelines for Pairing Wine With Indian Food
While some food is particularly wine friendly and can seamlessly go from white to orange to red wine, Indian food is typically full of particularly strong flavors that can overwhelm some wines and create off-flavors with others. That being said, it also often has characteristics, like spice, that pair especially well with some wines. So, when considering your wine pairing for that vindaloo chicken or saag paneer, filter your options with these guidelines first.
Steer Clear of Oaked Wines
Whether white or red, it's really best to avoid oaked wines when it comes to Indian food. Oak flavors will often compete rather than complement the notes in the food. There are a lot of aromas and flavors in the food alone, and sticking with a cleaner wine will make for a better pairing.
The Spicer the Food, the Sweeter the Wine
While not all Indian food is spicy, much of it can have a bit of heat, and there is a wide spectrum from mild to hot. When thinking about your pairing, stick with dry wines for the mildly spiced dishes and move to off-dry and into sweeter wines as the heat gets dialed up. The residual sugar will help to counter that fire burning on your palate.
Avoid Tannic Wines
Overtly tannic wines clash with many aspects that can be common in Indian food, like heat. If you are drinking a red or orange wine, stick with something with milder tannins that won't interact and cause off flavors. Fresher, savory reds like grenache, syrah, or carignan can be good options.
Low to Medium Alcohol Is Best
You'll also want to keep the alcohol in check as the spice ticks up; a really boozy wine paired with a spicy curry will only amplify each other and quickly become an unbalanced pairing.
Acid Is Always Food Friendly
Acidic wines are great when matched with most foods. Consider high-acid whites, rosés, and reds for your pairing so the wine doesn't fall flat against the mash up of prominent flavors.
Bubbles Are an Emphatic Yes
Papadum, samosa, vada, pakora--all these fried savory morsels are brilliant when paired with dry bubbles. An energetic pét-nat, glass of prosecco, or flute of Champange will cut through the fat, cleanse your palate, and leave you ready for the next bite.
Drink This With That
While Indian food varies drastically from north to south and region to region, there are a few dishes that frequent people's tables and have become staples to the Western palate. Try the following pairings for some delightful and unique gastronomic experiences.
Champagne With Samosa
The wildly savory samosa with its crispy fried outer layer packed full of potatoes, peas, onion, and spices is outrageously good. When dunking this little packet into cool green chutney alongside a glass of tightly firing bubbles, you have a match made in heaven. The sharp acidity and bubbles in the Champagne work to cut through the fried component while keeping things bright across the palate.
Grenache Rosé or Cabernet Franc With Chicken Tikka Masala
Chicken tikka masala is a sweet blend of char, spice, and earthiness with an oh-so-luscious texture. Both the barbeque char notes and the earthy characteristics from the chicken pair well with the flavor profiles of grenache and cabernet franc. If you want to keep things lighter, stick to a high-acid grenache rosé. If you want to lean into the dish with a red wine pairing, go for a cool climate cab franc with notes of smoky tomato and pepper with good acidity and minerality.
Spätlese Riesling With Biryani
There are a lot of types of Biryani which vary in style and heat. But at its core, this layered rice dish is fluffy and aromatic. If eating one like the popular Hyderabadi biryani, the spice and saffron really push the dish to the next level and require an off-dry, high-acid white to tame the heat and bring the whole pairing into balance. Look no further than a German Spätlese riesling.
Alsatian Pinot Gris With Chana Aloo Curry
The savory vegetarian curry of chickpeas, potatoes, and onions isn't too spicy, but it can pack a punch. As long as the curry isn't too spicy, you can stick with a drier pinot gris. An Alsatian pinot gris with racy acidity and spiced fruit will balance the big flavors in the curry and play into some of the warm spice notes.
Chenin With Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken)
Beloved Murgh Makhani is yogurt marinated chicken with spices bloomed in butter combined with a creamy tomato sauce to make a luxuriously rich dish. With the butter and richness, a sharp, high-acid wine like Chenin will balance out the dish and make a delicious pairing.
Skin-Contact Ribolla Gialla With Dosa
The aromatic and fun grape ribolla gialla is particularly interesting when made in an orange wine style. Notes of dried apricot, nutmeg, sour cherry, and citrus pith make it the perfect match for the mildly fermented flavors in a South Indian Dosa.
Grüner Veltliner With Saag Paneer
A green vibing wine for a very green vegetarian dish, the thick puréed spinach in saag paneer has all the savory herbaceous notes that pair well with grüner. The green bean and lovage notes in the wine match the dish's personality, while the citrus characteristics and the minerality brighten the dish.
Indulging in Indian
Pairing wine and Indian food can work brilliantly if you follow a few guidelines. So remember, spice needs a mildly sweet wine to tame it. Low alcohol, low tannins, and high acid wines will make the best matches.