Wine is not a traditional partner for curry. For many people, it’s difficult to imagine drinking anything but lager with a spicy dish. However, wine and curry go together better than you’d think, if you choose carefully.
How to choose a wine for curry
Choosing a wine for curry is more complicated than choosing a beer for a couple of reasons. Firstly, India doesn’t have a strong wine-drinking tradition, so many Indian restaurants may only offer a limited wine list. Secondly, the same bottle of wine may need to pair with several different dishes. In general, wine pairs better with mild curries than very hot curries.
The old fall-back rule for Western cuisine – white wine with fish and poultry and red wine with red meat – doesn’t necessarily apply with spicier dishes. You need to think instead about the heat and overall flavour of the curry.
The refreshing qualities that make lager and IPAs good matches for curry also apply to crisp, chilled white wine. A touch of sweetness helps, particularly with hotter curries and green curries, as does a fresh, palate-cleansing acidity. Too much tannin and high alcohol are bad ideas, since they can emphasise and unbalance the spice in a curry. Avoid the very oaky, 15% reds.
A touch of sweetness particularly helps with lighter, coconut-based curries. A pinot gris is a great match for a Thai red or green curry. The sugar and floral flavours enhance the delicate spices.
Another good choice for the milder curries is a strong, fruity rosé from Spain, Portugal or South America. A Grenache rosé has a refreshing acidity that works well with coconut or yoghurt-based dishes such as chicken korma. You could also opt for an off-dry riesling, or another aromatic white. Look at fragrant Hungarian whites, dry Muscat, Sylvaner and Torrontes from Argentina.
Many of the refreshing whites above can work with any curry. However, red wine can work better with spicy food than you might think. In fact, red wine is more popular than white in India.
Avoid reds with high alcohol and tannin, but with tomato and meat curries, lighter-bodied red wines are a great pairing. With a medium spiced, tomato-based dish like a rogan josh, try a ripe fruity red like a rioja or other tempranillos.
You may be surprised to learn that India has a small but growing wine industry. Indian wines are becoming more widely available in the UK. Look out for reds such as shiraz or cabernet, both of which would pair nicely with a rogan josh or jalfrezi.