Whilst considered by some a mismatch, if like me you don’t drink beer but love curry then finding the perfect vin for your vindaloo is imperative! Living with a wine professional (lucky me) and having lived in Bordeaux means we've had our fair share of nights in with a home cooked curry and bottle of something Sud Ouest, often stumbling unintentionally across unconventional but nonetheless delightful pairings.
But leaving aside good fortune, where does one start? Think of a classic pairing and you'll often be faced with produce originating from the same place, muscadet with oysters or sauternes and foie gras for example. So, why not apply this logic to curry? It’s fair to say that although India now has a growing wine industry, gathering momentum year on year, and producing some less than shabby vintages, the romantic notion of local wines complimenting it's cuisine is still a bit of a stretch here, the majority of wines being made in an international style. But, grapes have been grown in India for hundreds of years (initially it is suggested largely to support the British thirst for, well a bottle of Cote De Bombay in the Raj period). Later, when the Brits took off with their hangovers in tow, grape farmers were encouraged by the government to turn their wine crop into table grapes. Given the challenging tropical climate for wine production it probably wasn’t a bad call. However, there is a history here, and that certainly counts for something, even if it's more in the mind than on the palate. See Rob's Indian wine recommendation below.
The real beauty of this particular challenge is that all rules go out the window. A broad palate can be explored and fortunately, the UK's (here read Birmingham's!) independent wine trade, unhampered by the demands of a domestic wine industry haggling for shelf space (ie in France), is more than up to the task.
Wine, up against the heat of chilli and heady spices has not historically acted as a harmonious coupling, but that’s not to say there aren’t some successful combinations worth exploring that will stand up to the heat. I am certainly a fan of wine and curry as a pairing, not least for the fun that the challenge provides!
So here’s some points to consider when choosing the perfect bottle for your spicy supper.
- Don’t spend too much! Blowing the budget on a special bottle of wine to have with a curry is just not worth it. The strength of flavor and heat from your curry is going to overpower any complexity in an expensive bottle. It will be money wasted. So set a small budget and save your special bottles for food that will compliment and not compete for your attention. Fine wine deserves an attentive palate.
- For lighter curries with a coconut base, with fish, seafood or vegetables we would recommend a white wine, with citrus or grassy notes is going to work well here. Or something with a higher sugar content.
- For richer tomato based curries go for something light to medium bodied, a pinot noir, gamay, cab franc or merlot.
Rob's wine picks;
My red wine picks come from trendy Great Western Arcade wine merchant (and tasting house) Loki; immediately breaking our ‘don’t spend over £10’ rule by selecting the Dandelion Shiraz Riesling (£12.74) a bold ’n juicy high-quality quaffer from Maclaren Vale, Australia that will go very nicely indeed with tomato based curries - think rogan josh, jalfrezi (chicken or lamb) or traditional Goan pork vindaloo.
Then, keeping up with my one-man hyperinflation, I’ve gone and selected another over budget red. This one, the second wine to Lebanon’s illustrious ‘Chateau Musar’ is Hochar by Musar (£16.14) a seductive blend of Cinsault, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon who’s earthier, spicier nature will provide the ideal foil to some garam masala marinated amritsari lamb chops followed by a smoky, caramelized lamb aubergine balti.
For the whites, I’ve looked to Paul Roberts wines, located fittingly at the northern tip of the Balti Triangle. The Saint Clair Marlborough pinot gris (3x bottles for £35.00) has a creamy mouth feel, a hint of nutmeg spice and an off dry finish that will partner fragrant East Asian cuisine and coconut based curries like a charm. Another aromatic offering is the Para Dos Sauvignon Blanc Torrontes, Argentina (£22.50 for 3x bottles - finally a wine within budget!) Similarly well suited for a spicy dinner with it's fresh cut grapefruit acidity and off dry finish.
Last but not least, and seeing as there really are no rules when it comes to pairing curry with wine.. How about these two bottles from the brilliant Connollys Wine in Solihull; Centive Moscato d'Asti Tenuta Olim Bauda 2019 (£11.99) a lighter alcohol fizz offering up sweet pineapple and honey ripe grape notes, it's sweetness and acidity perfectly balanced. This one will see you through from the first snap of the poppadum all the way through to the pistachio kulfis. Connolly’s also came up trumps in the terroir stakes with this Indian, yes Indian Zinfandel rosé (£10.10) the perfect off-dry match for a prawn biryani.