Yes, You Can and Should Pair Wine with Indian Food

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Indian dish of chicken thighs garnished with tomatoes

Indian food is incredibly diverse. It’s also extremely complex, featuring a vast array of spices and flavors. It’s the bold, intense flavors that make Indian food so exciting. When it comes to wine pairing with Indian food, it’s those same characteristics that also make the process daunting.

When thinking about Indian food, wine typically isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. The thought of trying to pair a beverage with so much complexity with a dish that has the same amount of complexity — if not more — might seem like an impossible task. Not to mention that many Indian dishes have a fair bit of spice to them. The good news? It’s not as hard as it seems. Here are a few tips to help you pair Indian food and wine and what types of wine work best with different types of dishes.

Tips on How to Pair Wine and Indian Food

A wine pairing with Indian food might seem challenging at first, but there are a few questions to ask yourself that can help to make the process easier.

What’s the Sauce?

Indian dishes, particularly curries, feature an array of different sauces – rich, tomato-based, herbaceous green, and light and creamy.

Tomato-based sauces do well with white wines that complement their acidity. A fruity rosé provides another excellent option. A dish made with a cream-based sauce is an excellent partner for deeper reds with medium tannins.

How Spicy Is the Dish?

There’s a common misconception that all Indian food is spicy. While many dishes do have a decent level of heat, not all of them are tongue-scorching. To counterbalance spice, consider a wine that’s lower in alcohol, has a bit of sweetness, and is served cool. Mild dishes work well with dry wines, and medium ones pair well with wines that are off-dry.

What’s the Protein?

As with any other cuisine, the protein in your dish typically affects your wine choice. Meat curries match well with a red such as a full-bodied Pinot Noir or more delicate Shiraz. Chicken, seafood, and vegetable curries, on the other hand, go quite nicely with the acidity and fruitiness of a Pinot Grigio or Gewürztraminer. Again, make sure to keep the sauce and spice level in mind.

Spicy Vindaloo and Rosé

Vindaloo dishes are among the spiciest options in Indian cuisine. These curries feature a sauce made from curry paste, coconut milk, vinegar, chilis, garlic, onions, and spices such as garam masala, turmeric, cayenne pepper, and paprika. While they’re often served with pork or lamb, you can also have a vindaloo with chicken, tofu, or vegetables.

The spice level in the vindaloo sauce pairs nicely with rosés, especially those with a bit of sweetness. A fruity, light to medium-bodied red such as Gamay or Pinot Noir would work as well.

Tikka Masala and Riesling

Tikka masala is a creamy tomato sauce-based dish. While it’s frequently a chicken dish, you can get it with lamb, beef, or tofu, too. The sauce has tomato puree, cream, coconut cream, butter, and a masala spice mix. These spices include toasted and ground cinnamon, peppercorn, cumin, coriander, mace, and cardamom.

One of the best wines to pair with tikka masala is a hearty Riesling. The fruity notes and bright acidity of the wine help to carry the spices in the dish and balance its richness. Other excellent options include Pinot Grigio and Gewürztraminer.

Saag Paneer and Sauvignon Blanc

Saag paneer is one of the most popular vegetarian Indian dishes, featuring Indian cheese, spinach (or a mixture of spinach and mustard greens) gravy, and a variety of spices such as cumin, coriander, ginger, garlic, garam masala, and turmeric.

To cut through the richness of the cheese, you need a wine with more acidity, like a Sauvignon Blanc. A Riesling provides you with another option. If you’re looking to drink red wine with your meal, consider a lighter Cabernet Sauvignon or a rosé.

Dal-Chawal and Chenin Blanc

Indian cuisine has a number of different rice dishes, from creamy and comforting to earthy and smoky. Dal-chawal is the former, a creamy lentil and rice combination that’s both rich and delicious. It contains a mixture of cooked lentils, mustard seeds, cumin, garlic, turmeric, and cilantro over basmati rice cooked with cumin and ghee.

Dishes like dal-chawal need a white wine to cut through the buttery texture. A Chenin Blanc is a perfect choice. It has a higher acidity level and a light flavor, both of which also help to bring out the savory side of the food.

Sambar Rice and Shiraz

Where dal-chawal is creamy, sambar rice is smoky, earthy, and a bit spicy. The dish is a combination of rice, lentils, and sambar sauce, which contains a mixture of okra, carrots, shallots, tamarind, and sambar powder.

The flavors of sambar rice demand a stronger and richer wine, such as a Shiraz. The wine also helps to bolster the spiciness of the dish, giving you an incredible match. Biryani, another smoky, spicy rice dish, also works incredibly well with this particular wine.

Tandoori Chicken and Pinot Noir

Tandoori chicken is a dish prepared by roasting bone-in chicken in a clay oven called a tandoor. It’s marinated in yogurt, lemon, and spices such as coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne pepper, garam masala, and paprika.

When it comes to most food and wine pairings, the general recommendation is that the color of your wine should match the color of the meat. Tandoori chicken goes against this recommendation, pairing perfectly with Pinot Noir. You can also choose a Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel. If you want a white wine with your meal, a Riesling works quite well, too.

Pairing Indian food with wine doesn’t have to be hard. By considering the elements of your meal, the spice level, the sauce, and the protein, you’ll find the perfect accompaniment that balances the dish and takes your meal to a whole new level.

Are you searching for a wine to go with your Indian meal? JJ Buckley Fine Wines has everything you need, no matter what dishes you’re serving. Our consultancy service is also available to answer any questions you may have as well as provide you with tips for pairing and the best ways to serve the wines you select. Check out our incredible selection or contact us for more information today.