Your Curry Wine Pairing Guide: Expert Advice + Tips

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Indian curry with chicken on a white plateFewer things are more satisfying than a mouth-watering meal or a glass of good wine. Pair the two together, however, and prepare for your culinary experience to go next-level.

However, you can't just serve any bottle of wine with your meal. You need something that complements the flavor of your dinner, especially when you serve foods outside the better known classic European standard fare. Sweet Zinfandel couples with smoky barbecue well, for example, and Italian Sangiovese and tomato sauce are a match made in heaven. Do a bit of research, and you'll find there's a bottle of wine for almost every dish, including curry, a South Asian delicacy. 

What is curry? 

Curry is a popular pick among fans of southern Asian food, who appreciate its many forms and the variety of rich flavors possible. Curries can be dry, similar in texture to stir-fries or scrambles, or they can be presented as sauces or gravies cooked with meats and fish, vegetables, tofu, dairy products, legumes, and other key ingredients. Curry is most commonly served on top of a bed of rice or with flatbreads, though other grain and root products, from couscous to mashed potatoes, can be offered.

Curry recipes vary depending on details like region or family preferences, which means there are countless variations of any curry dish out there. Depending on the recipe and the preferences of the cook and diners, curry can range from very mild to super spicy. 

If you've ever visited an Indian restaurant, you've likely seen one of the following familiar commercial curry dishes on the menu, including:

  • Chicken Tikka Masala: Chicken tikka masala is the creation of Indian chefs living in Great Britain. It usually consists of chunks of boneless chicken and a creamy sauce made of coriander, tomato, yogurt or cream, a masala spice mix, and turmeric.
  • Vindaloo: Vindaloo originated in the Goa region of India, and it can be vegetarian or made with pork or chicken. Vindaloo sauce tends to be quite spicy, thanks to the addition of chilies and jalapenos. Other ingredients include caramelized onions, curry paste, coconut milk, vinegar, turmeric, and chickpeas. 
  • Butter Chicken: As you may have guessed by its name, this dish is made with chicken and lots of butter. There are plenty of butter chicken recipes floating around, but the sauce's most common ingredients include tomato, cream, cardamom, garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, and garam masala. Chicken tikka masala is thought to have its culinary roots in traditional North Indian butter chicken.
  • Korma: Northern India-born Korma tends to be on the mild side of the flavor spectrum. The silky-smooth sauce is made with yogurt, cream, sweet spices, and pureed nuts like almonds and cashews. 
  • Dhansak: Dhansak comes from the Parsi Zoroastrian community. It contains mutton or goat meat, lentils, potato, tomato, eggplant (brinjal or baingan), pumpkin, and fenugreek leaves. Usually, a spice mixture called dhansak masala is added to the sauce. Dhansak masala includes sweet, aromatic spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, coriander, and cumin.

How to Pair Curry with Wine: Helpful Tips

It's easy to get overwhelmed by the vast array of spices and flavors present in curry. With curry recipes originating in most Asian cultures and also as fusion cuisine in Western cultures, many wildly different dishes might be offered as curry. Don't let the diversity of these dishes stop you from enjoying curries with a glass of vino. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you search for the best pairing of curry and wine. 

Know What's in the Sauce

Since curry recipes vary enormously based on things like family preference and region, there isn't necessarily a one-size-fits-all wine pairing for each kind of sauce. The most effective way to determine what bottle will best complement your meal is knowing exactly what ingredients were used to make the dish. 

A tomato-based curry, for example, tastes better with a glass of excellent white wine, while cream-based sauces tend to partner better with deep reds. A classic Pinot Noir is a great choice when enjoying a meaty curry. When you go the vegetarian route, you'd probably prefer to have Pinot Grigio in your glass. 

Consider Spice Level

Spice is another factor to consider when you seek out a bottle of wine to crack open on curry night. 

Not every curry you might enjoy is packed with scorching heat, but if the menu of the evening features an absolute scorcher, you'll want something sweet and served chilled, to counterbalance the kick from the dish. When your curry is on the mild side, however, you'll find that something dry is the way to go. 

Opt for a Low-Alcohol Selection

This tip isn't necessarily a must if you're eating a mild and rather heat-free curry. However, if you plan to have something with lots of peppers, chilies, and fiery spices on your plate, pay close attention to your wine's alcohol content. 

Alcohol brings out spiciness in a dish. To reduce the burn, it's best to sip something with that's five to 11 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). 

Popular Curry and Wine Couples

Tikka Masala and Riesling

Modestly spicy tomato-based tikka masala is often paired with a bright and fruity Riesling. This white wine plays well with all of the spices without altering the flavor of this favorite Indian comfort food. 

Butter Chicken and Chardonnay

Consider sipping your favorite  Chardonnay as the companion wine if your butter chicken is relatively mild. The acidic yet rich white wine cuts through the creamy, buttery sauce to cleanse your palate and wash the meal down without watering down the taste of the curry.

Rosé and Vindaloo

Since vindaloo is among the hotter curries, its ideal wine companion is sweet, fruity, and best served cool. Rosé makes an excellent wine pairing for this Indian dish. Its sugar coats your mouth, creating a barrier that protects your taste buds from the intense heat.

Moscato and Thai Red Curry

Though many popular curries hail from India, Thai red curry, of course, comes from Thailand. The dish has some intense spice elements and isn't for those with delicate taste buds. But people who do enjoy the red chili-heavy sauce are likely to enjoy washing it down with Moscato. This lightly sparkling white wine is sweet enough to balance out the hot red chilies, so long as the bottle has been chilled before being served.  

Enlist a Consultancy Service

Ask the experts if you're still unsure of what wine goes best with your curry. Reputable wine consultants, like those at J.J. Buckley Fine Wines, can answer your questions, give you pairing tips, and lead you to a bottle that can elevate your meal.