How to Pair Wine with Indian Food
Before you call the flavour police, hear me out. If done right, beer is not the only tipple that can be enjoyed alongside your chicken tikka masala.
But let’s start by getting the Indian food right.
Meet Harsh, Derek and Pukka
Amid a sea of luke-warm, mono-flavoured and crudely spicy Indian buffets, Toronto’s Pukka is staging a one-restaurant backlash in St. Clair West.
Owners Harsh Chawla and Derek Valleau are adamant about one thing: they would not serve a dish in their restaurant that they wouldn’t serve to their own family. Freshness and devotion to subtlety in flavour reign supreme at Pukka.
Harsh describes his fight against Toronto’s faceless Indian buffets. “We don’t do buffets in India; this is not what Indian food is about.” And for those who aren’t fans of tongue-murdering Scoville levels, Pukka might be the place to give Indian a second chance.
We don’t do buffets in India; this is not what Indian food is about. –Harsh Chawla, Co-owner of Pukka
It’s easy to blind your patrons with heat. What is not easy is achieving that elusive balance of spicy and sweet, salty and citrusy – bold, and subtle. I find it in the “gunpowder” prawns, and it continues through the string chaat to the spiced duck breast.
The wine pairings are equally impressive. They don’t overpower but they don’t go unnoticed either. Here’s how to find the right wine for your dish:
White: Dry Riesling
For lighter dishes that feature ingredients like shrimp, vegetables, yogurt-based sauces, aromatic herbs, and especially those that come with a side of citrusy mango and pineapple chutneys, you want a dry Riesling.
A dry Riesling has enough heft, minerality, and stone-fruit flavour to contend with the complexity of Indian flavours you find in many seafood, vegetarian and milder-spiced dishes.
Sommelier’s Recommendation: 2013 Müller Thurgau, Nals Margreid (Alto Adige Italy)
- Gunpowder Prawns – “Gunpowder” refers to a south Indian spice mixture that includes pulses, red chilli and curry leaves ground into a powder. The dish is served with pineapple chutney.
- String Chaat – A complex vegetable dish of 20+ ingredients including fresh and fried string vegetables, pomegranate, mango, apple, chickpeas, dressed with lime juice, spices, chutneys and sweet yogurt. There’s seemingly nothing that isn’t in this dish!
- Chicken Tikka – A classic favourite marinated with herbs and yogurt then roasted in a tandoor oven. Tikka means “piece”.
Red: Full-bodied Syrah
The full-bodied Syrah is the ideal wine to match the full-bodied flavours in some of Indian cuisine’s most outspoken dishes.
You’ll find its pepperiness, dark fruitiness and smokiness (particularly in Rhône Valley bottles) an equal match for spicy red chillis, turmeric and coriander, and the strong flavours of pickled reductions.
Sommelier’s Recommendation: 2011 Beaumes de Venise, Suzon (Rhône Valley, France)
- Boatman’s Curry – South Indian style with red snapper, shrimp, monkfish, coconut milk, curry leaves, tamarind and chilli
- Spiced Duck Breast – Served medium rare in a red grape and pickled lime reduction
- Lamb Lollipops – Grilled and served with a creamy turmeric and coriander curry
- Coconut French Beans – Pan tossed with fresh turmeric, onion and curry leaves
The Gamay grape is known for producing “fruit-forward” wines that, when produced as a sparkling, are ideal for pairing with dessert.
A sparkling Gamay can often exhibit aromas of pink bubblegum and red hard candy.
Sommelier’s Recommendation: 2013 Ancestral, Hinterland (Prince Edward County, Ontario)
- Eton Mess – A traditional English dessert that’s been given an Indian twist at Pukka with rosewater marinated strawberries, meringue, and yoghurt instead of cream
Pairing Indian food and wine requires give and take
At the risk of stating the obvious, you can’t pair bad wine with Indian food, and you can’t pair bad Indian food with wine.
Pairing wine with Indian food requires a delicate balance that can yield surprisingly harmonious results when each item pulls its weight.
On this trip: Food and drink provided by Pukka. Article originally published on Anew Traveller on March 6 2015.