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Wine with Indian Cuisine

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By Zoltan Szabo

Recently I have been working with the ever-passionate Aman Patel, son of the famous Chef Mrs. Patel of the even more famous The Indian Rice Factory in Toronto. Aman has brought in experts, including yours truly, to put together a paring menu at the IRF (did I mention I humbly think it’s the best Indian dining experience in Toronto, Since 1970!). This has got me thinking about how to match wine and (of course) beer to hot flavours.

Before I go any further, I should say that some of the dishes I have had at recent tastings at the Indian Rice Factory are really too spicy to pair with at all. No wine will balance the aspect of burning heat. Whites, even with plenty of residual sugar and chilled, will only deliver one second of instant gratification and provide a very temporary cooling down effect and not much complimentary flavour. In some ways, when tasting very spicy foods, I believe reds can do the dishes greater justice. The Henry of Pelham Pinot and Baco Noirs we tried one night at the IRF worked well with several dishes. It made me wonder is the anser isn’t to fight power with power! As long as they were still relatively young, I think you could match big wines like Barolo and Cornas, maybe even Malbec?

Reds and spicy food: there are more than a few thing to consider when trying to match them with hot chilli infused foods. Spicy food creates a hot sensation over the palate, so the idea is to tone the heat down with wine. Acidity in wine and chilli heat are non-compatible elements: acidity would eventually accentuate the heat sensation. If you watch chefs, you’ll see they use acid (vinegar, lemon juice) as a flavour enhancer, like salt.

Tannins in red wines and spices will provide heat and a puckering taste sensation in the same time. If the red is really tannicky and the food is really spicy that just might actually work! Ya know why? Because together they would provide an olfactive shock and numb your palate! Maybe not what we’re looking for flavourwise, though.

High and noticeable alcohol would create a drying effect and provide even more heat, if not burning from the chilli, you’d want to watch that.

On the other hand, sugar in wines will tone down the spicy effect eventually.

Finally, the temperature of wines should be at room temperature or just slightly below. Too much chill would provide too drastic of a contrast with heat coming from spices atop things would get almost angry over the palate!

Hmm, maybe I dismissed whites a little to quickly. But let’s make them big and bold whatever the colour! Wines with lots of extract and a luscious mouthfeel. A huge Californian Viognier or a Parker-likes-it modern and extracted, big and polished Spanish red from Priorat would do justice... North American hybrid grapes made wine too!

Despite today’s fashion, off-dry wines, or sweet wines, are not necessarily my favourite choices, unless with dessert. I would match Indian food with wines on the basis of texture and weight similarity, or contrast, rather aroma and flavour...

Here are my Top Ten Drinks to Pair with Indian Cuisine:

1. Belgian geuze, lambic style beer served appropriately at room temperature

2. Hot, loose leaf aromatic, flowers tea

3. Lukewarm milk

4. Nigori style sake, chilled

5. Well made off dry Rieslaner

6. Off dry Zweigelt

7. Huge Amarone and similar style reds made from dried or partially dried grapes

8. Crown Bench's Jalapeno & Chocolate infused Icewines

9. Delicate, lighter style Pinot Noir...strange, but delicacy might work to "calm" robust spicing...

10. Baco Noir Reserve, Marechal Foch and plush Zinfandel


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