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How to Pair Indian Food With Wine

Creamy dishes like butter chicken and chicken tikka masala and starchy dishes like biryani and bondas pair well with creamy and even lactic wines like oak-aged Chardonnay

Food and wine pairings can be as straightforward or complicated as one wants them to be. There’s no doubt that fermented grape juice enhances food; at the same time, the right dish can make wine taste better, and that’s the beauty of it. Wine and food are two sides of the same coin. 

However, food and wine pairings often focus on international and classic European cuisines; little information can be found about pairing wine with any vibrant cuisines from non-European countries. This shouldn’t be the case. And, when it comes to Indian food, it’s safe to say that Indian cuisine is as varied as the world of wine. So, how do you pair Indian food with wine?

As James Beard Award-winning author Madeline Puckette explained, “Wines with simple, well-defined flavors are able to create balance with complex Indian cuisine.” So, what are the best strategies to find the right pairing?

Pairing wine and food for their similar flavors 

Indian food can be complex, not only for its varied use of herbs, spices and aromatics, but also for the multitude of sauces, chutneys and curries served at the table. However, most dishes can be described in a few words. Yogurt-based curries are creamy, while plant-based sauces are herbal. Other dishes can be over-simplified into the spicy category, while others are sweet or tangy. When choosing the right wine for an Indian specialty, it’s worth considering these broad food categories and pairing them with wines with similar traits. 

Creamy dishes like butter chicken and chicken tikka masala and starchy dishes like biryani and bondas pair well with creamy and even lactic wines like oak-aged Chardonnay. Herbal Indian specialties, such as green chutneys and earthy dal dishes, are best paired with herbal wines like Sauvignon Blanc. Even spicy and hearty meals, such as pork vindaloo, phaal curry and Andhra-style mutton, pair best with big, bold and spicy wines like Syrah, which often has hints of black pepper.

Tip: Pair dishes with defined flavor profiles with wines with similar flavors. 

Acidity cuts through the fat. 

A second food and wine pairing strategy that works beautifully with Indian food is using acidity to cut through fat, proteins, thick sauces and rich broths. Acidity is an essential feature in all wine, and it’s this acidity that makes wine so compatible with food. 

When serving hearty, fatty dishes like railway mutton, kofta curry and vindaloo, you’re better off selecting an acidic wine to cut through all their flavor and texture. In the realm of wine, acidic wines come from cold climates. This means that the best wines for the job come from northern wine regions, such as Champagne and Chablis in France, Northern Italy, Germany, Austria and Washington State in the United States. 

Tip: Champagne is the ultimate wine pairing for hearty foods due to its high acidity. 

Sweetness balances spiciness 

Not all Indian food is spicy, but the country has a strong relationship with chili peppers. Mild or piquant, many dishes in the Indian repertoire have noticeable heat from chili peppers, and this spiciness is easy to pair with wine. 

Generally, sweetness counters spiciness, resulting in a more balanced experience. It’s only natural that off-dry and sweet wines pair nicely with India’s fiery meals. It’s also worth mentioning that alcohol can enhance the spicy sensation in dishes made with chili peppers, so low-alcohol wines are best when creating a pairing. 

Tip: Pair off dry and semi-sweet wines with spicy food. Examples include Off-dry Riesling and Moscato.

There is no secret formula

Even if we like to believe that food and wine pairings are universal experiences, they are not. A particular pairing might be pleasing for some but not others, and it’s because we all like different things — we experience food at a personal level. 
The food and wine pairing strategies above are a good starting point for finding the best flavor combinations. However, experimentation is encouraged in wine pairings, and creativity often results in the most pleasing combinations. What are your favorite Indian food and wine pairings?

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