Musings on Pairing Indian Food with Wine
Golconda wine & Batatawada was my first attempt, as breakfast before writing the IIT entrance exam in 1979. That I got in was due to a lot of hard work & Agarwal's classes, but maybe the wine-food pairing played a small part. After all, the French encourage 17 18 year olds to drink a little wine(under parental supervision) instead of carbonated soft drinks. This definitely upsets some American and Indian parents, Pat Robertson just beat Murli Manohar Joshi to my door; maybe it is the FBI and I am about to be carted of to the Yerawada jail and mental institution. Hopefully French President Nikolas Sarkozy will bail me out, although noticing my wine-food pairing he may just decide otherwise.
Let us start with my first crime(no not drinking before an exam, and it was just half a glass); pairing spicy fried potatoes with a sweet wine. The spices and oil do not blend well with the sugar and alcohol in the wine. Better non-alcoholic pairings would be nimbu-paani, panha, lassi, or water; and beer would be the best alcoholic pairing. Gewurztraminer & Zinfandel are examples of wines often successfully paired with spicy Indian food. Another all time favorite would be Champagne or sparkling wines. Chardonnay can be a good match, and so can some Beaujolais and some Cotes Du Rhone.
Mild/Medium spiced and less oily Indian food is better for pairing with wine.
Here are some of my favorite Indian Food Wine pairings(Champagne/Sparkling wine OK with all).
(I apologize for omitting many Indian dishes, Indian cuisine is too vast and varied for me to sample and pair in one lifetime. Same goes for wines from many other countries)
1) Tandoori Chicken, Grilled/Tandoori Fish - Chardonnay(France, USA, India), Beaujolais(France)
2) Lamb/Mutton kababs - Shiraz, Zinfandel(USA, India), Cotes Du Rhone(France)
3) Chicken Curries/Tikka Masala - Gewurztraminer(France, Germany), Zinfandel(USA, India)
4) Grilled/Tandoori Vegetables, Palak Paneer, Cauliflower Bhaaji - Chardonnay(France, USA, India), Sauvignon Blanc(India).
5) Mushroom Soup - Cabernet Sauvignon(France, USA, India)
A list of my favorites not to be paired with wine
1) Idli, Vada, Dosa with Sambhar & Chutney - filter kaapi
2) Kolhapuri Mutton - nimbu-paani/lassi
3) BhelPuri, PaavBhaaji, Batatavada, Samosa - panha/nimbu-paani
There are many other things to consider while buying wine;
A) Country of origin - France, Italy, Germany(Old World), USA, Chile, Australia(New World) and of course India.
B) Region within country - Bordeaux/Burgundy(France), California/Oregon(USA), Nashik/Bangalore(India).
C) Type of grape - Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling(White), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah, Gamay(Red)
D) Color - red/white/rose'. The simplest rule in pairing is white meats(chicken, turkey & fish) with white wine and dark meats(lamb & beef) with red wine.
E) Tannins - Found in tea and in red wines, and considered beneficial to health. Indian food usually clashes with tannic wines.
F) Age - Important for expensive wines like Bordeaux's and Italian Barolo's. These wines should be aged 6 - 7 years before drinking, and keep improving and stay drinkable for upto 20 - 30 years. I would not recommend pairing Indian food with either of them, tannins clash with spices.
G) Alcohol content - Usually between 11 - 16%, Indian food pairs much better with lower alcohol content.
H) Price & Occasion - This I obviously leave to the readers.
I) Smoking - Definitely a NO NO, it shall clash with wines and will dull your palate.
Salmon with a Red Burgundy and Lamb Chops with a Red Bordeaux, are among classic wine-food pairings. Usually the fish and the meat are either grilled or broiled with minimal additional ingredients. The food mates with the wine in your mouth to create a unique sublime sensation. Wine essentially plays the role that curries do in Indian food, i.e provide a complex multi-flavored medium for enhancing the underlying meat/fish/vegetable. Since many Indian foods already have a curry/sauce, adding another complex medium such as wine becomes a challenge.
Is there a good Indian pairing with the best French wines? In my case it is Burgundy with Kishore Kumar, Bordeaux with Mohd. Rafi, Sauternes with Lata Mangeshkar, Champagne with Asha Bhosale & Chateauneuf-du-Pape with Mukesh. Experts in classical Indian music(not me) should add their own preferences, say Bhimsen Joshi or M.S. Subbalakshmi or Ustaad Bismillah Khan. Indian food may clash with the best French wines; but the range, variety, complexity and layered structure of Indian music matches well to create a world-class pairing.
This topic has many interesting details, and if you want more, or want to throw brickbats at me, or suggest better pairings - please comment. Please drink responsibly, and don't drink & drive.