Matching wine with curry

Curry

All images by Robin Goldsmith, unless otherwise stated

Many of us like to go out for a curry and normally we'll just want a thirst-quenching drink with our meal. Most restaurants only serve lager, but the choice available all too rarely offers a good match with the food, whereas the right wine can enhance our dining experience. Generally it is right to match big, flavour-packed foods with big, flavour-packed wines and light dishes with lighter-style wines, but spicy food offers additional challenges. With so many different kinds of spice, each providing unique aromas, flavours and sometimes heat, making the best wine choice depends on the particular spices used, the nature of any sauce and the overall mouth feel or weight of the dish.

It's worth remembering that heavily-oaked wines should be avoided, as these can clash badly with spices, such as coriander and cumin, leaving a bitter aftertaste. Also, higher alcohol wines are really not a great idea, as they accentuate the chilli heat from food. Consequently, lighter-bodied, softer red wines with lower tannins and alcohol offer much better pairings. Although tannins can often cleanse the palate, at high levels they are mouth-drying, can mask any refreshing acidity and, therefore, do not match well with spicy food. Although refreshing white wines and rosés are generally fine with a curry or other spicy food, certain combinations definitely work best and allow both thirst-quenching freshness and a zingy flavour profile that complement the food superbly.

Wines with crisp acidity, like Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc, can be excellent matches for oily dishes containing chilli, as the food's richness can lessen our perception of this acidity. Sparkling wines (dry, medium or sweet) can complement spicy foods too, as can many dry rosés which are particularly versatile with food pairings in general. Additionally, food with a sharp or sour quality, including tomato flavours can benefit from higher acidity in wine and many Italian red wines including those made from Barbera or Frappato can be a good bet. Indeed, light, fruity reds are often a successful match, as long as the food is not too heavy on the spices, while red wines full of ripe, juicy fruit notes, soft tannins and low or no oak can be excellent partners to spicy food as well. These can include wines made from Grenache and Tempranillo or some Maremma blends, for example and Shiraz with no discernible oak influence can provide enough sweet fruit to cushion the spicy kick from a curry. However, a little bit of oak can be useful, so a Malbec with a smoky, spicy profile could complement food made with smoky chilli peppers or paprika.

Sweetness can counter saltiness in food and soften that spicy hot feeling on the tongue, sparkling wine can cleanse the palate and may partly desensitise the chilli effect and grapes such as Gewürztraminer have a spicy character that can be used to match spiciness in food. Sotolon is a chemical compound found in fenugreek, a common ingredient of many curries, such as Methi Murg (chicken curry cooked with fenugreek leaves). It's also present in Fino sherry and similar styles of wine, so there's a more unusual match to try!

Curry

There are many wine choices to tantalise our taste buds and which offer a good pairing with the spicy food of our choice. Thanks to Hatch Mansfield and R&R Teamwork, I was therefore delighted to receive three bottles of wine specifically chosen to pair with curry, all of which worked very well at a recent tasting I held.

Wine