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Toast To The Perfect Match

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Matching any food with wine is a tough job, particularly these days when there are so many bouquets, styles and, of course, vintages contending for attention from all parts of the globe. But when it comes to matching Indian food with wine, it becomes a potential minefield. If wine is a complex issue, best judged by your own palate than by a set of snobby rules, Indian cuisine is even more complex. Indeed, in a country the size of a continent and with hardly any codified recipes for any dish, there is no one Indian cuisine at all. What we eat in our homes may bear loose allegiance to a region or tradition, but it comprises several different cuisines that can hardly have any simple set of thumb rules to get by when it comes to matching these with wines.

 Part of the problem that arises when pairing Indian cuisine(s) with wine, of course, is that as a people, we have never had a ritual of drinking alcohol with food as is customary in Europe, for instance. Hardier alcohol such as "Scotch" has been and continues to be drunk pre-dinner. Pairing the likes of rogan josh or vindaloo or any of those loosely-labelled, restaurantised curries with wine really started in London with the advent of the curry restaurants. "Because they were the more conventional wines available and popular, it became commonplace to accept pairings of Shiraz or Barolo or Chablis with different curries," says Samrath Banerjee, general manager of Indian Accent, New Delhi. 

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The most common old-style guideline everyone — from catering college graduates to new wine converts — believe in is the "red meat with red wine and white meat with white wine" rule. But in terms of Indian cuisine, where the gravy or the sauce determines the flavour of the dish, not the underlying meat (or vegetable), it's a rule you can't always live by. 

Having said this, there are still some basic combinations that you can try. The German Rieslings are a safe bet always with Indian food. Restaurateurs and managers like Pravesh from Shiro, who experiment a lot with wine, recommend that you try lamb cooked in a  creamy or chilli sauce with a heavy-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, fried fish with a drier chardonnay, fish in a tomatoey sauce with perhaps a Spanish red, a heavy-bodied Pinot Noir with rogan josh, but a sparkling wine with butter chicken!

Obviously, the food and wine should complement rather than kill off one another. So try to match a spicy dish with a spicy wine. But you have to take care not to destroy a perfectly fine high-quality red with overwhelming spice/chilli in the food. 

In the meanwhile, try out these combinations:

  • Lamb with the Shiraz or Argentinan Malbec. This would include the likes of galauti kebabs since the Malbec has a spicy nosel

  • Heavy (but not chilli) cuisine like Kashmiri with a Napa Valley white

  • With more sophisticated cuisines like Avadhi where the spice combinations are more complex, try a chardonnay aged 3-4 years; zinfandel (but not white) with a fragrant biryani

  • Cabernet Sauvignon with Kerala non-vegetarian or an Australian Shiraz with Chettinad

  • The German Rieslings are a good bet for almost any Indian dish.

Anoothi is a Delhi-based food critic and travel writer

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 18-06-2012)