Fine wine and Indian food. We know it isn’t the most conventional of pairings. This combination is  complicated, because there isn’t a single dish in the country that encapsulates the richness and diversity of its cuisine. Each Indian delicacy is steeped so deeply in the culture and tradition of the region it hails from. For this reason, choosing a single type of wine for a plethora of dishes may feel like an impossible feat. The truth is that it is much easier to take the conservative route and pair  piping hot curry with ice cold lassi.

But just because something’s easier, doesn’t always mean it’s better. Wine enthusiasts don’t have to abandon their wine cellar favorites just because they’re craving for a spicy and aromatic curry dinner. There are plenty of wines that will go beautifully with Indian food.

An Overview on Reds, Whites, and Rosé Wines

Oak aging is a process done to most vinos as a way to alter the tipple’s flavor, texture, structure, and aroma profile. This procedure is practically a prerequisite for fine wines, as it creates roundness in reds and creaminess in whites. These subtle alterations can improve your overall drinking experience. Interestingly,  these are also the very traits you should watch out for when selecting wine for an Indian spread.

Oaky reds that are high in alcohol and tannin content, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot, will compete with the intense flavors of India’s top delicacies. Interspersing sips of these tipples with bites of your South Asian fare can lead to conflicting tastes. It can overwhelm the palate. So, instead of going for big, bold reds, consider their lighter, crisper, and fruitier alternatives like Pinot Noir. This wine works superbly well with the hot and tangy dishes in Asia. The tipple’s refreshing acidity and subtlety does wonders in balancing Indian cuisine’s complex flavors.

When it comes to white wines, the opposite is somewhat true. Unoaked varietals can provide an interesting textural contrast to creamier dishes. But we’ve found that an oaked and buttery Chardonnay suits mildly spiced dishes pretty well.

Off-dry and semi-sweet white wines with a reserve of residual sugar are also great in taming the ‘heat’ of a peppery dish. While mellow whites with aromatic noses can bring softness to the rich, and occasionally overwhelming, explosion of flavors characteristic to Indian cuisine.

German Rieslings and Gewürztraminers are among the most popular white wines paired with Indian food. The former’s fruity and acidic profile works best with tasty and well-seasoned red meat. The latter’s gentle sweetness complements cardamom-heavy dishes packed with fresh aromatics, like ginger and garlic. For paneer and tikka dishes, you can further enrich your dining experience with a nice, bright Sauvignon Blanc.

And finally, we have rosé wines. We’ve found these summery tipples to be the most interesting match for Indian cuisine. Fruit forward and lightly saccharine rosés, like a Grenache, are fantastic at enhancing the sweetness of a spicy dish. Dryer varieties, like a Sangiovese rosé, bring exciting contrast to the creaminess of coconut milk- and yogurt-based fares.

Pairing with Popular Indian Dishes

Pinot Noir is in high demand when it comes to Indian dishes. From biryanis to saag paneers, this light red complements the food’s flavors without overpowering it. For a more flavorful kick, a nice, savory rosé should also do the trick.

The Cabernet and Syrah are great red wines that are bold and heady. You can couple these tipples with grilled meat—think smoky and luscious lamb, fresh off the tandoor. These reds also interact really well with succulent dishes like mutton rogan josh.  This is also great with slow-cooked lamb curry, seasoned with generous amounts of de-seeded chilies and spices.  Bear in mind that the spices in this dish are used more for aromatics rather than heat. When choosing your reds and rosés, remember that tannin and spice don’t always play well together. So, highly tannic wines should be paired with aromatic and mild dishes.

As far as kebabs go, feel free to follow the old adage: red wine with red meat, white wine with fish. Merlot makes a delicious partner to beef, mutton, and chicken kebabs.  Crisp and zesty whites, like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, work well with fish tikka and tandoori prawns. Lastly,  bright Gewürztraminer and Rieslings are great when it comes to curries. Enjoy smooth and mild curries like Korma with these.

Indian Dessert Pairings

The key to choosing wine for South Asian desserts is to focus on the balance between the tipple’s sweetness and acidity. For example, gulab jamuns, mithai, and phirni go extremely well with Tokajis and Chenin Blancs. The natural causticity and residual sweetness of these wines can do wonders in tempering the dessert’s cloying sweetness.

That being said, like all great food and wine pairings, everything boils down to taste. These were the wines that worked for us, We still highly recommend thinking out of the box and discovering your own favorite Indian dish and wine pairings. So the next time you’re in the mood for Indian food, take a break from your regular lassi, and celebrate the rich and complex South Asian cuisine with a glass of fine wine.