Next time you have a curry, give the lager a miss. There's a wine to match just about any dish an Indian cook could put in front of you
Despite the fact that many Indian restaurants now have decent wine lists, there's still a deep-rooted aversion to the idea that curry goes with wine. Could it just be that we're looking at the wrong type of wines?
The award-winning Gymkhana in London came up with an impressive set of wine pairings at a dinner the other week. Devised by sommelier and co-owner Sunaina Sethi, only one of her choices could be classified as sweet, and that was served with the dessert - a lush, Argentinian gewürztraminer, Luigi Bosca Granos Nobles (12.5% abv), with a cardamom, almond and pistachio kheer. South Downs Cellars has the 2010 vintage for £11.95 a 50cl bottle.
Sethi's view is that it's impossible to generalise about India's food with wine because the country is so vast: it depends on the heat level and the way the spices are treated. A subtle dish such as a biryani or a pilau, say, will be far less challenging than a rich curry with a number of side dishes, though even that can take a serious full-bodied red, as Sethi demonstrated by serving a 14.5% abv Pulenta Estate Gran Cabernet Franc 2010 (£19.99 from invinitywines.co.uk, £23.40 from Bottle Apostle) with a suckling pig vindaloo. In general, though, reds need to be fruity but fresh, rather than jammy, with good acidity, such as the 13.5% abv Michele Chiarlo Barbera d'Asti Le Orme 2011 (£10.75 a bottle if you buy a case of six from allaboutwine.co.uk, £10.89 from strictlywine.co.uk) that Sethi paired with a mushroom pilau.
Other unconventional matches included a well-chilled glass of Hidalgo's La Gitana Manzanilla (£9.99 from Majestic, £10 from Waitrose, and by the half-bottle in many independents; 15% abv) with the chutneys and poppadoms that were laid out at the beginning of the meal; and a gorgeous peachy Greek viognier, Domaine Gerovassiliou Epanomi 2013(£13.89 if you buy six bottles from strictlywine.co.uk; 13% abv), that managed to hold its own with some spicy tiger prawns and red pepper chutney.
Obviously it makes it easier if you serve dishes individually, as is traditional in the west, but these same styles of wine should still work if you serve more than one dish at a time, maybe grouping together fish and vegetable dishes, or focusing more on meat.
If you want to experience a wine tasting similar to my one at Gymkhana, its sister restaurant Trishna does a "Not your average curry night" for £65, including wine pairings. (Yes, I know some of you wouldn't pay more than £6.50 at your local. Consider it an investment.)