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Wines for your spicy platter

Wondering what wine would jazz up your barra kebabs? It’s not the food stone age anymore, and there’s no reason to think that it’s only the aromatic Gewurztraminer that goes with every Indian dish.

india Updated: May 22, 2011 14:32 IST
Shara Ashraf

Wondering what wine would jazz up your barra kebabs? It’s not the food stone age anymore, and there’s no reason to think that it’s only the aromatic Gewurztraminer that goes with every Indian dish. “It was a pairing invented in an era when the west had a limited knowledge of Indian spices”, says chef Francis Luziner of The Lalit. And there is nothing as passé as teaming up white wine with white meat and red wine with red meat. Also, there can be no cookie cutter approach to pairing up Indian food with wines due to the intimidating range of flavours, spices and cooking processes involved in Indian cuisine. So, how does one work out new and interesting pairings?

David Milliere, head sommelier, The Leela Palace, New Delhi, who loves digging his fork into chicken tikka and pairs the dish with Sancerre, a white wine from the Loire Valley France, says, “It may be a less expected matchmaking between wine, developed in countries like France and Italy where spices are rather soft, and spice laden Indian cuisine. But you can turn it into a happy marriage with a bit of understanding. All you need is to be a bit adventurous. Don’t shy away from trying out new combinations.” Here’s what our experts ask you to keep in mind when you select wines to liven up a spicy platter.

1 You can’t pair up all dishes
There are some Indian dishes that would not pair up with any wine and are therefore better enjoyed with a lassi or a coke. Spices work wonders with wine, provided we are not talking about Lahsuni Chicken or Laal Maas where the main flavour of the dish (garlic and red chillies) over power the dish and everything else associated with it including the diner.

2 Accompaniments and sauces
Accompaniments, gravy and accompanying sauces also contribute to the flavour of the dish. For example: Chicken has little flavour of its own but Chicken Makkhanwala has the dominant flavour from its gravy, based on tomatoes and butter. It goes well with a crisp Italian white such as Frascati and our red wine lovers enjoy it with Jean Claude Boisset Nuits-Saint-Georges from France.

3 Play with temperature
Different aromas can be enjoyed at different temperatures. If your choice of wine seems too feeble with your choice of food, let it warm up a little by cupping the glass in your palms. “You will be surprised how the same wine starts to taste better. Similarly, if the wine seems too heavy with food, simply chill it up a little to make it more palatable.

4 Order what you like
Never be afraid of ordering red wine with your fish. If that’s what you like then it is the right pairing for you, says Luziner. Go ahead and enjoy.

Some delicious pairings that you can try

Meen Moili: A fish delicacy, finished in coconut milk based gravy will handle an oaky Chardonnay such as the Jean Claude Boisset Puligny Montrachet from France.

Paneer methi masala: Made with tomato and onion gravy, and peppered with Kasuri methi powder, the dish teams up nicely with Malambo Chenin Chardonnay from Argentina. The wine has a crisp flavour which pairs well with the taste of tomatoes and methi.

Aloo bhindi bhaja: The dominant flavour in the dish comes from the tempered cumin seeds. A refreshing Masi Masiano Pinot Grigio from Italy with high acidity fits the bill.

Gatta curry: The yogurt curry with besan dumplings has asafoetida as its dominant flavour. Team it with Freixenet Cordon Negro, a sparkling wine from Spain.

Handi gosht: Boneless cubes of lamb cooked with brown onion, yogurt and saffron, goes well with an off dry white wine, such as a Riesling Spatlese from the Mosel region in Germany. To enhance the spiciness, try a ‘spicy’ Shiraz from Barossa Valley in Australia.

Murgh malai kebab: Cardamom flavoured chicken, marinated with cream, pairs well with a white wine made of Viognier (white wine grape), like a Condrieu from the Rhone Valley in Southern France, which is full-bodied and somewhat creamy.