The Perfect Wine For Your Curry
We've been celebrating one of the UK's favourite cuisines this week - curry! National Curry Week ran from 4th to 10th October and although we may have a habit of grabbing a beer to match with curry, there are many wines that make the perfect partner too. With more wine producers from South and South East Asia bringing their own interpretations to the fore too, it's never been a better time to enjoy wine with your curry.
The rules for pairing with curry dishes follow along similar lines to general food pairing, but with the difference of South and South East Asian spices, alongside more tropical fruit elements adding to the mix. The first rule is at the centre of any pairing - milder flavours require lighter wines so as not to overwhelm the dish, and stronger flavours bolder wines to stand up to and enhance the dish. With curry dishes, one must remember that strength of flavour does not necessarily equate to heat - another element entirely that we will revisit later.
Starting with the mildest, and often creamy dishes that are yoghurt and coconut milk based, white wines are the best partners. Think less of the minerality, citrus zest and high acid levels though, and more towards high florals, tropical fruits, vanilla or nuts in bouquet, and/or creamier, buttery texture. These pairings are also more at home with white meats, fish or vegetable curries of this ilk.
OFF-DRY AROMATIC CLASSICS
Off-dry white wines have a hint of sweetness that helps not only to combat any heat or stronger spice from a curry dish, but also amplifies the central flavours, breathing new life into the dish. The best grapes to match curry in an off-dry style are those with intense floral aromatic complexity such as Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and the Muscat family.
It stands to reason that Alsace (France) and Germany are excellent places to look for a match. New Zealand are also showing great wines of these families too, and will add hints of tropical fruit and florals. We recommend to try with Thai curry dishes, or creamy fish, prawn or vegetable curries. Those wines that go slightly sweeter may also match with non-creamy dishes of higher heat such as those with ginger and tomato alongside traditional spices.
Germany's Fio Ratzelhaft Weiss maintains freshness with a riper, weightier style from part-oak ageing and a year on lees. Slight smoke and subtle saltiness with peach and pear on an off-dry palate means it can stand up to moderate spice. Weingut Max Ferd Richter Riesling uses traditional Fuder short-ageing for a wine of peach, raspberry and floral elderberry blossom with upfront sweetness, perfect for gentle spices. Reh Kendermann Riesling Schiefer Steillage is unoaked, but retains enough floral complexity to make it a superb partner for light and spicy fish curries.
Moving on to Alsace, Hunawihr Pinot Gris Reserve is an elegant off-dry wine which would suit mild, creamy curries, whilst their Hunawihr Gewurztraminer shows plentiful floral aromas of roses, orange blossom and nectar alongside apricot, peach and a touch of sweet spice. This makes it a great candidate to match more moderate spice.
Finally, New Zealand bring us Two Rivers Juliet Riesling with ripe fruit, honey suckle and a sweet touch of sherbet mixed with toasted sesame seeds and savoury almonds. Great for a wide range of curries, but especially nut-based such as Pasanda or Thai peanut curry. Meanwhile, Zephyr Gewurztraminer shows enticing red capsicum, gooseberry, lychee, rose petal and freshly cut lemongrass. Great with creamy curries or a milder Biryani.
WINES OF TEXTURE
Another white option is to go for wine of fuller body, whether gently oaked (not over-oaked) or part oaked, or left on the lees for a good period time to bring texture. These will bring our riper fruit alongside creamier texture and other elements such as vanilla, nuts and smoke. Warmer climes add the tropical to match creamy curry dishes. Think Korma, Pasanda, Tikka Masala or Butter Chicken.
Chardonnay is an obvious option and we can recommend Vinaceous Shakre Chardonnay that treats 20% of the wine in French oak barriques for oak notes alongside rich tropical fruit flavours, making it perfect to accompany fruity curries. Viura is often light and acidic, but Akemi Oaked Viura uses subtle oaking to add texture and ripe tropical complexity to the floral notes of this grape. Subtle pepper and vanilla make this creamy great with South East Asian curries or spicy noodle dishes.
Viognier is another grape that brings fuller body and if we look to the New World, we find the perfect match. Quara Estate Viognier from Argentina is unoaked but spends time on lees. Its naturally off-dry palate shows ripe peachy character and stands up well to light, creamy curries. South Africa's Bellingham Bernard Series Viognier is fermented on the lees before partial maturation in old oak barrels for exceptional fragrance, apricot and white pear character. The finish has a tropical fruit touch with spice intrigue, making it another all round good pick for mild, creamy curries.
Going native, some indigenous grapes from the New World have a natural ability to match curry dishes. Argentinian Torrontes is one of them; a grape with a natural aptitude to match coconut-based curry sauces. Inacayal Torrontes is unoaked, but shows the wonderful profile of this grape with lots of tropical aromas such as pineapple, grapefruit, guava, and Asian pear alongside floral jasmine flowers. Coconut curry is a must to try with this.
LOOK TO ASIA
Finally on white wine matches, look to South and South East Asia itself. A plethora of quality winemakers are using noble grapes that show an adaptation in their terroir that complements the range of South and South East Asian spices excellently.
Sauvignon Blanc from the New World can often match curry dishes, and Sula Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc from India is the ultimate example. Unoaked, the beautiful terroir of the Nashik Valley brings a fresh, very herbaceous wine of bell pepper and cut grass alongside tropical guava, white stone fruits and essential spice. Works with many milder curries, but particularly those with fish or vegetables.
Another curry match surprise is classic white French blends from Gascogne or Rhone. This is because these rustic grapes bring the aromatic complexity, and off-dryness, as fitting as a Riesling or Gewurztraminer. Think Semillon, Colombard, Gros Manseng. Thailand's Monsoon Valley White blends Colombard with textured Chenin Blanc and off-dry White Malaga for a wine that will enhance your Thai Green or Red curry beautifully.
In red wines, it is best to look for a good balance of fruit alongside equal savoury complexity to match curry spices. Reds bring out the best in bolder curry dishes but can also match milder cuisine if the dish has sufficient complexity. More suited to red meat or bolder vegetable dishes, think of wine profiles with good warming spices, herbs, floral violet and smoke.
Oak ageing can be beneficial dependent on the grape, but as with oaked white wines, too much oak treatment can have an adverse effect. This is shown with Rioja Tempranillo-based reds. Well known for matching curry dishes and barbecue, the go-to wine is a Crianza (medium oak-aged) as a reliable friend for your dish. Tomato-based dishes such as Rogan Josh are a particular favourite. Manoso Rioja Crianza brings vanilla, ripe fruits, toast and liquorice for a wine that matches well with lamb curries.
Shiraz is another old friend of the curry dish. The warmer climes of Australia, South America and Asia lend this grape a smoky and peppery profile that enhances many spiced dishes. Sula Vineyards Shiraz hits the mark with a subtle oak character. Black pepper, smoky bacon, ripe blackberry and blueberry, with chocolate and vanilla on the finish make it perfect with beef or lamb curries or good spice. Aves Del Sur Reserva Syrah brings a Chilean example with 10 months oak ageing for intense cherry and blueberry balancing coffee, earthy tobacco, nutmeg, clove, smoke and vanilla. This deep, elegant wine matches a wide range of curries with its complexity, and can even pair with sweeter dishes. Monsoon Valley Red is Thailand's answer, blending Shiraz alongside native Pokdum, Dornfelder and Rondo for layered complexity of plum, toast, subtle smoke and a spice character with leathery undertones running throughout. Great with Panang beef curry, chilli pork and the spiciest red curries.
CARMENERE & TANNAT
As with white wines, there are grapes native to, or that now thrive in the New World that imbue local spices into their wines. South America brings Carmenere and Tannat into the fold. Carmenere lends itself to a herbaceous profile with redolent peppercorn and is common in Chile. Araucano Reserva Carmenere is aged for 8 months in second fill French oak to bring rope fruits, prune, white pepper and herbaceous rosemary, thyme and eucalyptus. Perfect for rich, deep curries.
Tannat is a dark, tannic grape that is a staple of Uruguay and can show plentiful vanilla, dark chocolate, tobacco and liquorice to really match bolder, hot curries, especially those of South Asia. Gimenez Mendez Tannat is aged in American and French oak for 10 months to produce an exceptional example with classic cedar, ripe raspberry and plum, vanilla and tobacco. Jose Ignacio Tannat ages for 6-12 months in French oak for a juicy wine full of plums, blackberry and warming spices.
South Africa's Pinotage grape is another worthy of note. Its floral-earthy character is a great companion for curry, but one must watch for tannins as a grape known to produce high levels at times. Try Pinotage with hotter spiced curries and Biryanis. Rickety Bridge Pinotage spends 12 months in oak barrels for red currants, blue berries and subtle smokiness. Franschhoek Cellar Stone Bridge Pinotage is matured in French oak for 8 to 12 months for generous black cherry, clove, raspberry jam, ripe mulberry, glimmers of tobacco and spice.
PRIMITIVO / ZINFANDEL
Finally on the reds, Italy's Primitivo (aka Zinfandel) provides a rustic, earthy match for the spice, complexity and heat of many dishes. There are many examples, but now that this grape is appearing in South Asia itself, where better to look! India's Sula Vineyards Zinfandel shows red berries, blackberry and plum with just a hint of cinnamon to match soft spiced curries.
Finally, rose-lovers need not miss out either! The lighter, drier Provence-style roses may not be a good match, but thee are plenty of deeper rose wines that can work well with milder to moderate curries. Deeper colour is a clue that bolder grapes and more extract from red skin grapes is present in the wine. Look for grapes such as Grenache, Malbec, Saperavi, Merlot or Feteasca Neagra.
Romania's Solara Rose blends the latter two grapes. The wine is only lightly filtered for more natural depth, and appears deep pink with purple hues. Bolder flavours make it a good match for Thai red curry with tiger prawns or fish curries. Georgia's Tbilvino Saperavi Rose uses the popular native red grape that has colour in the free run juice, even before skin contact. Medium-bodied with blackcurrant, ripe peach, and raspberry on an off-dry palate that shows a spicy finish. An excellent all rounder to match mild to moderately spiced vegetable or white meat curries.
And there you have it! So much wine to choose from to enjoy with your curry, you'll be spoilt for choice :)