From my experience over the last twenty years or so, wines pair favorably with Indian dishes as long as you pair a single wine with a single dish. Of course there are some drastic clashes. Excessive chilli doesn’t pair with anything except water or maybe a very cold light beer. However, pepper is a fabulous flavor with a full bodied Shiraz. Any sour notes, in any cuisine for that matter, whether it is lemon, lime, tamarind or vinegar, should not be in a wine pairing menu. Ditto with deep fried foods. Herbs and spices, as opposed to chilli are absolutely fine.
When asked to pair wines with Indian dishes. I generally choose a menu with dishes taken primarily from the north Indian/old Delhi or original Mughlai repertoire. I have found that most of these dishes are less challenging to pair and in general go very well with wines. The spices “marry”, they don’t over power the wines. I pair seafood and vegetarian dishes generally with a sauvignon Blanc like Good Earth’s Aarohi which is crisp with notes of gooseberry and citrus and not overtly “tropical”.
I follow this with chicken or lamb kebabs paired with a Bordeaux style red like Basso which is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon which is in French oak for 12 months and leave the peppery lamb dishes and complex biryanis for an elelgant Shiraz like Brio.
I recently conducted some Master classes in my style of cooking at Ananda in the Himalayas. I concentrated on showing dishes which were full in flavor, simple to make, light to eat using little or no oil and which were naturally beautiful with colours, textures and compositions which to me spell simple, health and elegance which is really the essence of Ananda. I chose recipes which were either home style Indian and Asian in style with familiar ingredients and flavours. I feel this is in somewhat linked to the “modern Indian cuisine” movement, led by a coterie of chefs of Indian origin practicing their craft in some of the elite restaurants of London and New York, which will I feel bring about a major cultural shift at the Indian table.
This style of cooking is characterized by an emphasis on the natural flavors of fresh ingredients, rather than on excessive spiciness. It is lighter and healthier. It stresses simplicity and encourages creativity. It draws upon western techniques to make for easier preparation and it especially values presentation. Like my style of food, it is also “wine friendly” in allowing the subtle flavors of the wine to enhance the flavor of the food. I embraced this at Ananda, offering wines from Good Earth Winery wines (Aarohi, Basso, Brio) to the participants of my cookery classes. It was a huge success. I firmly believe that this style of cooking will seep into the mainstream, as more Indians and indeed global citizens, indulge their urge to explore new sensory experiences. I also believe that the Modern Indian Cuisine movement will follow the same trajectory in India as Nouvelle Cuisine did in France.
Article written by Karen Anand
Correspondent, Connoisseur Magazine