by Lisa Johnston, Wine Musing
Time to be frank! Curries are amongst the hardest food to match with wine as the elements of most curries conspire against wine to overwhelm and change even the best of them. The main culprits are chili and mustard which provide the heat and add intensity to the flavours. However there are, of course, always exceptions to the rule.
Heat – a hot and spicy curry rarely will work with any wine and you may as well have a low alcohol beer, fruit drink, iced tea or traditional Lassi instead. The heat of the curry increases the perception of heat in the form of alcohol in the wine and before long, you might feel like your head is about to explode. So you take another gulp of wine to quench that fire and whoosh !!!…….. There is no relief here! I think that even a low alcohol moscato feels like it is adding fuel to the fire at this stage. But, if the curry is more a moderate heat with lots of calming accompaniments, a wine can work if it’s fruity, lower in alcohol, and in the case of red wine, lower in tannin.
Chili also will make a wine that is bone dry or light in fruit character, such as a Hunter Valley Semillon, seem drying, bitter, less fruity and less sweet. Therefore a wine with some sweetness, be it residual sugar or just sweetly ripe fruit, will work better. Sweetly ripe wines are those with intense fruit and that don’t have sugar left from the ferment, such as a sweet wine, with the intensity of the fruit making the wine seem sweeter than its sugar content denotes.
Maximum flavour – the powerful flavours of curries are another make or break element for wine matching. I am talking about the pungent sweet/sour of Thai curries fragrant with herbs, chili, tamarind and fish sauce and the creamy cinnamon and exotic spices of a butter chicken or Massaman beef.
The big, complex flavours and aromas that assail your senses, mean that you need to have equally intense flavours and aromas in your wine or the curry will simply overwhelm it and your wine could very well taste like water. The sweetness in the dish needs something equally sweet to match or the wine will seem bitter. This is where those fruity wines shine. An aromatic wine, such as gewürztraminer and riesling, adds its fragrance to the curry providing a foil for those more volatile spice aromas.
Rich and creamy – many curries are rich with coconut cream and here you want to have wines that have high acid to strip away that cloying nature of the cream and freshen your mouth, ready to enjoy the next mouthful of curry.
When I worked with a local Malaysian restaurant to help staff come up with a list of recommendations the best wines for their spicy food, pinot noir along with riesling and lightly wooded semillon were the winners. Australia’s favourite reds, the bold and tannic shirazs and cabernets simply tasted dried out and felt too alcoholic although they were the most commonly requested wines.
So, the best wines to pour with curry are intensely fruity, sweet or off dry, low in tannin and for creamy curries, high in acid. Good varietal white wines to try with your next curry are riesling, moscato, gewürztraminer, and a lightly wooded semillon and blends of these are great, particularly with Malaysian and Thai dishes and mild dishes such as Butter Chicken and Marsala Dosai. Often Marlborough sauvignon blanc can have too much acid and perhaps too much flavour to be a good match, but a lighter Australian or French sauvignon blanc can be better. Beware of whites with higher alcohol such as a 14.5% viognier or pinot gris as they seem a good match for the flavours but the alcohol can blow it.
Rosé wines can also be a worthy match as they have that fruit, acid with light tannin combination, sometimes with the sweetness as well. Just take care that the flavours are not overwhelmed in more delicate drier styles of rosé. Red wines are often a difficult match although the shining light here is pinot noir. Pinot noir has the perfume that enhances the curry experience with the intense fruit character and lower tannins.
With so many styles of curries with individual spice and heat profiles, there is plenty of choice. If you love curry and you love wine, why not experiment with your favourites?
Here are some recommendations:
Logan Weemala Gewurztraminer 2012 ($17) – Aromas of delicate rose petal and ripe lychee fruit entice you to take another sip. The fruit is ripe and generous. At this price you really cannot go wrong and it will be great with a Thai spice inspired dish.
Krinklewood Wild White 2012 ($16) – The Wild White has some spicy floral character coming from a dollop of fragrant gewurztraminer to the ripe tropical stonefruit verdelho making up this year’s blend. Fresh, dry & fleshy on the palate.
Wirra Wirra Mrs Wigley Grenache Rose 2012 ($18.50) – Deeper pink rosé in colour, indulgently ripe strawberries dominate and a drop of bubblegum musk just for added fun. It is elegantly weighted, soft and juicy with a generous length.
Windy Peak Pinot Noir ($15) – Cherry, mushroom & toasted cinnamon spice. Hard to get a Pinot that offers much pleasure under $15 but this one is definitely worth a try.
What are your favourite wines to drink with curries?