Without a doubt, curry is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Indian food. But actually, it’s not only a staple in Indian cuisine but also in Thailand, Japan, and other Asian countries. Matching curry and wine isn’t easy, especially if the curry is very spicy. Nevertheless, you can create fantastic wine and curry pairings.
The best wine to pair with curry is a low-alcohol wine with a decent acidity level. Go for dry whites like Chardonnay or Viognier, off-dry whites such as Riesling or Pinot Gris, or light reds like Pinot Noir or Grenache.
It is important to consider the precise recipe, though. Depending on the ingredients, some wines might work better or worse. Read on to find the perfect pairings for the most popular curry dishes.
What Is Curry?
Curry has two meanings. On the one hand, it’s the name of a mixture of various spices. Its main ingredient is turmeric, a herbal plant from the ginger family. It contributes only a little flavor but a vibrant yellow color to the mix. Curry powder can also contain cumin, coriander, and fenugreek that add mild flavors, as well as more dominant spices such as cardamom, mace, and nutmeg. Depending on the precise recipe, curry powder ranges from relatively mild to very spicy.
On the other hand, curry is a collective term that describes various dishes from the Asian continent. Most people associate it with Indian cuisine, but there are also delicious curry dishes from other countries like Thailand, Vietnam, or Japan. They can be prepared with meats or seafood, lentils, or vegetables. No matter this main ingredient, they typically come with a flavorful sauce made from various herbs and spices. The different variations can be thin and watery or thick and creamy. And they don’t necessarily contain curry powder.
Interestingly, the name curry is a British creation. Colonists invented it in the 18th century, presumably by adapting the word “kari” (English: sauce) from Tamil, a widespread language in India and Sri Lanka. While the term made its way into English and many other European languages, it’s rather uncommon in the countries where curry dishes originated.
This article will focus on the second definition and discuss the best wine pairings for popular curry dishes.
Various Types of Curry Powder
Curry and Wine Pairing Rules
It can be challenging to find a wine to pair with curry because there are so many different types. To find the best wine for your curry, the following general rules are a good starting point:
- The types of meat or vegetable don’t really matter when looking for a proper wine pairing. The sauces are much more important because they provide so many different flavors and also determine the meal’s spiciness. So pick your curry and wine pairing based upon the sauce.
- The combination of tannins and tomatoes’ acidity can create very unpleasant bitter flavors. So pair tomato-based curry and wine with low tannin levels.
- Creamy and buttery curry goes best with rich white wines with decent acidity.
- Acidity also helps bear with spiciness because it makes the mouth water. So acidic wine and curry is a great combination, even if the curry is hot.
- Sweet wines are another option for spicy meals. Sugar coats your palate and tunes down the heat. Even wines that contain only little residual sugar but offer aromas of sweet fruits can have a similar effect.
- In contrast, be careful with wines that are high in alcohol. Alcohol intensifies the heat of ingredients like chilis and ginger, so high-alcohol wines make hot meals even hotter.
Korma Curry and Wine
Korma Curry has been known since the 16th century. Traditionally, it was a prestige dish, served to royalties in Northern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Today, chefs make Korma Curry with lamb, beef, chicken, or game, or in a vegetarian style. The main ingredients are seasoned with a mix of spices such as coriander, cumin, red chilis, and garlic and seared for a couple of minutes. The heat is then reduced, and yogurt or cream is added together with sliced tomatoes, onions, and more spices. The dish further braises at a low temperature until ready to serve.
Usually, Korma is a rich, creamy type of curry. It’s very mild in comparison to other variations, allowing you to sense better all the herbs and spices in the sauce.
The right wine to pair with Korma Curry should have a good level of acidity to cut through the creamy sauce. As the dish is rather mild, you can choose a wine with a high alcohol level, such as a New World Zinfandel. These wines typically spend some time in oak barrels. During that aging period, they develop delicious aromas of red, black, and dried fruits that complement the curry’s aromas perfectly. Besides, you might also sense coffee, tobacco, dark chocolate, or vanilla. If you’re a white wine lover, go for an oaked Viognier.
Tandoori Chicken and Wine
A world-famous Indian curry dish is Tandoori chicken. It has an even longer history than Korma Curry and can be traced back to 3000 BC. Its name comes from the word “Tandoor”, which is the name of a coal-fueled clay oven that is traditionally used to prepare the meal. The chicken is seasoned with a marinade from yogurt, garlic, ginger, onion, and a special curry powder called “Garam Masala”. This mix consists of red chilis, cumin, coriander, cardamom, and a couple of other spices. Next, the marinated chicken roasts at a very high temperature.
This preparation method gives Tandoori chicken a rich flavor profile. It combines spicy flavors with a slightly acidic touch and smoky notes. The level of heat can vary, but usually, it’s moderately spicy.
The best pairing for Tandoori chicken is a light- to medium-bodied red wine with intense fruit aromas. Pinot Noir is an excellent choice. The same goes for Grenache or Grenache-based blends. Think of GSM wines (Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre) from the Cótes du Rhône region in France. Finally, you can try a Nero d’Avola wine from Southern Italy.
Madras Curry and Wine
Madras Curry comes from the Southern part of India and is named after its home region (which today is called Tamil Nadu). It’s a tomato-based dish with a characteristic red color that comes from paprika and red chilis. Other ingredients include onions, garlic, ginger, and various spices and herbs such as tamarind, cumin, coriander, and anise. Many of them are roasted before being added to the meal. You can prepare Madras Curry as a vegetarian dish or add meat or fish.
Although the spiciness can vary, Madras Curry typically is on the hotter end of the range. Besides, it features sweet, savory, earthy, and sour aromas. As a tomato-based dish, it also has a good level of acidity, and the roasted herbs contribute toasty notes.
Madras Curry is a savory meal with a complex flavor profile. This type of curry pairs very well with red wine. It should be a low-tannin wine, though, so the tannins don’t clash with the tomatoes’ acidity. Grenache wines from France or Spain (where it’s called Garnacha) are a good choice. Especially Grenache-dominated blends from the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation in the Rhône region are excellent matches. They are not too high in tannins but feature intense aromas of red and black fruits that complement the curry’s flavor profile superbly.
Thai Red Curry and Wine
One of the most famous meals from Thailand is Thai Red Curry, also known as Kaeng Phet or Kaeng Daeng. As the name suggests, it has a red color that comes from its main ingredient: red curry paste. This paste consists of dried red chilis, garlic, cumin, shallots, lemongrass, cilantro, and various other spices. Besides the red paste, the dish contains coconut milk, fish sauce, palm sugar, bamboo sprouts, and lime leaves. Typically, chefs add some type of meat or seafood and serve the curry with steamed rice.
Especially the chilis make Thai Red Curry a very spicy meal. But the coconut milk, the fish sauce, and the other tasty ingredients give it a fascinating complexity and reduce the heat’s dominance.
Enjoy your Thai Red Curry with wine from the New World. Consider a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling from California, Australia, or New Zealand. These white wines have decent acidity and feature intense flavors of ripe fruits. This combination makes them fantastic counterplayers to the spicy meal. Another option is an off-dry Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley or an Alsace Pinot Gris. They are slightly sweeter than the formerly mentioned wines, making them an excellent match if the curry is extremely hot.
Thai Red Curry
Thai Green Curry and Wine
Green Thai Curry is another classic of Thai cuisine. It is known as Kaeng Khiao Wan in Thailand. Its name comes from its green color resulting from the various green ingredients. Among them are green chilis, coriander, lemongrass, and lime peels. Chefs make a green curry paste from them and process this paste together with coconut milk, shrimp paste, and various vegetables into a thick soup. Depending on personal preferences, this curry can be served with chicken, duck, fish, or tofu and side dishes such as rice or noodles.
A common misbelief in Western countries is that Thai Green Curry is milder than its red counterpart. But actually, the opposite is true: Chefs use young green chilis for traditional Thai Green Curry. And these are even hotter than dried red chilis. So, although the coconut milk adds some sweetness and the shrimp paste contributes a subtle earthy note, you will sense primarily heat.
The best wine to pair with Thai Green Curry and its heat is an off-dry white wine. Like for Red Thai Curry, Pinot Gris from Alsace works just fine. This elegant wine provides a delicious sweetness and a subtle muskiness that are great contrasts to the meal’s heat. Nevertheless, they allow the dishes’ flavors to shine. The same is true for Riesling Spätlese (English: late harvest) from Germany or Austria.
If you’re a sparkling wine lover, try an Asti Spumante or a semi-sparkling Moscato d’Asti with your Green Thai Curry. In addition to their sweetness, their bubbles help clean your palate to make the heat more bearable.
Yellow Thai Curry with Fish
Thai Yellow Curry and Wine
Thai Yellow Curry is the third famous curry variation from Thailand. Like its red and green siblings, Thai Yellow Curry is made from a curry paste, various vegetables and spices, and optionally meat or fish. For the curry paste, chefs use dried Thai chilis, garlic, ginger, shallots, coriander, cilantro, turmeric, and other spices.
Thai chilis are less hot than red or green chilis, making the yellow variation the mildest of all Thai curries. Although it’s perceivably spicy, it gives the different herbs and spices more room to showcase their aromas.
Like red or green curries, you can combine Thai Yellow Curry and wine that is off-dry to semi-sweet. Pinot Gris or Riesling are great choices. But you can also choose a dry white wine. Make sure it isn’t too light; otherwise, the meal might overpower it. Go for fruity flavors that you can find in Chardonnay wines from Australia, New Zealand, or California. Stick to unoaked styles. Unoaked Viognier can be a good wine pairing for Thai Yellow Curry, too.
Katsu Curry comes from Japan. The most common variation is Katsu Chicken, but you can also prepare it with pork or other meats. The meat is breaded with eggs and flour, fried, and finally served with rice and a curry sauce. This sauce consists of butter, oil, sake, brown sugar, and multiple spices and vegetables. Especially caramelized onions and carrots are noteworthy because they add a subtle sweetness to the dish.
Katsu Curry is often considered Japanese barbecue. It’s thick and creamy with a mild spiciness as well as salty and sweet notes. The fried meat adds some crunchiness, making this Japanese dish a very rich culinary experience.
The right wine to pair with Katsu Curry is low in alcohol and high in acidity. These characteristics help the wine cut through the thick sauce without overpowering it. An off-dry German Riesling is a fantastic match. Its subtle sweetness is just perfect to complement the sauce’s flavors. The fried meat opens the door for another option: sparkling wine. In general, sparklers are an excellent pairing for spicy and fried foods, so consider a bottle of Champagne. The brut and extra-brut variations might not be the best choice, though, so better go for the off-dry styles.
With the many different variations, it might be challenging to find the right curry and wine combination. But with the knowledge from this article and a little testing (or tasting), you will surely figure out your favorite wine and curry pairing.