Beer might be the more traditional beverage to go alongside an Indian meal but not everyone likes beer, and it's much easier to make your mark with outstanding wines, which are very easy to come by, than it is with outstanding beers. Many of the finest Indian restaurants are thinking carefully about both their wine list and their beer selection.
Everyone knows the rule - white wines with chicken and fish, red wines with red meat- but really, such a simple maxim isn't that useful. There are thousands of red wines and thousands of white wines (plus rosé and other variations) and some are certainly better matched with Indian flavours than others.
The first rule of wine selection in any context is to read the label. It's unlikely that you'll find an estate that lists Vindaloo or Biryani as a wine's ideal match, but the label should give you a little information about the flavours you can expect. Avoid oak notes or anything with a high level of tannin- the label should tell you if a particular wine has these characteristics, which will be amplified by spices. Steer clear of anything with a high alcohol content too. Such wines will seem hotter, and it's best to find something that will complement your meal rather than compete with it.
On the other hand, you don't want the wine to be completely overpowered by the dishes either. A full-flavoured meal calls for a full flavoured wine. Gewürztraminer (a cool climate white wine of German origin) is one of the most popular choices to go with Indian and Asian cuisine. This wine works beautifully with fish in particular, and also with game. It's floral and sweet without being too heavy. If you can't find a Gewürztraminer in the local shop a sweet Riesling will also work.
Argentinian wines are also increasingly popular with spicy dishes. Look out for a Torrontes white. This wine is highly aromatic, so will bring something to the table before the first sip is taken and it's robust enough to serve with richly flavoured, spicy chicken and vegetable dishes. Torrontes is often very well priced, too.
For lamb mains, you'll need a wine with even more strength of flavour, and this usually means a red. A red may also be a better choice if your meal will include more than a dash of garlic. A Pinot Noir generally works well and these are widely available. If you have a wide range of choices, there are some wonderful Pinots Noir coming out of New Zealand's Marlborough region. An Australian Shiraz can also work well, or you can pair your Indian food with an Indian Syrah wine. Watch out for too much oak, though.
There is one exception to the rule and that applies when a lamb dish is creamy (a korma for example) rather than spicy. In that case, go back to the Gewürztraminer or the Riesling. Anything with yoghurt should be served with a sweet wine rather than a dry one, otherwise the food and wine can make a tart combination.
With a little care, you should be able to find a wine to go with any Indian dish, whether spicy or mild. Australian Shiraz, Marlborough Pinot Noir, and sweeter Rieslings are easy to come by and will almost certainly be available locally, or you can always purchase wines online. Don't be afraid to experiment a little- you'll soon get a feel for what works best with your favourite cooking style!
Jess has a strong interest in both fine wine and Indian food, and has served on judging panels for national restaurant awards in the UK. She grew up in Australia's cool climate wine country but is prepared to admit that those are not the best choices for every meal.