Anthony Rose: 'Curry can be an enemy of wine but it need not be, if the spicing is subtle

I'm not sure who decided that the only drink for curry is lager. It's true that chilli, like chocolate and vinaigrette, can be an enemy of wine. But if the spicing is subtle, as it often is in better Indian restaurants in the UK, or, dare I suggest, in ready-made Indian meals, a good choice of wine can be a thoroughly satisfying partner.

And while we're breaking cultural barriers, why not try curry with sake, too? The rice-based drink goes naturally with Indian food. When Japanese sake- maker Philip Harper and I ate at the Indian BYO Mirch Masala, he was impressed at how well premium sake went with the food. So an invitation to try a Sake Tasting Menu at Moti Mahal in Great Queen Street didn't come as a complete bolt from the blue.

It was the brainchild of Sarah Wedgbury, a sake consultant, and Maria Rodriguez, whose eclectic wine list is well chosen. The edge of the richness of an Aki no Ta Junmai Ginjo, £21.99 (samsake.com), was toned down by the sweetness of a chickpea and crisp-fried pastry starter.

The fragrance of seared scallops with sesame, coriander and tamarind chimed with a scented Fukurokuju Junmai, £22.99 (samsake.com), and a trio of chicken tikka spiced in different ways perfectly matched a Yikogen Daiginjo, £54.40 (japanesecraftseu.co.uk), which actually tasted of rice.

With dishes of griddled jumbo prawns, venison and fried lotus flower, the food showed how sake's light chill, full body and flavour richness acts as a foil to subtly spiced dishes with a complex array of flavours. Moti Mahal's Sake Tasting menu runs until 31 July (motimahal-uk).

By coincidence Wines of Chile were also thinking about Indian food, holding "Carmenère Made for Curry" at Berkeley Square's Benares. There was a feeling that carmenère, the Bordeaux grape Chileans first thought was merlot, has a piquancy to it that might suit curry rather well. While there was an overlap with Moti Mahal in dishes such as tandoori chicken, the Kashmiri lamb roganjosh and Murgh malai tikka with black lentil dal and korma sauce were unique to Benares.

I started out as a sceptic, generally preferring a chilled dry white or off-dry white such as riesling with curry. Yet the unoaked or lightly oaked, softer, fruitier styles worked well. The oakier, the more tannic and alcoholic the wine, the more the match fell flat on its face.

A cherryish unoaked 2008 Tamaya Carmenère, £7.99, The Naked Grape (01962 732 002), with its underlying pepper, was a good starter. Equally good with its aromatic pepperiness and cherryish succulence was a 2008 De Martino Carmenère Reserva, £7.49, Majestic. Similarly, the vivid spice and light capsicum character of the 2007 Anakena Single Vineyard Carmenère, £7.95, Halifax Wine Co (01422 256333), found its ideal match in the lamb rogan josh, as did the 2008 Canepa Reserva Privada Carmenère, £12.99, Naked Wines (nakedwines.com), with its light smoky oak and supple, mulberry-juicy fruit.

The 2006 Terrunyo Carmenère and 2007 Undurraga Founders Collection Carmenère, though both good wines, failed the non-intrusive oak test. By contrast, the 2006 Montes Purple Angel, £26.95, Harrods, was a jewel in the halo with its fine, concentrated red fruits quality and savoury acidity. As an alternative, try these with a barbecue and I doubt you'll be disappointed.

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