Back in 1931, the best drink to accompany curry that André Simon, the great gastronome of his day, could come up with was ... iced water.
Back in 1931, the best drink to accompany curry that André Simon, the great gastronome of his day, could come up with was ... iced water. Even such an expert on the art of matching food and wine - oysters with chablis, soup with pale sherry and roasts with burgundy were all fine and dandy - found his imaginative powers restricted by the lack of the variety of wine styles that are available to today's patron of the curry house. More than 70 years later, many people still agree with Simon on the grounds that wine doesn't belong in Indian culture and you should therefore stick with beer. Well, not me.
Times change, cultures adapt. Were he to return to the food and drink fray now, André Simon would have a lot of catching up to do. We have a far greater selection of wines at our disposal, many examples of which hail from Australia and are specifically developed to complement the proliferation of Asian and ethnic cuisines in their midst. And anyway, how much of the Indian food we eat in this country bears any relation to the real thing? Certainly not the ready meals whose amiable seasoning can cope pretty well with the right wine.
At the opposite end of Indian gastronomy in Britain we have Vineet Bhatia. In preparation for Diwali (which runs from Friday to the following Wednesday), the chef was showing off a range of Alsace wines with Indian food at his Michelin-starred restaurant, Rasoi in Chelsea. What better place to test the conventional wisdom that spicy Alsace gewürztraminer and curry is a marriage arranged in Nirvana? Although his spicing was sensitively subtle, only an assertively rich gewürztraminer could stand up to the sweetness of dishes like grilled spiced duck escalopes. Gewürztraminer can be too much of a good thing. The more subtle tokay pinot gris or more minerally riesling often does a better job.
Plenty of pukka Indian restaurants such as Tamarind, Bombay Brasserie, Zaika and Chor Bizarre take their customers' increasing preference for wine with their meal seriously. For most of us, the opportunities are less exalted but no less imaginative, when we eat out at great value Indian restaurants that adjust spicing according to your taste and allow you to bring your own bottle. On the night I ate at Mirch Masala in south London, for instance, drinks on tables ranged from Blue Ice and Stella through gluggy Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon to a classy Nuits St-Georges. I took an Aussie dry riesling which was perfect with a not overspicy fish bhajia. A soft Aussie shiraz worked well with the lamb tikka masala because it was of the fruity, drinkable sort.
Eating in offers a similar opportunity to try out your food and wine matching talents. If you're cooking Indian or even heating up a ready-made tikka masala, you can keep the spicing light enough to suit the wine of your choice and make sure it's served at the right temperature. By chilling the wine to temper chilli and sweetness, you'll find a pungent Kiwi sauvignon blanc, South African chenin blanc, and Australian riesling have the requisite body and opulence. Relatively mild, yogurt-based dishes and vegetarian dishes can stand up to crisply unoaked New World chardonnay. With reds, avoid Bordeaux and anything excessively alcoholic, oaky or tannic. Chilli is the bane of alcohol, while tannin can taste bitter. Create your own Diwali feast with a plump and juicy red like a 2003 Beaujolais, a plump Argentinian malbec, a fruity valpolicella, an honest Côtes du Rhône, or a scented New World pinot noir.Reuse content