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As usual, no-one quite knows what the weather holds this autumn – whether we’ll have a long balmy Indian summer or plunge straight into fog and frost – but one thing is sure: if you’re a lover of Indian food, some sort of curry or spicy grill will be on the menu.
But what to drink with it?
The idea that you can’t drink wine with hot food now seems totally outdated. The advent of more sophisticated Indian restaurants and ready meals with a wide range of different levels of heat makes wine a natural and enjoyable partner for Indian meals – but not just any wine. Tannins are out with spicy food and that rules out most reds. What you really need are fresh unoaked whites that have a bit of sweetness and spice of their own and for that you need to look no further than Alsace in the north-east of France.
Alsace wines are easy to understand because, unlike many French wines, they’re named after the grape variety they’re made from. The best known varieties are smooth, dry Pinot Blanc (a great alternative for Chardonnay lovers); elegant, crisp Riesling; Pinot Gris (a musky, sensual relative of Pinot Grigio); and one of the world’s most spectacular grape varieties exotic, lychee-scented Gewurztraminer.
From barbecues to curries…
If you were having a late summer Indian-spiced barbecue for example involving Tandoori chicken, naan and salads you could pick a fresh Alsace Pinot Blanc (pictured, left) to take the edge off the heat. (Pinot Blanc also goes really well with mild creamy or coconut-based curries such as kormas.) Spicy seafood dishes such as Goan prawns or grilled fish with a green masala curry paste would be fabulous with a crisp apple and lime-scented Alsace Riesling.
With more robust meat dishes such as skewered lamb with a spicy marinade or an Indian-spiced steak you’d need an extra touch of sweetness and you’d find that in exotic Alsace Pinot Gris, which has its own musky, spicy notes. That would also be a good wine to pick once the colder nights draw in. It can handle the typically wide range of dishes that arrive on the table together but is a particularly good pairing for chicken and prawn curries.
If you wanted to add an exotic note to your barbecue you could grill some Indian-spiced duck legs and serve them with a mango salsa and for this there would be no better pairing than spicy Alsace Gewurztraminer, always a great match with duck.
Gewurztraminer also pairs well with richer beef or game curries that include warmer spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg (the classic garam masala mix), the perfect way to keep out the autumn cold.
Where to find Alsace wines
You’ll find you can buy all these wines in supermarkets but for a wider range and the chance to buy the best ‘Grand Cru’ versions you’ll need to go to an independent wine merchant, many of which have an extensive list of Alsace wines. Typically these come from one single exceptional vineyard and have an intense purity of flavour and crisp acidity that stand up surprisingly well to spices.
For something a little different
Then there are some sumptuously sweet Alsace wines, labelled Vendanges Tardives (late picked) or Sélection de Grains Nobles, which match spectacularly well with cardamom-scented Indian milk puddings and tropical fruits such as mango – a wickedly indulgent treat.
Finally, if it’s simply a question of having friends round for a few spicy snacks such as bhajias and pakoras your ideal partner is – no, not beer – but a glass of sparkling wine such as inexpensive but delicious Crémant d’Alsace.
In short, just remember that the hotter the dish the more aromatic a white wine you need to balance it. Lighter curries, grills and seafood dishes pair best with crisper, drier whites such as Pinot Blanc and Riesling; spicier ones with more intensely flavoured whites that have a touch more sweetness such as Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. If you have a passion for wine and for Indian food, you can satisfy both if you choose wines from Alsace.
For more information visit www.alsacewine.com