Ask a Sommelier: Wine to Pair with a Few Favorite Indian Dishes

Robyn Lee

Whether you're navigating a wine list or plotting an evening of BYO (or ordering delivery and opening what's in the fridge), choosing wine that will taste good with Indian food is quite a pairing predicament. First of all, there's the challenge of chilies and a wide range of vibrant spices, and second, there's the issue of finding a wine that will go well with the whole range of dishes that you select. For this week's 'Ask a Somm', we turned to a few pros for advice, both general and specific.

We asked sommeliers from around the country for a few broad wine recommendations for pairing with an Indian meal, as well as their wine picks for three of our favorite dishes. Here's what they had to say.

A Bit of General Advice

"German Rieslings are hands down the best wine for Indian food. The slight sweetness these wines often posses tends to balance out the spice in these dishes."— Patrick Cappiello (Pearl & Ash)

"Riesling is a popular answer, but I'm not gonna lie: crisp, ice-cold lager would be my first choice."—Carla Rzeszewski (The Spotted Pig, The Breslin, and The John Dory Oyster Bar)

"One category I've found friendly for Indian cuisine is Alsatian Pinot Gris. By no means is the acidity so rapier-like, as in Riesling, to strip every element of the dish off your palate. This, to me, is important, because the most important element of food and beverage is the interaction—this is most apparent after you've swallowed, or sipped. There's an aftertaste; this ethereal lingering, and one should 'feel' something of both the dish and the beverage. Texture-wise, the Pinot Gris of Alsace have a creaminess that complements a lot of the texture in this cuisine."— Scott Cameron (Atera)

"Normally I like to drink wines from regions where the food comes from. Since we are in India that probably won't work, so let's get to the drawing board. We have some very intensely flavored dishes here so I want to keep the alcohol in check. I think a wine that is chilled also adds a nice refreshing component to the pairing and when spice comes into the mix, I like a little residual sweetness as well."— Sabato Sagaria MS (The Little Nell Hotel)

"The big thing to avoid with spicy food is tannin and oak."

"Wines with a touch of residual sugar are a great foil to the spiciness. Off-Dry Rieslings and Gewurztraminers can be particularly rewarding. A demi-sec sparkling wine also works really well. The big thing to avoid with spicy food is tannin and oak. Put away those big Napa Cabs when it's time for Indian food."—Jason Wagner (Henri, The Gage)

"I always look for off-dry or phenolic whites, eventually rosé, and more rarely red. For the off dry white, you can really have fun with a lot of wines people don't really drink anymore like old Sauternes, Jurancon, off dry Vouvrau, Cabernet d'Anjou (an off dry rosé); of course off dry riesling. Skin-fermented Friuli wines works also pretty well."— Pascaline Lepeltier (Rouge Tomate)

Wines for Lamb Vindaloo

Robyn Lee

"Alsatian Gewurztraminer can be great with lamb vindaloo."—Jeremy Quinn (Telegraph, Webster, Bluebird, Reno)

"I would go with a rosé made from Syrah (and if you can find a back vintage rosé, all the better.) It doesn't have to be old, but a year or two older would work wonders. Or Spanish rosato made from Mencia grape would do just as well."— Arthur Hon (Sepia)

"Generally for Indian food, I recommend off-dry whites (Rieslings, Pinot Gris) or chilled, fruity or spicy reds (Gamey, Dolcetto, Freisa, Grenache). For the lamb dish: Cabernet Franc from Lieu Dit in the Santa Ynez Valley, 2011. It's slightly carbonic with a bit of prickle that makes the wine very juicy to drink."—Hristo Zisovski (Altamarea Group)

"For whites I'd go with a blend, which offered aromatic bursts to complement the spices in the dish, along with both body to match the dish and enough acid to refresh. Arbe Garbe's Malvasia blend from Russian River Valley would be my pick. Red? Low alcohol, chillable Grenache or a gulpable Gamay such as Marcel Lapierre's Raisins Gaulois."—Carla Rzeszewski (The Spotted Pig, The Breslin, and The John Dory Oyster Bar)

"Spicy Lamb Vindaloo can light you up if you're not careful. Something like Bugey Cerdon would be fun to try and hopefully mellow some of that heat, not to mention it's delicious and kind of unique."— Sabato Sagaria MS (The Little Nell Hotel)

Wines for Chicken Korma

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

"This would be the dish I'd roll the dice with for a Sherry-style wine: Amontillado such as Perez Barquero's Gran Barquero. As long as the spices in the dish were more aromatic and less actually spicy, the fuller-bodied Amontillado (it's made with the grape Pedro Ximenez, as it comes from Montilla rather than the Sherry region of Jerez) could stand up to the dish but play with the aromatic component. "—Carla Rzeszewski (The Spotted Pig, The Breslin, and The John Dory Oyster Bar)

"For Chicken Korma, choose rosé made from Grenache or a Grenache blend. The roundness of the coconut milk and yogurt provide a distinct texture component to the dish that needs to be addressed with the right rosé. I'd choose a Provencal-style Grenache based rose as opposed to the Spanish kind. The key is to provide some body in the wine without overpowering the dish. Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo, an Italian rosé made with Montelpuciano (a dark thick skin red grape) will work just as well."— Arthur Hon (Sepia)

"Chicken Korma tends to be a little more mild on the spice so you could try something like Gewurztraminer or a Condrieu. A little Riesling never hurt but something with some richness so perhaps something like Domaine Weinbach's L'Inedit."— Sabato Sagaria MS (The Little Nell Hotel)

"An aged Mosel riesling, when it starts to have aromas of elderflower and yuzu (you can also do NY riesling); or an aromatic wheat beer like the white nest from Hitachino."— Pascaline Lepeltier (Rouge Tomate)

"With the Chicken Korma, we need to be aware of not only the spice, but also the coconut milk and cream elements. Here I would choose a relatively low alcohol wine to moderate the spice while bringing in some fresh acidity to cut the creamy richness of the dish. The aromatic and bright 2012 Banyan Gewürztraminer from Monterey County in California is around $13 and offers a perfectly refreshing counterpoint to each bite."—Brian Smith (Winc)

Wines for Saag Paneer

Robyn Lee

"With Saag Paneer I'm looking for a white with great acidity to cut through the cheese but also some good weight so let's pop a couple Austrian wines maybe a Riesling Smaragd and a Gruner Smaragd and let them fight it out Mad Max Style: 'Two wines enter, one wine leaves.'"— Sabato Sagaria MS (The Little Nell Hotel)

"With saag paneer, I enjoy lighter-bodied, brisk reds, like Austrian St.-Laurent or Beaujolais."—Jeremy Quinn (Telegraph, Webster, Bluebird, Reno)

"For Saag Paneer, look for a rosé that's high in acidity and mineral quality. Rosé from Sancerre or Germany or Pinot Noir-based rose will be delightful! The key is to provide a great palate cleansing effect for the spinach that's been enriched with cheese."— Arthur Hon (Sepia)

"A wine that wants greens alongside it, yet with a little body. Perhaps a Sauvignon Blanc from Northern Italy? A little Manincor, perhaps? A little Venica Ronca del Cero? Or even the Massican Sauvignon Blanc from Napa! That wine is super pretty and fleshy in the best way. All three are similar: floral, pretty Sauvignons that flirt with you rather than threaten you with their brash green notes. It's like all this hidden softness comes rolling out of these wines... These are the wines that made me love Sauvignon Blanc. Feminine, powerful, delicious."—Carla Rzeszewski of The Spotted Pig, The Breslin, and The John Dory Oyster Bar