Wine with… Curry

(by peter & susie)

This is the first in a new series of mini-profiles on what wines to drink with certain dishes.

Our inspiration for these pieces comes from our new competition What Food What Wine, which we ran back in June. We assembled an elite judging panel together with top food author Jo Pratt and sat down to find the best wine matches to go with ten classic British dishes, from fish’n’chips to apple crumble.

It was an experience that veered between fantastic fun and gruelling going – but always utterly enlightening. We tasted the wines true blind – meaning we had no idea where the wines came from or what they were. The only thing we as judges knew was whether the wines were an everyday bottle (ie under £10) or a special purchase (ie over £10).

The curry we chose was chicken tikka massala – recently voted Britain’s favourite dish, and a staple on dinner tables the country over.

You can download Jo Pratt’s recipe in pdf format by clicking here: Chicken_Tikka_Masala. This was one of the first recipes of Jo’s we cooked up at home and it’s sensational – spicy but balanced, just the right amount of creaminess, tanginess and spicing.

When judging, we found that, even though the recipe is pretty subtle as far as variants on this dish go, the spicing still tended to play havoc with the finer, more delicate wines – especially in the more expensive (over £10) category.

It bore out what an Indian friend of ours once told us – that, in India, when the food comes out, the wine (and whisky) is cleared away. The logic being that there is little place for fine wine or elegant glassware on a table where the dishes are that strongly flavoured and spiced, and in many cases the food is eaten with fingers rather than cutlery.

As a result, we enjoyed wines that had more direct charms – crisp acidity to cleanse and refresh the palate, not too high alcohol plus maybe a touch of extra fruit ripeness or sweetness to offset the spice.

Below is a list of selected winners we’ve put together. A fully searchable and very user friendly list can be found on the What Food What Wine site, including details of UK retail availability via WineDirect.

Top wines to pair with chicken tikka massala


Toro Loco Spanish Rosé 2010, 12% (£3.49, Aldi) – JUDGE’S CHOICE, TROPHY and 5-STAR winner – vibrant fruit cleansing the palate and really engaging with that tomato tanginess. Made by Bodegas Covinas from Bobal. Spanish rosé really is fantastic value for money. Delicious.

Pink Elephant rosé 2010, 12% (£6.65) – 4-STAR winner – rosé works well with this dish because its upfront fruit works well with the spicing, while that extra bit of body and lift really engages with the tanginess of the tomatoes. This wine was made with spicy food in mind by the team at 10 International and DFJ Vinhos in Portugal.


Framingham Classic Riesling 2009, 12% (£11.49) – TROPHY and 5-STAR winner – the brisk acidity refreshes the palate while the well integrated sweetness calms the spice and the lime/cream flavours harmonise brilliantly with the dish. Another top match from New Zealand.

Hilltop Traditional Czerszegi Fuszeres 2009, 11% (£4.59, Morrissons) – 4-STAR winner – from Hilltop Neszemely in Hungary, this wine has a name that’s almost as much of a mouthful as the dish. Exotically scented and gluggably fresh.

Selaks Premium Selection Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010, 13.5% (£8.49, Stevens Garnier) – 4-STAR winner – good Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, with its extra richness and lift, can work very well alongside spicy dishes. Top match.

Blossom Hill Vineyard Collection Aromatic & Delicate White NV, 11.5% (£5.99, widely available) – 4-STAR winner – continuing the theme of refreshing, easy-drinking whites with moderate alcohol, it’s great to see the big brands doing well in this category. A really good match at a great price.

Franz Haas Gewurztraminer 2009, 14% (£19.99, Liberty) – 4-STAR winner – Lovely floral, pithy match, almost in contrast to the dish, but working really well to make an exotic blend of flavours. A classy drop to go with this dish.


McGuigan Black Label Sparkling Rosé NV, 11% (£8.99) – 4-STAR winner – fizzy pink works as something a bit different with this dish, the sweet richness working to offset the spice while the fizz and freshness refreshes the palate. Off-beat, but it works.


Errázuriz Carmenère 2010, 14% (£8.99, Hatch Mansfield) – 4-STAR winner – this win lends weight to the argument that Chile’s Carmenère variety is a great match for curry. Rich fruit and pepperiness harmonise but don’t overwhelm. A great option if you’re a confirmed red wine drinker.

Percheron Old Vine Cinsault 2010, 14% (£6.70, Boutinot) – 4-STAR winner – the gentle fruit and elegant restraint of this South African red works well with the powerful flavours of the dish.