Best wine for Indian food

Probably one of the most difficult pairings of wine and cuisine to get right, but with a little consideration of your menu selection, you can pull it off and impress. Here, we show you some simple guidelines that will simplify your selection and recommendations on what we know works well. If you’re looking to pair wine with your Indian food, you should pick a dry style of wine. Dry wine means that it has very little residual sugar and is best paired with spicy dishes. The spice in Indian food can be overwhelming for some palates if paired with sweeter, fruitier wines.

A dry white or red will pair well with the spiciness of this cuisine, while still giving your taste buds enough sweetness to make the pairing enjoyable.

The general rule of whites with chicken or fish and reds with beef or lamb does not apply when paired with Indian dishes.  You need to look closer at what spices are in the dish and work from there.

What works?

Aromatic and brighter whites or more moderately sweet white wines work better.   Dry Rieslings, Sauvignon Blanc (except with turmeric, see below) or Vouvrays offer the acidity and sweetness that work with many Indian dishes. 

Go for unoaked whites that offer more citrus fruit and are dry to medium-dry. The sweetness helps cool the spices on the palate without washing it away. You can also go for fruitier reds with plenty of acidity so long as the spice isn’t too hot.

What to AVOID?

When looking for the best wine for Indian food, you should know that wines higher in tannins will clash with spicy foods. Avoid Cabernet and Bordeaux as these will intensify the spicy heat.  For some who appreciate the spicy intensity and like a bold red, it may work but for most, it will be simply overpowering.

The other mistake to avoid is pairing sauvignon blanc or rich cabernet franc with dishes using turmeric.  The reaction leaves a bitter, metallic taste.

Indian food is complexly flavored with lots of spices and herbs, which is tough to pair. You want to find a wine that complements the flavors without overpowering them. If you’re not sure what wines go well with your Indian meal, start by choosing a white or red from these regions: Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, or even wines from India itself.

Avoid tannic wines!

Choose the right pairing and Indian food is elevated to a whole new level. Get it wrong and it can ruin your meal.

Avoid tannic wines, which will only make your mouth dry out from the spiciness. Instead, lean toward fruity reds (like a pinot noir) and light, easy-drinking whites. For example:

  • Pinot grigio goes well with most seafood dishes and curries—especially tomato-based ones like prawn curry or shrimp vindaloo.
  • If you’re having chicken korma or tikka masala, choose a sweeter white like Riesling or Gewürztraminer instead of something bolder like chardonnay or sauvignon blanc.

Tannic reds: Bordeaux, Brunello, Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Tannic reds: Bordeaux, Brunello, Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • The tannins in red wines are a natural substance in the skins of grapes. Tannins can be good or bad depending on the wine and what you’re pairing it with. For example, if you’re drinking a tannic red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon with Indian food (spicy), you will probably find that the tannins add balance to your meal by softening those spicy notes on your tongue!

Sweet wines: Gewurztraminer, Moscato d’Asti

A good choice when paired with Indian food. Sweet wine is made from grapes that have been dried before fermentation. They’re typically low in alcohol and dry. Some sweet wines can be off-dry (meaning they have a little bit of sweetness to them), but it’s best to stick with dry if you’re new to wine drinking. The best kinds of sweet wine come from white grapes like chardonnay, riesling, and sauvignon blanc.

Indian Wines

It would be remiss of me not to highlight the fact that India itself is now producing some wonderful wines, especially suited to the Indian palate. Check out this article if you’d like to know more.

A dry style of wine can be a good choice for the spicy flavors of Indian cuisine

When you’re eating Indian food, a dry style of wine can be a good choice for the spicy flavors of Indian cuisine. This means that it will not make your mouth feel too dry or thirsty after drinking it. The word “dry” is sometimes used interchangeably with “light” or “tart” but these terms don’t always mean that the wine itself isn’t sweet or fruity (as in acidic).

In order to pair well with curries and other dishes, wines need to be served chilled or at room temperature—not ice cold from the fridge. If you want something warm when it’s chilly outside, consider choosing a red over a white because they are typically less acidic than their white counterparts.

Tandoori Chicken

The best wine for Tandoori Chicken is a white wine with a crisp, acidic taste. White wines that are made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape work best because they have a strong citrus flavor that will complement the chicken’s spiciness. If you don’t like Sauvignon Blanc, try Grüner Veltliner or Pinot Grigio.

Biryani

Look for aromatic, crisply dry, or sweeter whites or lower tannin, sparkling reds, or rose.

  • Riesling (Kabinett & Spatlese) is light in the body with lower alcohol content but is higher in acidity.  It works very well with Biryani but also with many other Indian dishes with a stronger spicy heat. Better with white meats and fish than red meat options.
  • Pinot Blanc with its floral aroma and green apples is a dry choice that is low-to-medium acidity.  It won’t overpower the flavors in Biryani.
  • Lambrusco is a great option for Biryani. Light in body and low tannin but with a higher acidity make it work a treat. Lambrusco is slightly fizzy (frizzante as the Italians say) and this is a delight with Biryani and lighter-spiced Indian dishes. Buy the bottles with a cork and not the screw-top version if you can.  Traditional Lambrusco is dry, fruity, and sealed with a cork. The more mass-produced version has a screw top.

Curry Dishes (Mild)

Search out the aromatic and dry crisp whites. As an example, Gewurztraminer is dry to medium dry white that is a great choice with milder spiced Indian curry dishes.  It is a full-bodied wine, higher in alcohol content with a floral lavender taste and a spice flavor that works so well alongside curry.    

Tikka Masala

The best wine for tikka masala is a white wine that is dry and crisp, with a high acidity level.  This will cut through the creamy sauce of the tikka masala dish while also complementing it.  For many, a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc is the best wine for Indian food. Sauvignon Blanc is a good choice as it has high acidity levels, but other wines such as Riesling, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnay are also good choices.

Chicken Makhni

The best wine to pair with Chicken Makhni is white wine.  A dry, crisp white wine will cut through the rich sauce of this dish while also complementing it.  Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Riesling are all good choices for pairing with Chicken Makhni. If you want to go with red wine, then a light-bodied Pinot Noir would be the best pairing.  A medium-bodied Shiraz is also good if you are looking for something bolder.

Chole (Chickpea Curry)

The best wine for Chole (Chickpea Curry) would be white wine.  Chole is a dish that is made with chickpeas and tomatoes, so it has a rich texture and flavor.  This makes it perfect for pairing with a crisp white wine like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, or Pinot Grigio. If you are looking for something bolder, then try out a medium-bodied Shiraz or Merlot.

Palak Paneer

The best wine for Palak Paneer should be a dry red wine.  The dish is made with spinach and paneer (an Indian cheese), which makes it quite creamy in texture.  This makes it perfect for pairing with a bolder style of wine such as Merlot or Syrah. If you are looking for something lighter, then try out a fresh Pinot Noir or Grenache from France.

Rogan Josh

The best wine for Rogan Josh is a medium-bodied Syrah or Shiraz.  Made with lamb and onions, it is rich in flavor. This makes it perfect for pairing with a bolder style of wine such as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. If you are looking for something lighter, then try out a fresh Pinot Noir from France or California.

Butter Chicken

The best wine for Butter Chicken is a rich, full-bodied red wine. Made with tomatoes, cream, and spices, it requires a bold wine. A good choice would be a Shiraz or Merlot from Australia or France. If you are looking for something lighter, then try out a dry Rosé from France or Provence.

Vindaloo Curry

Finally, the famous Vindaloo. The best wine for Vindaloo is a full-bodied red wine. Made from red chilies and a lot of spices it requires a wine that can stand up to these strong flavors. A good choice would be a Shiraz or Merlot from Australia or France. If you are looking for something lighter, then try out an off-dry Riesling from Germany or Austria.

Conclusion

Most people (wrongly in my view) think beer or lager when it comes to Indian food. Wine is usually not considered. The problem with beer is that it washes away all of the spices and the flavor with it. Personally, if I’m having a nice meal, I want to taste the incredible flavor that cuisine has to offer and not just flush it away after each bite. With a little thought, you can select a wine to do just that.

My recommendation for most people is to try a dry, aromatic white wine, such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, or Vouvray. The sweetness of these wines helps cool the spices on the palate without washing them away as beer does.

For those more attuned to spicier food, you can enjoy a red wine that will lift the heat even more and stand up to the bold flavors. Just know that this will be more challenging.

With the right pairing, Indian food is elevated to a whole new level.

Check out our post on the best wine for Mexican food.