Indian Food: Hit Or Miss

Indian Food: Hit Or Miss

Indian food is one of my most favorite cuisines in the world. It is diverse and exciting, with unique spices and rich flavors. I learned to love Indian Food almost a decade ago during my stint in culinary school. This was the same time I discovered wine.  I made friends with the Indian International students and they would take me with them to Indian restaurants or they would cook and share with me.

Prior to that, I didn’t eat Indian food, I also didn’t drink wine. It opened up a new world for me so  I was thrilled to come home to an array of Indian Restaurants and especially pleasantly surprised to be working in wine. Since then, I have made friends in the industry who share the same passion for food and wine as I do. We would get together regularly for food and wine dinners but since quarantine hit, it was put on hold.  

Finally, after 3 months of being locked in the house due to quarantine, I was finally able to see a few of my friends for a nice, summer lunch. Of course we had Indian food from Ricksha Streetside Tandoor which is one of our favorites. The recipes from Ricksha are from our friend’s mother, so it’s homestyle Indian cooking, comforting, flavorful and delicious. We used to enjoy these at parties at their house so we were ecstatic when they opened Ricksha.

We started with an aged Italian rose. We were initially snacking on chips which went well with the acidity of the aged rosé, neutralizing the saltiness of the chips and complimenting the crispness. However, when we moved on to the Indian fare, the pairing of the aged Italian rose and Indian food was a disaster. The harsh acidity of the rosé made the food so unpalatable, especially for the spicy dishes like the butter chicken. Even though the rose was aged and should have mellowed, the wine had a metallic quality to the flavor and it was too robust for Indian fare so it clashed with everything and made it unpleasant. It would have been a better match for food with less spice or even perfect for meats like a good BBQ. We were forced to ditch the rosé and move on to a bottle of pinot noir that our other friend brought.

The Domaine Drouhin Oregon Laurene Pinot Noir  2016 from Dundee Hills Oregon was a welcome change from the aged Italian rosé. This is a limited edition pinot noir with only 252 cases produced. Pinot Noir is often a standby pairing for Indian food used by sommeliers but not all pinot noirs will be a knockout pairing. This wine was delicious with the food as the dark cherry fruit flavors didn’t overwhelm the exotic spices in the dishes. It also had some complementary notes like tea and cardamom which effectively bridged the flavors between the food and the wine. I attacked the palak  paneer and the dosas first as those are my favorites. Even with the combination of spices and green herbal qualities of the palak paneer due to the Spinach, it was superb. I also had it with the bhel puri, butter chicken, vegetable biryani, and vegetable samosas. The acidity was lower than the aged rosé so it didn’t clash with the cumin, garam masala and other spices. The smoky quality of the wine went well with the tandooris. The wine also had a silky quality with distributed and refined tannins, making it pleasurable and having a cooling down effect on the palate.

We also tasted a Merlot, Syrah blend from Greece. This wine had a dusty, earthy quality to it, certainly less fruit than the pinot noir. I didn’t get to analyze this wine as much as I was full by the time they opened the bottle. I did a slight pairing check with the vegetable biryani and butter chicken. It was passable as the wine did not have much tannins and obvious acidity but for me, it was not a stellar pairing.

I’m still on the hunt for exotic bottles to try with Indian Food. For a wine geek like me, I’m always looking for unique and exciting pairings. I’m sure with friends like mine, there will always be a next time. And it won’t be so far off.

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