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Which wine with curry?

With no imminent possibility of dining out, I have been pushing myself to come up with more authentic versions of all the foods we really enjoy. I'm a reasonably decent cook and have long since mastered Mediterranean foods (although there is always room for expansion of knowledge, hopefully not at the expense of waistlines). Chinese cooking has much improved since a family member invested in a copy of Fuchsia Dunlop's excellent book on Sichuan cooking. For some reason though I have never made a great curry... until recently. Of course, any recipe followed has to be developed according to taste so, for me, the sauce part of The Ivy's chicken masala has to be blitzed to a smooth, thick paste and served on a bed of fluffy basmati rice with Madhur Jaffrey's chicken tikka (she uses cream rather than yoghurt. It's much more authentic) cooked as whole chicken breasts and sliced over the top of the curry sauce (isn't that a tautology?).

But what wine to serve with curry? Conventional wisdom demands that we pair off-dry wines, presumably as the sweetness counters the hot spices. Several years ago, I was writing a wine column for Counsel, the magazine for barristers and a colleague in the trade sent me some samples of a range he had put together to go with spicy foods. They were off-dry, cloying monstrosities, horrible. I was kind and didn't review the wines.

Around the same time, a customer was insistent that I throw the textbook out and think outside the box. I have always been more interested in the structural elements of a wine - I think this is important when assessing a wine before importing large quantities of it (the fruit character is a matter of personal preference but if the wine doesn't have good bones, it won't stand up). Alcohol content was unlikely to be a candidate here. I couldn't see any reason why it would affect the spice in any direction. That left acidity and tannin both of which cut through fat so would either help with chilli? The more I thought about it, the more it struck me that flavour characteristics such as sweetness would have a lesser impact than structural ones on spicy foods.

Anyway, to cut a long story short (this was years ago!), it turned out that, for me, it is the tannic quality of a wine that is important when pairing with curry and any spicy food. After extensive research (euphemism for tasting which is itself a euphemism for drinking), northern Rhone Syrah wins out as my go to choice. My weekend, home made (and all the better for that) chicken tikka masala (with a little more chilli than most) was paired with a delicious, fruity 2016 St Joseph 'Clos du Cuminaile' from the inimitable Pierre Gaillard. Fabulous all round.


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