Not many wine drinkers would regard India as having any relevance in the history of wine making. However, India has been producing wine for more than 5,000 years and 400 years ago European travellers claimed to have been drinking wines from royal vineyards belonging to the Mughal emperors.
British influence led to vineyards being established in Maharashtra and Kashmir in the nineteenth century but for some unknown reason the vineyards were destroyed in the 1890s and India became much more successful at growing fresh grapes for consumption rather than for making wine.
However, with the growth and westernization of India’s wealthy middle class there began to be a demand for wine. A fledging wine industry began to spread its wings but it was not until the imposition of heavy import duties on wines in the 1980s that Indian commercial wine production really took off.
India’s wine production is increasing year by year with the help of state financial and market support and whilst it is still dominated by three main players (Chateau Indage Ltd in Pune, Sula Vineyards based in the Nasik district and Grover Vineyards Ltd in Bangalore) there are a number of small local producers and multinational wine making companies are also showing an interest.
Maharashtra state, which includes the Pune and Nasik districts, is still the main centre of India’s wine industry. There are smaller but no less successful wine districts in the Bangalore region, north of Bangalore City and Himatchal region in northern India.
The most popular and successful white wine grapes in India are Chenin Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier and Riesling. The Sula winery has embraced the Sauvignon Blanc grape and with a Californian influence is producing fresh and fruity dry white wines.
Chateau Indage was at the forefront of modern Indian wine making, producing an off-dry sparkling white wine with the help of grape varieties and expertise from the Champagne region of France. It now produces a wide range of varietal still wines.
With India’s burgeoning wine industry and a greater interest in wine generally in India, it is becoming more acceptable to pair wine with Indian food. Traditional rules of matching white wine with fish and poultry and red wine with red meats do not apply to Indian food with its emphasis on spices and the rich variety of vegetarian dishes. Also, as India is a geographically large nation with a varied gastronomic tradition matching one style of wine to Indian food generally does not work so some experimentation is called for.
However, there are a few helpful general tips. Spicy foods taste better with cooler temperature wines and wines with not too high a percentage of alcohol. These tips point us towards white wine as the preferred tipple for most Indian meals.
If you are looking for a white wine to drink with a specific Indian meal, here are some suggestions for pairings with a selection of popular Indian dishes. Try a white Corbieres or VdP des Cotes de Gascogne with a Chicken Balti. South African Colombard is a reasonable match with a Vegetable Balti.
Highly spiced dishes with a complex mix of flavours and aromas such as Chicken Tikka Masala or Kahai Paneer are best complemented by a tart white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc. An aromatic white wine such as Viognier can also work well with spicy dishes.
Less spiced food such as Tandoori dishes work well matched with an off-dry, aromatic white wine. Although these dishes are low on spices they are not low on flavour or aroma so they need a white wine with plenty of aroma and flavour itself so it does not get swamped by the food. Gewurztraminer and German Riesling can make wonderful matches for these dishes.
Viognier and New World Sauvignon Blanc make an enjoyable accompaniment to a Korma dish and VdP des Cotes de Gascogne can be drunk with a Pasanda dish. The yogurt and tomato in the Rogan Josh sauce need relatively acidic white wines so Italian Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay VdP d’Oc work well. Saag Aloo is best with fairly bland Italian white wines such as Soave and Frascati.
Pinot Grigio goes well with Chicken Tikka and Chicken Tikka Balti whereas a dry Muscat or a Sancerre make the best match with Chicken Tikka Makhani.
The hot spices of a Chicken Madras work well with a Spanish Rueda whereas the mild vinegar taste of a Chicken Vindaloo is best complemented by a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – although the aromatic grapes such as Viognier and Gewurztraminer also go well with the dish.
One of the problems with Indian food is that often a number of different dishes are eaten at the same time. There are some white wine varieties which work well as bridging wines, providing an acceptable complement to a range of dishes. The best white wines to choose for this sort of meal are New World Sauvignon Blancs, Viognier or VdP des Cotes de Gascogne.
Image by eddie.welker.