The unique and flavorful ingredients of Indian cuisine inspire an exotic journey for the palette. Because of the many spices, herbs, and dimensions of those flavors, it’s a common myth that pairing wine with the traditional fare from Indian culture can be difficult.
But Chef Ajay Walia, owner of Saffron restaurants in California, says that’s not the case. Saffron, with locations in Burlingame, CA, and San Carlos, CA, boasts an impressive wine list, and Walia likes to prove that pairing wine with Indian food is a lot simpler than people may think.
Walia takes the complex flavors of heritage Indian cuisine and balances them with the right wine. Here are some of the popular dishes at Saffron, and Walia’s pairing tips and suggestions for them.
When in doubt, Walia says to stick with the bubbles. Prosecco is low in alcohol content and lends itself to Indian dishes by serving as a palette cleanser. It goes well with rich, creamy recipes, he notes, so naturally, prosecco is the perfect pairing for Saffron’s modern twist on Butter Chicken.
A helpful rule to consider when matching wine to an Indian recipe is: the spicier the dish, the sweeter the wine should be to counterbalance the heat. Walia recommends a riesling with his Lasooni Saag Paneer. The wine complements the heat and the mild cubes of paneer cheese but won’t overpower the creamy spinach gravy.
A fruit-forward wine helps bring out the subtle spices in tandoor cooking. Saffron’s Black Pepper Chicken Tikka Kabobs go perfectly with a glass of merlot or similar wine made from riper fruit. Wine made with ripened fruit and lower tannins is highly preferred to accompany dishes with lots of spices.
In addition to its extensive wine list, Saffron also offers several specialty cocktails ranging in price from $17 to $19. They’re made with herbs, spices and infusions found in menu items and can be mixed and matched.
These include the Rasa, with ghee-infused bourbon, Allesio vermouth bianco, Cynar, orgeat, mint and chocolate bitters, and Thyme Me Up, with vodka, basil, elderflower, thyme and Angostura bitters.
The brighter cocktails go best with seafood, says Walia. For example, the For Your Eyes Only (recipe below) works well with the Chutney Shrimp, Shrimp Masala, or any seafood dish.