What to drink with curry
Forget about beer: wine can be a curry's best friend
I was thrilled last week when I was finally able to palm off a sweet rosé that had been sitting in my fridge for months. But when I cooked up a beautiful spicy curry a few days later, I regretted giving it away. My husband told me to "just have a beer", a tipple synonymous with curry and spicy foods. I gave him a skeef look and went to rummage in the wine cooler.
Wine is actually a splendid companion to spicier dishes, with two simple guidelines to follow: mouth-feel and residual sugar. Mouth-feel refers to a wine being "big enough" to stand up to the spices, so it should have plenty of aromatics (perfume and spice), and good weight and texture on the palate. The stronger the spice, the more aromatic the wine should be. Gewürztraminer, riesling and dry muscat tick all these boxes, with some of my favourites being the Altydgedacht gewürztraminer and Tygerberg Chatelaine (blend), Delheim Spatzendreck and the Paul Cluver riesling.
Residual sugar (grams of sugar per litre of wine) helps to balance the tongue-tingling heat. Look for wines that have honey, caramel, Turkish delight, candyfloss, tropical fruit or other "sweet" characteristics. A sweet or off-dry rosé blooms when paired with spicy foods. The aromas of roses, ripe strawberry, watermelon juiciness and hard candy offer a touch of perceived sweetness that is a good foil for spicy foods. Try the Graham Beck rosé and Boschendal Pavillion shiraz rosé.
A chardonnay with good fruit expression and tropical yellow fruit flavours is also great (try the Weltevrede Vanilla chardonnay or Groote Post unwooded chardonnay), or a perfumed viognier (excellent with a korma or Thai dishes). You can also get stuck into a fruity chenin with very ripe tropical notes.
If you are venturing into red-wine territory, keep your "sweetness" and tannin levels in mind. A highly tannic wine tastes bitter when engaging chillies and seasonings and the curry strips the fruit from the wine. A juicy zinfandel is great with a vindaloo, while a soft fruity merlot embraces a madras and a spicy shiraz does a rogan josh due justice.
For those who are slaves to a good bubbly, yes you can drink a nice, off-dry blush or demi-sec with your curry. While you are exploring, don't forget the nobles, such as the Nederburg special late harvest; or the sweets, such as Pearly Bay and Robertson natural sweet. Or go Oriental and take your shoes off, sit on the floor and nurse a sake.