Breweries, Wine, and Cheese Lifestyle

Grapevine: The Art of Pairing Wines with Spicy Foods


By Gina Trippi

Turmeric is a spice that comes from the turmeric plant. It is commonly used in Indian food. You are probably familiar with turmeric as the main spice in curry. The spice presents a warm, bitter taste. It has been used in India for thousands of years as a spice and medicinal herb. Recently, studies have begun to back up the practice with science.

Curcumin, the main active ingredient in turmeric, has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant linked to improved brain function, lower risk of heart disease and better outcomes for patients with Alzheimer’s, arthritis and depression.

We have been talking about the health benefits for a long time. If you have not subscribed to our newsletter, The Public Palate: Putting Wine in its Place, consider signing up. We like to say that for the wine-related news of tomorrow, read us on Sunday! But what’s turmeric got to do with wine?

We started investigating the power and pleasure of this spice after we partnered with Meherwan Irani of Chai Pani at an Asheville food event. We were asked to pair wines with an extraordinary menu of aromas and flavors.

This pairing was challenging because a European menu generally lacks significant acid and tannin so that the wine, in bringing those elements, complements the flavors. European cuisine was developed with this wine pairing in mind. Indian food, however, evolved over centuries without wine. Chutneys, curries and sauces provide what wine gives to European food—that is, acid. So with an Indian dish, wine does not add to the meal and can conflict with the acid in the dish. Pairing wine to an Indian menu is not a DIY project!

So what did we do? We studied all ingredients in each dish to determine which was the dominant flavor in order to pair the wine to that element. Because Indian flavors are bold, we necessarily needed a robust wine. Dessimis Pinot Grigio, an orange wine style, was the hit of night.

This rich pinot grigio is a pale salmon color, with toasty, smoke and oak spice accents and a mineral underpinning layered with flavors of apricot and lemon meringue pie. Awarded 90 Points by Wine Spectator, Dessimis has both frivolity and a serious side. This orange wine added weight to the flavors allowing them to stand up to the boldness of turmeric, cumin and coriander.

Two reds, Carménère and Syrah, work because the bold flavors stand up to the boldness of Indian food and have lower acid, leaving the food to provide it. And both varietals have lower tannins, which can pleasantly partner with a high acid dish. Tannins in wine work best with steak and cheese; fatty, low acid food; a more European menu.

We did find one exception. A dish with eggplant, one of few vegetables that has tannin, needed a sparring partner. We paired Etna Rosso Nerello Mascalese because the tannin in the wine would fight back.
Investigate the wonderful world of Indian food, but leave the wine pairing to the professionals!

Gina Trippi is the co-owner of Metro Wines, 169 Charlotte Street in Asheville. Committed to the community, Metro Wines offers big shop selection with small shop service. Gina can be reached at or 828.575.9525.

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