Carmenere, made for curry?
Indian food is notoriously difficult to pair with wine. And try to pair it with red wine and you’re just asking for trouble. Most people fall back on beer or if they are going to order wine, opt for something off-dry or aromatic, like Alsatian or German rieslings, a pinot gris perhaps.
The Wines of Chile approached Benares with a set of wines and Constanzo Scala, the sommelier, matched them with dishes off Benares a la carte menu. He was looking for wines that don’t have too much personality and that wouldn’t overpower the dishes or have to much alcohol which would exacerbate the fiery nature of the Indian spices. Due to the fact that carmenere can be oaked as well as unoaked, he had plenty of styles to work with. He matched the tandoori and chicken tikka with the fuller oaked wines as the smokiness of the tandoor can handle the smoky characteristics of oaked carmenere. With lighter dishes such as dahl, he recommended unoaked caremeneres which have let the fruit shine through on the palate. Constanzo emphasised that balance is key, the wines shouldn’t be too acidic or minerally and even if they had high alcohol contents, as long as they were balanced, they would work with the wines.
I was let loose on the 30 plus wines on tasting with a plate of tandoori chicken, lamb sheek kebab, chicken tikka, dahl and the most fluffy steamed rice to test against these carmeneres. There were some big hitters available including the 2006 Montes Purple Angel and the 2006 Casa Silva Microterroir. The Casa Silva, although oaked seemed to fit best with the spicy dishes, very smooth, with some dark chocolate notes. That however, was one of the few oaked wines that I thought worked with the food. In general, I thought the lighter, unoaked wines were far better partners to the spicy food. The unoaked or very lightly oaked wines certainly did have those fruity notes that Constanzo mentioned and they also were able to clear the palate without becoming sluggish or overpowering on the palate.
The nicest thing about the unoaked carmeneres was the price. Since the winemakers did not have to spend large amounts of money for French or American oak barriques, the prices for the unoaked carmeneres are very reasonable, most in the £8 – £12 pound range with some even coming in at £7. These prices are retail but still very good bargains and as many Indian restaurants have BYO policies, it should be easy to pick up a bottle on the way to dinner.So, I’m going to give a qualified yes to the question, is carmenere made for curry? Why not do a little experiment and see for yourself. Chilean wines are so well made, even if it doesn’t work, you can still drink it on it’s own.