The Wine Guy Eddie McDougall

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Illustration by Elis Wilk

In the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui is a labyrinthine building with a historically chequered reputation, almost as infamous as Kowloon Walled City. Chungking Mansions, along with its low-budget accommodations, African bistros and sari shops, also houses some of the city’s most renowned, tasty and cheap Indian dining hideouts. These curry dens are generally unmarked and somewhat difficult to find, and may require the services of one of the restaurant’s hustling promoters out on Nathan Road. Once you’ve found your man, then you can negotiate your way in by means of getting a discount on your meal, two-for-one beers, free dessert and, most essential for me, free corkage. 

Finding my man, getting a discount and securing free corkage is only half the battle – making sure I had selected the right bottle of plonk at the bottle shop is the biggest challenge of them all. Indian food is an exotic assault on all your senses and can give you a wonderful buzz. But throwing the wrong wine into the mix can be a recipe for disaster, as you can easily be adding fuel to the already raging fire in your burning mouth. 

Indian dishes can feature up to 30 different ingredients ranging from basic onions and garlic to a zillion types of herbs, spices, beans, meats, oils, milks, yoghurts and more and every mouthful is equally layered and complex.

On my last trip to India, I met a highly respected chef by the name of Sanjay Tyagi from Bangalore’s Tattv restaurant. Among other things, I learned one vital fact: Sanjay emphasised that Indian cuisine considers the preparation of the spices and gravy as the primary thought to any dish, and that the vegetables, beans and meats are only added to complement these flavours. This enlightenment changed my perception of pairing wines with Indian cuisine. Does this mean that one should find the right wine for the spices or gravy, rather than the meat or vegetable used? The answer is yes – and a big one at that. 

Here are some tips on how to best enjoy your Indian banquet with some yummy wine. 

• Red wines that are heavily oaked with new American oak match well with dishes cooked in a tandoor oven. Try a big, bold Spanish red from the Priorat region.

• For super-spicy curries, steer clear of red wines that are high in tannins or dryness levels. This will turn your meal into a painfully bitter experience. Don’t drink Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec or Carménère. Try a juicy New World Merlot
or a white wine like a Pinot Gris from Alsace.

• Curries that use dairy or yoghurt in the sauce tend to be slightly tart, and should be matched with a white wine that has ripe fruit characteristics and low acidity. Give Viognier a try here.

• Seafood curries are generally pungent and are often mixed with fresh herbs, so you are best to consider a juicier rosé from Portugal or Australia.

• If you are looking for the all-rounder wine, go for a Gewürztraminer for white. For red, try something a little quirky and slightly chilled, like a sparkling Shiraz or Cienna. 

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