Open Mic: Wine & Indian food pairings with Sonal Clare
Sonal Clare is Head Sommelier at The Wilderness restaurant in Birmingham, UK. During the UK's multiple lockdowns, he's been making the most of his Punjabi heritage by putting his cooking skills to the test.
As part of The Typing Cellar's Open Mic series, Sonal guides us through a full, four-course spicy menu and suggests the ideal wine pairings to complement it.
I am Head Sommelier of The Wilderness restaurant in Birmingham, UK. With Covid-19 taking such a massive toll on the industry, I decided to spend my time wisely and cook food of my Punjabi heritage. I've been inspired much by my mother: I was an avid wannabe cook when I was younger, so I would basically stand next to her and watch her cook!
Having delved into the world of wine, I have been able to explore fun and exciting combinations of food and wine, with a focus on Indian flavours. Beer is commonly perceived as a go-to match for Indian food; but why not wine? There is an emergence of wine being developed in India so why can’t we have a glass of fizz to complement the curry!
By cooking at home I have been able to try wines and almost manipulate the flavours and spices to suit their profiles, giving myself autonomy on what flavours I want to enhance. As a general rule, I try and avoid heavily tannic wines with curry. That being said, a slow-cooked lamb curry with a tomato base would work tremendously well with a tannic red, for instance wines from Piedmont, where higher levels of acidity work to balance those flavours.
Below, I have listed four dishes and the wines to go with them, each with a brief description explaining the reasons behind the match.
Samosas with Imli (tamarind) Chutney paired with Moët & Chandon, Brut Rosé Impérial NV, Champagne
For me, this dish has been one of my guilty pleasures at home! The “triangles of love” are without doubt one of the mainstays and ever-present Indian foods. These deep-fried pastries filled with potato, chicken or lamb alongside spices are a great party snack or appetiser.
As a wine pairing, I went for Moët & Chandon Rosé Impérial, due to working with and having access to this Champagne over lockdown. Just before the restrictions were put in place last March, I was invited to a Moët dinner in London where we tried some fantastic Champagnes alongside some amazing pan-Asian cooking.
The dominance of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier make for a red fruit-forward style of Champagne, where acidity and bubbles are well integrated to work with the spice, cutting through the deep-fried savoury pastry and accompany the tamarind chutney really well.
Another option is to have Tomato Ketchup (please don’t knock it until you try!!) with the samosas instead of the tamarind sauce. This delivers sweetness and sourness which helps to work with the Champagne flavours. Coriander seeds in the samosa mix really help to complement and enhance the flavours and vivacity of the Champagne.
Spiced Potatoes paired with Hiruzta Txakoli Hondarribia 2019, Basque Countries, Spain
I came across this style of wine a few years ago and loved the reaction of guests when put on tasting menus. It is normally served with lighter dishes and ones that recall the traditional Basque regional cuisine. In its homeland, this wine would be poured alongside pintxos (Basque for "tapas").
To go with this wine, I wanted to make crispy potatoes. I boiled them slightly and then, separately, heated some oil alongside numerous seeds and spices. I then banged them in the oven until crispy. I love the crispy element and slight oiliness of the potatoes; I guess it's simply a bit of a roast potato with spices, but I wouldn't suggest this dish to a traditional diner!!
Spanish flavours like coriander, garlic and paprika allowed me to create this matchI. Txakoli is a bone-dry style wine with minerality, crisp acidity and just a hint of CO2 which lends a cleansing freshness. The alcoholic content of these wines tends to be around 10%-12% abv so I think this helps complement the spices and enhances that vibrancy you want in this food match.
Mackerel Curry paired with Gasper Cabernet Franc 2017, Goriska Brda, Slovenia
I cooked this mackarel dish for the first time and loved the flavour that delivers. I got the idea recently, when my mum introduced me to buying a can of tinned mackerel in tomato sauce (I was very nervous at first as it reminded me of my childhood where my dad would cook pilchards and stink the whole house with it!).
When I initially cooked it, I was thinking what style of wine I would pair it with then thought of Gasper Cabernet Franc. I recently hosted a zoom tasting for some friends where I tried this wine... and was blown away. When trying the Cabernet Franc alongside the dish it really accentuated its mild spiciness. The toasted cumin seed, tomato base and onions worked really well with the herbaceous notes on the nose. That green pepperiness associated with Cabernet Franc was present, however in this wine it was well integrated, with a lovely balance and round tannins.
This was definitely one of my favourite lockdown discoveries. There was real ripeness to this Slovenian Cab Franc and I think the earthy flavour and meaty characteristics of the mackerel worked really well with the complexity of the wine.
Cardamom Pannacotta with Honey and Orange paired with Kracher Cuvée Auslese 2013, Burgenland, Austria
For this pairing then, I've added a little bit of aromatic spices to a non-Indian dessert.
I paired it with this Austrian Welschriesling/Chardonnay blend: an amazing dessert wine with luscious acidity and fantastic, ripe tropical fruit.
The acidity in the wine and hints of honey with rose and citrus notes works really well to cut through the Pannacotta and enhance the spicy cardamom flavour.
A simple dessert for a wine that has so much to offer.
Sonal Clare is Head Sommelier of The Wilderness restaurant in Birmingham, UK. In 2018, he was crowned British GQ magazine Sommelier of the Year.
You can follow him on Instagram @sogzyuk.
If you like to be featured as part of the Open Mic series, feel free to get in touch.