Some will say curry is curry, and any pairing you suggest will work for all curried proteins and legumes. In some cases, this has some truth, but it misses the impact that texture and weight can add to a pairing. In this post, I specifically pair wine with curry beef, not just because of the spice factor but also the weight and texture of the meat and the complexity it adds.
In this curry beef and wine pairing, we are taking our lead from the sauce and, secondary, the weight and texture of the beef, so let's start by breaking down curry.
Curry in itself is not a spice. It is a blend of spices. In many ways, I look at the balance in a curry the same way I do wine. With curry, you have an excellent balance of sweet and savoury happening. For sweetness, you have things like clove, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, and it meets savoury spices such as pimento, cumin, and thyme. With all of this complexity in curry, there is no one element shouting louder than others when you taste it. It's very much so in balance. It is essential to point out here that there are different kinds of curry depending on the region. In the Caribbean, you will find two styles; Jamaican curry, which is lighter in colour and with greater measurements of turmeric, and another common style that is darker and includes jeera masala. The later style is very similar to Indian-style curry, but note that the pairing we are walking through here will work with all of these curry styles. Then, of course, you have Thai curry, which is coconut based and very different from the curry we're talking about today, and likely would not pair as well with the wines we suggest below.
To start, I lined up six wines. Some were the obvious pairings that people talk about. The age-old adage that if you have spicy foods, you should drink wines with some residual sugar because the perception of sugar on the palate will temper the spice. So, I had a Pinot Gris and off-dry Muscat in the lineup but progressed to lighter red wines and a full-bodied red.
Ideal Wine Pairings with Curry Beef
When looking for a food and wine pairing, you must experience harmony on the palate. No one element should come out and slap you in your face. Some of the wines we started with worked at first but then did the slap in the face thing. The complete opposite of harmony! Through a deep dive and exploration, we found that the ideal wine pairings for curry beef are Pinot Gris and Bordeaux Blend red wines, and here's why...
Alsatian Pinot Gris' are dry white wines but come with a ripe fruit feel and a little more residual sugar than other dry white wines. You also get lovely acidity from this grape and thus incredible structure. This works with curry beef because, as mentioned above, the ripe fruit (sweetness) on the palate tempers the spices in curry. In addition, that crisp acidity gives the wine a structure that stands up to the herb and aids in breaking down the beef. This is a refreshing and safe pairing.
If you do not have access to a Pinot Gris, Riesling and Grüner Veltliner are good options too!
Bordeaux Blend Wines
A Bordeaux Blend is a wine made of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and sometimes Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenére. The dominant grape in your blend will be either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, and both of those are red grapes that produce full-bodied red wines. The tannins are balanced by bright acidity and some of the softening notes you get from oak. (It is common to see Bordeaux Blends aged in oak, and that goes for these wines found in actual Bordeaux and elsewhere.) Though most big reds would be a challenge with a dish like curry beef, this one is not:
The interaction with the herbs in the dish turns up the fruit structure of the wine, often turning the black fruits into ripe red fruit
Today, most of these wines will have elevated alcohol (14% ABV), and alcohol, on the palate, comes with a perception of sweet and it is that sweetness that here, tempers the herbs
The tannin on these wines work well to quiet the fat in the beef and to soften the texture
The tannins that were once gripping in the wine now soften and turn into velvety tannin through the aid of the meat
The subtle influences of oak turn into clove and allspice, congruently pairing with your curry beef
The curry now turns into a comforting nutmeg, woodsy and smokey sensation
Both the food and the wine were transformed in this pairing, giving you new and harmonious sensations, sip and bite, after sip and bite.
If you do not have access to a Bordeaux Red Blend, you can use a Brunello or Chianti Classico Reserva as the Sangiovese grape that makes these wines has a similar structure, and, by law, these wines would have to be aged in oak for some time.