Wines That Work With Indian Food

The unique and flavorful ingredients of Indian food inspire an exotic journey for the palate. Because of the many spices, herbs, and dimensions of those flavors, it’s a common myth that pairing wine with the traditional fare from Indian culture can be difficult.

But Chef Ajay Walia, owner of Saffron restaurants in California, says that’s not the case. Saffron, with locations in Burlingame, CA, and San Carlos, CA, boasts an impressive wine list, and Walia likes to prove that pairing wine with Indian food is a lot simpler than people may think.

Walia takes the complex flavors of heritage Indian cuisine and balances them with the right wine. Here are some of the popular dishes at Saffron, and Walia’s pairing tips and suggestions for them.

Chef Ajay Walia, owner of Saffron restaurants in California
Chef Ajay Walia, owner of Saffron restaurants in California.

Butter Chicken with prosecco

When in doubt, Walia says to stick with the bubbles. Prosecco is low in alcohol content and lends itself to Indian dishes by serving as a palette cleanser. It goes well with rich, creamy recipes, he notes, so naturally, prosecco is the perfect pairing for Saffron’s modern twist on Butter Chicken.

Lahsooni Saag Paneer with riesling

A helpful rule to consider when matching wine to an Indian recipe is: the spicier the dish, the sweeter the wine should be to counterbalance the heat. Walia recommends a riesling with his Lasooni Saag Paneer. The wine complements the heat and the mild cubes of paneer cheese but won’t overpower the creamy spinach gravy.

Black Pepper Chicken Tikka Kabob with merlot

A fruit-forward wine helps bring out the subtle spices in tandoor cooking. Saffron’s Black Pepper Chicken Tikka Kabobs go perfectly with a glass of merlot or similar wine made from riper fruit. Wine made with ripened fruit and lower tannins is highly preferred to accompany dishes with lots of spices.

Melissa Dowling is editor of Cheers magazine, our on-premise sister publication. Contact her at, and read her recent piece, The 2023 Wine Growth Brands Awards: The Top Bottles.


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