Impossible food wine pairings: chicken tikka masala!


Our “impossible food-wine pairings” continues! In this series, we look at foods we enjoy in America that present an impossible wine challenge! We have previously digested chips and salsa, nori, and the falafel sandwich. And now, for all the meat-a-tarians who were getting cranky, we present our first meat dish…

Chicken tikka masala!

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44 Responses to “Impossible food wine pairings: chicken tikka masala!”

  1. A German riesling kabinett or better yet, a beer.

  2. Sula Chenin Blanc… or a beer. 😉

  3. Beer would be the first option, but how about an inexpensive sparkler (Cava, for example)? Need something to wash away the spice.

  4. Oh, I’ve had this combination: chicken tikka masala and rose. It works really well with the tomato-cream-spice sauce, which is the real challenge, and has enough softness to handle the spices.

  5. Brogie has it correct. Indian food calls for beer, but if it must be wine, a riesling. Since my taste buds will be compromised by the heat, I prefer the $5 Oregon variety.

  6. Old style Cotes du Rhone, Barbera D’Alba Regiveja Bovio, Lopez de Heredia Rose`, De Conciliis Antece (fiano), Passopisciaro (nerello mascalese from the Etan area, Sparklers in every form and shape included some Lambrusco)
    Buona Bevuta a Tutti

  7. Sorry I meant Etna area in Sicily

  8. Mature Gruner Veltliner, nothing is better.

  9. Moscato d’Asti? Maybe a sweet sparkler from France?

  10. Ice cold sparkling Shiraz hopefully with a little it of RS – Sepplet is good (and cheap) but Joseph is great!!!

  11. I will say that this depends on the spice level a little bit, but Domaine Wachau Grüner Veltliner is our standard Indian food wine. It is refreshing and crisp enough to cut through the spices and it cools down the heat so much that we end up gulping the bottle and not being for much the rest of the evening.

  12. Try 1 part Grand Cru Alsation riesling (for rapier acidity) to 1 part GC Alsation Gewurtz (for spice interaction with masala sauce.)



  13. best pairing: I drink a bottle of (any!) wine and let my husband eat all of the Indian food…

  14. This is an easy one! I make this dish fairly often and a Sauvignon Blanc is a wonderful complement to Chicken Tikka Masala. Enjoy!

  15. Hi i’, from South East Asia, Singapore to be specific and we just love our spicy food.
    I’ve tried with various combinations and found that an Alsace Gewürztraminer works best for most or if its heavy, a Cotes du Rhone does quite well.
    A cheaper alternative would be a Californian Chardonnay

  16. A sweet lassi.

    Or an inexpensive cava, perhaps?

  17. A lot of white recomandations here. Why not try an Amarone – it’s really a good combination (the high alcohol level fits the spices. Another option would be Ch. Musar from Libanon. For white I would recommend a South African Chenin blanc. And Champagne of course.

  18. To me drinking a Gewurz with Indian food kills the spices I love so much and detracts from the dish. I like doing Amarone or Musar with other regions (something made with garam masala) or lamb, but for chicken tikka I love a rich, but dry Chenin perhaps from Savennieres or Vouvray, a white Burgundy or other Chard with good earthiness or any rich white wine without too much alcohol that reacts badly with the spices. Same goes for the bubbly. Rose can also work if from a warm region (but lower than 14% alc).
    We all tend to forget that Indian food is very regional and the spices and sauces normally vary quite a bit, so I don’t have one blanket wine for all things Indian!

  19. There is so much confusion here — what do people mean by spice — often it seems it is heat from chillies rather than flavours from spices but they are two different things.

    Second, what do we mean by chicken tikka masala. Well chicken tikka means pieces of chicken and originally that was tandoori chicken tikka – bone free smallish pieces cust from chicken marinaded overnight in yoghurt to tendersie it than flash broiled over immense charcoal heat in a tandoor. A traditional dish in northern India and popular in western Indian restaurants. When a customer in the UK remarked it was a bit dry and he’d like it in a sauce, the chef whipped up a creamy sauce of tomato and yoghurt.

    Its not a chile hot dish, its creamy and slightly sweet. So its a matter of matching that.

    Saying beer is the answer to Indian cooking makes as much sense as saying that beer is the answer to European cooking.

    What do I drink iwth it? I don’t order it, its too creamy and sweet I want something hotter. And in my local Indian I drink St Emilion and at home I drink Pinotage with hot Indian foods.

  20. First of all, thanks for good comments. It seems to be a vibrent site.

    I agree with Peter about flavours from spices. Chicken tikka masala does’nt have to be spicy. But when ordering Inidan food, at least in Oslo, you often have to choose between “normal”, medium and spicy, and I prefere to choose medium for creamy foods like this – which isn’ very spicy, but it gives the meal a bit “edge” instead of being extremely creamy.

    My recomendation (above) to try Amarone applies for both the spicy and the none spicy option. The high alcohol level in an amorone fits well with spicy food, but high alcohol level also fits well with creamy and a bit sweet food when drinking read. An amorone is of course also a bit sweet in style.

    My Champagne remark (Commented by Dini) was more on the fun side – considered to fit everything (something to fall back on when everything else is a missmatch. I have never tried it myself:-)

    Again thanks for usefull comments.

  21. Raisiny high-alcohol Amarone with spicy Indian food? Give me a break! The alcohol will intensify the heat, but I guess that would be a no-brainer on a icy winter evening in Oslo? It’s no wonder that the Norwegians are known for their taste….in reindeer meat! Now THERE’s a pairing. Yummy!

    The previous comment notwithstanding, an Alsatian Gewurztraminer such as a 2000 Trimbach Ribeaupierre fits this dish like a Norwegian glove. Another less expensive option given the lineage of the food in question, would be a Spanish Cava with just the barest hint of sweetness on the back of the palate. A NV Segura Viudas “Aria” would fit the bill nicely. Otherwise, I’d go for the beer.

    Hey, I love to dish it out, but can take it as well.

    William F. (Rick) Burbank
    aka Count Mourvedre


    Advanced Certified Wine Professional, Culinary Institute of America
    Certified Specialist of Wine, Society of Wine Educators
    Degreed in Culinary Arts, CIA

    Making ordinary experiences…..extraordinary

    Count on it!

  22. Hey i just struck me. Did anyone try wines from India with this Indian dish? i just had a lesson on wines and apparently India produces wines so i thought maybe their wines would pair well with their food?

  23. Not with this particular dish, but Indian wines are improving (see my post about them here on Dr. Vino’s blog).

    Peter May is correct about spice and heat being different. “Masala” means spice mixture and this of course changes from dish to dish, region to region and cook to cook.

    I stand by my words though that Gewurz kills spice with its flowery perfume. As for heat, sweet wines do work well as a contrast, but I would be careful about muting the spices and therefore flavor of a dish with this sweetness.

    My favorite Indian food/wine combos: Dhania chicken (a little heat, but mainly lots of cilantro, tomato paste and cumin) with any earthy white like white burgundy or aged white Rioja and a Kerala fish stew (coconut milk, tamarind, mango, turmeric and red chili for heat) with an off-dry Vouvray or other chenin based wine. Masala lamb chops are also killer with a ripe vintage of Joguet Chinon. I am from the South (Tamil Nadu) and those are the toughest dishes to pair with wine, but still searching…

  24. I really do not understand why one would choose a wine to ‘cool down the heat’ — if you don’t like hot food then don’t choose it in the first place. Much of this thread seems to suggest that a hot Indian meal is something to be endured rather than enjoyed.

    Lager or any drink will not alleviate the heat because there is no heat — the feeling you get is irritation caused by the chilies. The best way to alleviate it is to put some plain rice in your mouth. If you want a cool drink, then drink water for refreshment — which is what I do — and drink wine for pleasure.

    The crux here is the irritation factor — those of use who regularly eat food with chillies in it know that not only do you soon get used to them and a dish that you found to be too hot when you first tried it you now find is bland and mild and you need something with more kick. So you can easily enjoy a dish other find too hot and enjoy the complexities of decent red wine with it.

    So personally I drink what I like, and I like red wine with the type of meals I order at my local Indian restaurant. Others may prefer something else and since I don’t have palate I’m not going to disagree with them, but I am not goingto order a wine I don’t want to drink just because it is supposed to ‘match’ with the food.

    I dislike this laying down of the law that ‘only lager’ “matches” Indian food, or you ‘must’ have a sweet wine or etc because we all have different experiences of, and acceptance of, chillies.

    Does high alcohol raise the heat of chilies? (is that a bad thing? — if so why?) Then how about a sweet fortified wine? I attended a tasting put on by the winemakers of Rousillon (France) who were pitching their vin doux naturels (sweet fortified wines) to go with various Indian dishes and I thought they made a perfect match. (see )

    I basically disagree with him, but my friend Warren Edwardes(Goan Indian by birth) has deeply studied matching wine with Indian & Thai foods and is so convinced that he has launched his own range of wines “Wines for Spice” which are sweetish and semi sparkling see for his 7 factors that such a wine should have.

    But the main matching problem with CTM (as chicken tikka masala is known in UK) is the creaminess of the sauce. There’s no chillies in it.

  25. CTM can certainly have chillies in it and most do, just not a large proportion of them. Each recipe varies, but certainly spices are used and meant to be in “perfect harmony.” In my opinion using high alcohol wines as a pairing will throw this balance out of proportion. Eating Indian food isn’t just about the heat-if you want that, go bit bite into a hot wing.
    Instead good Indian food should be about enjoying the interplay of flavors and wine should not mute nor exacerbate any one attribute. Regions like Andhra Pradesh specialize in murderously hot food but even then I find wine pairings such as a Fiano di Avellino or Sicilian white for a spicy sambar. BTW Bandol rose is another good pairing with some Gujarati foods like cauliflower (gobi) and chickpeas (chola) subzis and puris.

  26. Every CTM receipe I’ve ever seen (and there are at least 50 variations out there) has a heat element. 4 out of 5 DO have chilies to some degree. White pepper, chili powder,and cayenne are in all of them so I surmise that PM (above) must be eating those frozen CTM pizzas or Spencer’s CTM sandwiches that are so popular in the UK.

    What most EDUCATED palates are looking for in terms of food pairings is balance. The tannins in red wine and in high alcohol wine intensify any heat and spiciness (however you want to define spicy). If you like heat, then drink those and miss out on most of the flavor of the food. Well made Gewurztraminer tames the heat, compliments the spice and makes for a wonderful experience.

    The Alsatians must be sending a lot of the good stuff to the USA or those poo-pooing the charms of what a great food wine this is need to fork up a few more pounds and see what they are missing.

    Otherwise, go for the beer.

    Oh, one more thing…

    Indian wines although supposedly “improving”
    are pretty much crap compared to those from Europe, North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and…who did I forget? Maybe in a hundred years or so…nah.

  27. Count Mouvedre (what is wrong with ‘Rick’?) — why do you want to trade insults just because you don’t agree with me?

    Just because you cannot appreciate both a decent red wine and a decent Indian meal doesn’t mean those of us with a palates other than yours cannot.

    If you want to tame the heat – eat something else.

  28. Hey PM, anytime I have the opportunity to do a little trash talking I take advantage of it. After all, it IS the American Way.

    If you want to drink a tannic, high alcohol red wine with your CTM sandwich or pizza go right ahead. My position is that a well made gewurztraminer and CTM make for a natural complimentary pairing and your suggestion is just rather…uh…unnatural to me. Balance is what most EDUCATED palates are looking for in a pairing. If you need some help in figuring out what constitutes a compliment or a contrast let me know. I’ll be more than happy to get you through any difficult decision you come across. Yeah, right.

    I still think that in your case you should go for the beer.

    Love and kisses,

    Count Mourvedre

  29. To Count,

    When talking about spicy food you have to put it into a context. I guess we are discussing Indian food here and not spicy food from all over the world, and as I wrote: spicy enough to give the food a bit edge – I am not talking about burning Thai food for example.
    High alcohol, like in Amarone, works more as an understatement to spicy (but not dam hot) and creamy Indian food. I also have to say that I was not the person pairing this for the first time, this food experience was based on a recommendation by Hugh Jones (you might have heard of him). I have always stayed open minded to new experiences, and that has given me a lot of pleasure in the food and wine world. Why dont you try someting unexpected once – it will sure give you a positve moment.

    As for the raindeer, Amaraone isn’t a bad choice if you mean a beef. But you dont need to travel to italy to get good wine for that. A good Zinfandel will be even better. But I have to say that raindeer can be served in a lot og ways and I know a lot of raindeer variations where I sure wouldn’t choose amarane:-) Syrah from Rhone would also be excellent for raindeer beef

  30. Peter –

    Thanks for your perspectives on the history of CTM and to the links about spicy food pairing.

    Dini – Thanks for the observations about the varieties of Indian food! I’d tend to agree with you that the faint spice of gewurtz is indeed too faint in general. But I’d be happy to put it to the test!

    Espen – You’re welcome to have what you like–that’s the key to enjoyment!

    Count Rick – Trash talking is the American way? I hope not!

  31. “I surmise that PM (above) must be eating those frozen CTM pizzas or Spencer’s CTM sandwiches that are so popular in the UK.
    What most EDUCATED palates are looking for…”
    “If you need some help in figuring out what constitutes a compliment or a contrast let me know.”

    Trash talk belongs where it comes from–the trash.
    As to the “compliment” part of wine and food pairing, it is spelled “complement”…adds to in a way that enhances or improves, makes perfect.
    Mr. May deserves more.

  32. I make that dish often at home, with various seasoning versions from Penzey’s, and have found Mendocino riesling (Navarro) or gewurtz (Handley or Lazy Creek) to be great pairings.

  33. Methinks BobZ spends too (or is it “to”…or maybe…”two”) much time with his head stuck in the dictionary. Get out more BZ! If you put a couple of tennis balls on the back legs of your walker, you might get somewhere. Anyone with a brain knew (or is it new?)what I was referring to.

    As for trash talk, it’s what makes the United States of America the greatest country on earth! Without it we would all be playing (shudder) soccer like the rest of the punks on this planet. If you can’t stand the truth, go watch a cricket match or polo for that matter.

    Tea time Mr. May. Will that be one lump or two
    (uh…too)? BobZ thinks you desrve more anyway.

    I think we should all get back to wine discussions unless, of course……(or is it coarse) you want to push the envelope BobZ, old-buddy-old-pal.

    The Count has spoken…..again!

  34. This really is not so difficult. Either Prosecco or Cava (Brut or Extra Dry) will foot the bill with Chicken Tikka Masala. So will sparkling Sekt from Germany (such as Henkell). Also, semi-dry Vouvray from the Loire Valley (made from Chenin Blanc), Kabinett and/or Halbtrocken Riesling from the Mosel or Riesling from Washington State or NY State’s Finger Lakes, inexpensive semi-dry Gewürztraminer (such as Sutter Home, Fetzer or Hogue),and believe it or not, any White Zinfandel, or fruity off-dry rosé. Or, chill a Beaujolais-Villages or Valpolicella Classico for about a half-hour, and serve. Don’t overthink it or overpay. Go with light, fruity wines as a compelling counterpoint/contrast to the spice and heat of the dish. By the way, I disagree that Alsace wines will marry well with this dish; they’re too big and too dry. Of course, beer – lager or ale – will work, but it won’t be as much fun!

    Steven Kolpan
    Professor and Endowed Chair in Wine Studies
    The Culinary Institute of America
    Hyde Park, NY 12538

  35. Play nice. Don’t insult each other. Attack ideas, not people. Count, I’m talking to you. Enough.

  36. I’ve got the perfect one. Banfi Rosa Regale. This sparkler will do tremendously. It’s fizz will act as a cleanser while it’s sweetness plays off the spices, leaving the georgeous rose flavored midpalate to bring out the popcorn tones of the perfectly cooked Basmati rice. Who’s with me???

  37. Just for kicks, I tried Tikka Masala last night with a Gewurtztraminer and a Petite Syrah. Being moderately spiced CTM, the p.syrah did seem to destroy the creaminess with too much spice/heat bite, especially on the forefront of the tongue. The Gewurtztraminer, however, was excellent with the CTM (generic C.S.Michelle WA State), as the acidity balanced the creamy essence of the CTP perfectly and added a new element of flavor to the dish.

  38. Thanks Peter.

    Basically I go for wines that can be summed up in one word – REFRESHING – a refreshing alternative to a gas injected lager. And being cool refreshingly sparkling wines they are refreshing at curry-time, summer-time and anytime

    First, my wines are all naturally semi-sparkling. Carbon Dioxide enhances taste and adds natural acidity when dissolved thereby adds to the mouth watering feel. But a fully sparkling wine or beer has too much gas and lager has gas injected producing large bubbles leading to bloating with food.

    My wines have natural secondary fermentation in sealed and pressurised stainless steel tanks and then stabilised. This is to ensure that the CO2 produced permeates the wine and is properly integrated into it and will be released gradually and regularly over a period once the bottle has been opened. And being semi-sparkling the UK Customs Duty is as for still wine. So why pay extra tax for superflous gas?

    Second, drink the wine cool to ice-bucket cold – So thirst quenching like a cold lager.

    Third, a refreshing wine also should have a good level of mouth-watering acidity. Think lemon juice – the classic Indian “Nimboo Pani”.

    Fourth, avoid mouth-drying tannin. Whilst tea is drunk in India with food, the tannin is softened with milk and sugar. Furthermore, tannin in both wine and tea is exaggerated at low temperatures.

    Fifth, the wines are also free from oak, which clashes with spices such as cumin, coriander and ginger giving a bitter, harsh after-taste. Furthermore oakiness gives a rounded mouth-feel. I want a crisp steely feel in a refreshing wine with curry.

    Sixth, moderate alcohol; a good degree of alcohol is required to provide body but excess alcohol over 12.5% can add to the burning sensation of chillies. Take a sip of vodka before and after biting into a chilli to feel this. Furthermore, the wines are so moreish that you will find yourself drinking quite a bit. Wine for Spice™’s range has an alcoholic strength of 11.5% to 12.5% by volume.

    And finally, Seventh, aromatics, fruitiness and sweetness in the range rise in relation to the chilli heat of the accompanying dish. This is based on my Goan Grandmother’s trick of adding some sugar to an over hot curry. Suck on a sweet before and after biting into a chilli to feel this. But unlike some wines such as 100% Gewurztraminer or Muscat which can be over-aromatic and too flowery and sickly after a glass, all of these wines are balanced blends balancing fruit with with natural acidity and are refreshingly sparkling. And because acidity offsets sweetness and sparkling wines have enhanced acidity because of the dissolved CO2, the Off Dry wines result in a quite dry mouth feel after allowing for acidity and spice.


    Warren Edwardes
    Wine for Spice

  39. I think that all of the responses here show how impossible this pairing is NOT. If I may toss my hat in; Gewürztraminer! Ginger, Garam Masala, white meat, full and saucy: Gewürz. If it’s a spicy sauce, go with a Vendage Tardive. Lower acid helps against the spice. Although the alcohol can hurt, go with an aromatic Alsatian fruit bowl.

  40. Proseco worked if you like bubbly.

  41. This pairing has always boggled my mind. Here’s one to add to the suggestions: Northern Rhone Syrah. The idea comes from Raj Parr, an author of Secrets of the Sommeliers and Michael Mina’s wine director. It’s also mentioned in a video I threw together last week on making chicken tikka masala from scratch and what to pair it with:

    It’s a dish that’s never boring, even if finding its perfect vinous mate seems to be.

  42. Here’s my recent video with screenplay on “Matching Wine with Spicy Food”

  43. FAO: The OP


  44. I had to read over halfway down until Steven K took the words from my mouth. Go simple and cheapish, my places good cab sav is awful w masala, but a fruitier more beginner friendly cab sav with soft tannins is delightful


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