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does go with curry!




Not so long ago, the 'experts' decried the drinking of wine with spicy food and curry as sacreligious. Times have changed. Wines, even fine wines, whites, reds and rosés are now not only acceptable, but widely encouraged by most experts. It was the late David Wolfe, regular contributer to Decanter Magazine who broke the mould and recommended that wine can be taken with spicy food. This piece, which originally appeared in The Good Curry Guide 1999, is dedicated to the memory of my friend David Wolfe.

David Wolf on Wines

The geography of wine is a simple matter. A wine's place of origin used to be a reliable (well, usually) guide to its character. Most of the older generation of wine drinkers knew (roughly) where Beaujolais and Chablis were, and how they tasted. But few had heard of their Gamay or Chardonnay grape types. Today there are many varietals, wines named for their grapes, and even the French may soon change their current policy, that varieties must not be named on labels of appellation controlleé wines from classic regions.

Variety is much more dependable than geography in defining the style of a wine, but it is not always entirely accurate, because of mis-identification, or incorrect naming, of the variety. (See Sauvignon in Chile, and Gamay in the USA.) Variety is now the first thing to consider when choosing wines to accompany Indian food because it is so demanding.

This A to Z of varieties is a short list of names most likely to appear on the label, or descriptive back label. It excludes many countries' indigenous grapes some of which are particularly well matched with Indian food. We name few Portuguese grapes for example, because the rest mean little in the wider world, and are unlikely to be on the label. Nor is there space for synonyms; for instance the 25 for Chardonnay as listed in the indispensable reference book on the subject, Jancis Robinson's Vines, Grapes and Wines (Mitchell Beazley £16.99 paperback). See also Hugh Johnson's World Atlas of Wine (Mitchell Beazley).


White Wine Grapes


The second grape (far behind Chardonnay) of white Burgundy. It makes fruity light wines with a crisp balancing acidity. It should be basis of the Kir aperitif made by adding a little Creme cassis, or blackcurrant liqueur to the wine.

Alvarinho (Portuguese)
Makes the best Vinho Verdes. Across the Spanish border in Galicia it becomes Albario and makes fine fruity dry wines.

Is the world's favourite fine white wine grape. Its home is Burgundy where the great Chablis and Cote de Beaune wines exhibit its deep, rich flavour sometimes described as 'vegetal' of 'cabbagey'. The flavour is often complemented by the taste of oak from barrels of that wood - or more commonly today by oak chips, or planks, put in the wine.

Chenin Blanc
Came from the Anjou-Touraine region of the Loire where it makes wines ranging from ordinary to superlative. It is the basis of Vouvray which can be still or sparkling, and dry to ultra-sweet. Pleasant but unambitious medium-dry Chenin now comes from Australia, New Zealand and California. In South Africa it is called Steen and ranges from decent basic dryish wine to intensely sweet.

Which makes thin wines for distillation into Cognac and Armagnac, also makes acceptable light dry vin de pays des Cotes de Gascogne.

Is one of two main varieties used for the Hungarian dessert wine Tokay, and increasingly for strong dryish table wine.

There is no real difference between this and plain Traminer. The prefix 'gewurz' is German for 'spice' and refers to its aromatic smell and a taste more accurately compared to that of lichees. The makers of Gewurztraminer have long traded on the word 'spicy', and say that it goes particularly well with Indian, and all oriental food. In our opinion it does not - this 'happy marriage' is purely verbal. Gewurztraminer wines are usually medium-dry, quite heavy and highly alcoholic. They have spread from their home in Alsace to Germany, Italy and many eastern european countries as well the New World.

Gruner Veltliner (Austria)
Often called plain Veltliner make pale greenish, crisp, dry, fruity wines best drunk young.

Macabeo or Maccabeo
Is a main constituent of white Rioja under the name Viura and in Penedes is used to make sparkling cava.

The Malmsey of Madeira appears in central Italy, many European countries and occasionally in the New World. Its table wines are soft, dark and smoky.

Manseng, Petit and Gros
The main grapes of Juranaon in the south-west France usually make medium dry wines of delicious floral character. Just beginning to escape to other regions.

A main grape of the northern Rhone where its wines include Hermitage and its neighbours.

Melon de Bourgogne
The Muscadet grape, now confirmed as descended from Chardonnay.

A family of grapes producing wines with a scent not unlike roses, and a taste of grapes - which is surprisingly rare in wine. It produces sweet wines all over the world. In Spain it is Moscatel, in Italy Moscato where its wines include Asti Spumante. French Muscats include the popular Beaumes de Venise and the usually dry, delicate, Alsace Muscats.

The basic grape of Sherry, can make pleasant if unexciting dry, slightly fruity table wine.

Pinot Blanc
Often confused with Chardonnay but makes less fruity, less powerful wines. Rare as a varietal except in Alsace, where it is lighter, but much less expensive than Pinot Gris.

Pinot Gris
Is another important Alsace varietal where it is often called Tokay or Tokay-Pinot Gris. But this has no connection with Hungarian Tokay. It also appears in northern Italy and under various pseudonyms in Hungary and other central European countries. Rare in the New World.

Rkatsiteli is a Russian grape of little merit, other than the entertainment it provides in trying to pronounce it. Riesling (pronounced rees-ling, not ryes-ling) is the great grape of Germany also the noblest of Alsace varietals. Often found in other countries, but often confused with less noble varieties including Welsch, Olasz, Gray and Emerald Rieslings. Its characteristic aromas and tastes, in wines varying from dry to richly sweet, maintain its wide popularity despite the unfashionableness of German wine. Its qualities are increasingly recognised in the New World, especially Australia.

Roussanne accompanies Marsanne in the northern Rhone and nearby areas. It is more delicate with a distinctive herby nose.

Sauvignon Blanc
The distinctive aroma and flavour are sometimes compared to gooseberry or unflatteringly to cat's pee. Pure Sauvignon wines are normally dry, as in that odd varietal from northern Burgundy, Sauvignon de St. Bris; but more famously in Loire wines, especially Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé. The latter is sometimes used as an alternative name for the grape especially in California. It is also found in the New World, notably in New Zealand whose acclaimed Cloudy Bay has a reputation rivalling that of Sancerre. Sauvignon is often used with Sémillon especially in Bordeaux where this blend makes great dry white Graves as well as the intensely sweet, yet subtle wines of Sauternes and Barsac. Much Chilean 'Sauvignon' is not the true Sauvignon Blanc but other less favoured and less flavoured varieties.

See above for its use with Sauvignon in Bordeaux. As a single varietal it is most often seen in Australia (where it loses the accent on the 'e' and is pronounced sem-il-on). The rich smell and opulent dry flavour are (usually) pleasantly reminiscent of wool or lanolin.

Tokay or Tocai
Are alternative names, in Alsace and Italy for the Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio). But in north-western Italy, Tocai Friulano, is a different grape. None are connected with Hungarian Tokay wine.

Trebbiano (Italy)
By quantity probably the world's most important grape, identical to Ugni Blanc. It makes quite ordinary light, usually dry wine.

Ugni Blanc
French synonym for Trebbiano, used extensively in south-western France but with good reason rarely credited on labels. Much is distilled into brandy.

A Madeira grape also found as a western Australian varietal, fine and delicately fruity-winy.

No connection, as libellously asserted, with varnish, but a whole family of Italian grapes. The best known wine is Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

Until recently the ultra-rare grape of flowery, lightly winy, heavily expensive, Condrieu in the northern Rhone. It now appears as a varietal in southern France, California and . . . where next?


Red Wine Grapes

Originally from the Italian north-west, Barbera is now seen in California and Argentina.

Cabernet Franc
Now proved to be the ancestor of Cabernet Sauvignon, is most important in the western Loire where it is the sole, or main grape of Chinon, Bourgueuil, Saumur-Champigny, Anjou Villages wines. In the clarets of St. Emilion and Pomerol in the Bordeaux region it is more important than Cabernet Sauvignon. Also found in other areas including north and south America, although rarely as a single varietal. The word 'Cabernet' on a label may mean either Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon or a blend of the two.

Cabernet Sauvignon
Fine reds from all over the wine world are based on this grape. In Bordeaux, its spiritual home, it is blended with Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and others to makes the great wines of the Médoc. Few of these archetypal clarets carry any indication of their grapes, whereas in California, Australia, south America and elsewhere the presence of Cabernet Sauvignon is normally emblazoned on the label. Its taste and its aroma are reminiscent of blackcurrants, and its subtlety is unsurpassed.

Cinsaut or Cinsault
Eastern Med grape used in north Africa and southern France. It solid, four-square wines are of little interest. Its one distinction is that it is a parent of Pinotage.

Makes lightish, easy drinking wines from districts around Alba in Piedmont, north-west Italy.

In various parts of central France this grape produces light, fresh, fruity quaffing wines. But only in Beaujolais, which uses no other grape, does it fully express its charming character. So called 'Gamay' in California is hardly ever the true Gamay, and is usually not even related.

Garnacha or Grenache
Originally Spanish is important in Rioja and other northern Spanish regions. Under its French name it is a major component of Rhone wines, where its powerful, sometimes over-heavy style calls for, and receives the refinement of Grenache to balance it.

Lambrusco and many sub-varieties in central Italy produces the semi-sparkling wine of the same name.

A minor Bordeaux grape but gaining favour as a varietal in Chile and especially in Argentina.

Indigenous Bulgarian grape making soft, even plummy wines, regarded as that country's best but not for long keeping.

The second grape of Bordeaux, but first in St. Emilion and Pomerol. Its wines are softer and quicker developing than Cabernet Sauvignon and fuller flavoured. These characteristics make it in this writer's opinion, the ideal choice with most Indian food. It is widely used in Argentina and in Chile where it vies with Cabernet Sauvignon.

A town as well a grape. The town's wine, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, mainly made from the Sangiovese of Chianti fame. The grape is widely used central Italy, and in the Abruzzo is known as Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. But it makes more distinguished wines in the Marche and Emilia-Romagna.

Originating in Provence, used in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and many other southern French areas, and widely in Spain under its Spanish name Monastrell. It is beginning to appear as a varietal, especially in the Languedoc. The wines are strong in alcohol and tannin and the powerful flavour is sometimes described as gamey.

Produces classic Barolo and Barbaresco of Piedmont in north-west Italy. Its wines are strong and the high tannin content means they greatly benefit from long maturation.

Petit Verdot
A minor Bordeaux variety, occasionally a New World varietal.

Pinot Meunier
Unimportant except in Champagne where it is the third grape after Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir
One of the great red varieties, its original home is Burgundy. The finesse and elegance of the best is matched by a glorious depth of flavour which has an affinity with the tangy 'sweetness' of well-hung game. Difficult to grow but sometimes succeeds in Australia (especially Western Australia) and New Zealand. Californian can be fine (especially Carneros) but some of the best Pinot Noirs outside Burgundy are from Oregon.

One of the few varieties whose origin is fully documented this South African cross between Cinsaut and Pinot Noir was made in 1925. It combines the burly character of the former with some of the delicacy of the latter. Sometimes reminiscent of Australian Shiraz, although it can be rather thin. A good one goes well with curry.

The basic grape of Chianti. The famous "Super-Tuscans" are mostly made by including other grapes, notably Cabernet Sauvignon to add roundness. Some would say Chianti is too delicate to go with Indian food - except for milder curries and tandoories.

This northern Rhone variety appears in such classic wines as Hermitage and in Chateauneuf-du-Pape further south. It is also an important varietal in southern France. In Australia it is called Shiraz and is successful both as a single varietal, and in blends with Cabernet Sauvignon or other grapes. It makes noble wines in the Barossa Valley, and is the sole grape of the classic Australian Grange Hermitage.

A cross between Portuguese Touriga and the Sultana (aka Thompson Seedless table grape). In Australia it makes a soft, easy drinking would-be 'Beaujolais'.

As well being the main grape of Rioja is extensively planted in other parts of Spain, and in Argentina.

Tinta Barroca
Portuguese Port grape makes a dark, strong, red varietal in South Africa.

Touriga Nacional
The only other well-known name in Portuguese grapes, is a major constituent of Port, and sometimes a deeply powerful red table wine, superb with Indian food.

Powerful dry red from Montenegro in former Yugoslavia stands up well to Indian spicing.

California's "national" grape now believed to the Primitivo of southern Italy is rare elsewhere. Its wines are made in many styles - some like Port others as "Blush wine" sweetish rosés. But more usually it is like a fruity, pleasantly acid, distant relation of the claret family.


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