Red wines that are fruit-forward, earthy and smoky, such as Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Beaujolais, or Zinfandel, pair best with the roasted and earthy flavours of Tandoori Chicken. Meanwhile, off-dry but acidic whites like Riesling or Gewürztraminer are refreshing against the spicy heat of Tandoori Chicken.
Tandoori Chicken is an Indian cuisine favourite, consisting of a roasted chicken marinated in yogurt and spices such as chilli powder, turmeric and paprika. The entire dish is roasted in a tandoor, which is a clay oven (and is often used for cooking naan bread). The spices and the roasting process in a tandoor give Tandoori Chicken a savoury, smoky and earthy flavour.
While pairing red wine with white meat may seem strange, Pinot Noir is a must with Tandoori Chicken. Tandoori chicken contains a lot of smokey flavours, so it makes for a full-flavoured meal. Pinot Noir is a lighter, fruitier red wine with deep notes of smoke, soil, and forest floor, which pairs well with the earthy, spicy, and smoky flavours in the Tandoori Chicken marinade.
With Tandoori Chicken, I would suggest a fruit-forward Pinot Noir from California, which features wild strawberry and cherry flavours. These juicy notes provide a refreshing contrast against the chilli powder, turmeric and paprika spices used in the marinade. The higher acidity of Pinot Noir also accentuates all the various flavours of Tandoori Chicken, making everything taste even more delicious.
Shiraz & Tandoori Chicken Pairing
A medium-bodied Shiraz is wonderful with Tandoori Chicken that is not overly spicy with heat. With Shiraz, you’ll find jammy flavours of plums, raspberries, blackberries and cherries that offer up plenty of refreshment against the savoury flavours of Tandoori Chicken. Meanwhile, Shiraz also offers up plenty of complementary flavours, such as dark chocolate, black pepper, tobacco, leather, smoke and earth that jives well with the Tandoori-infused flavours.
Again, you’ll want to seek out a medium-bodied Shiraz that is not overly high in alcohol. This shouldn’t be troublesome if you keep your budget around the $25 and under mark. Pricier Shiraz from Australia are loaded with alcohol, fruit, and oak ageing that will drown out the tender chicken Tandoori flavours. The higher alcohol content will also make higher-alcohol Shiraz taste ‘hot’ and not in a good way.
Zinfandel & Tandoori Chicken Pairing
Zinfandel is a red wine with vibrant blackberry, cherry, raspberry and plum fruit flavours with a mysterious smoky edge that pairs nicely with Tandoori Chicken. Aside from smoke, you’ll also find complementary flavours of black pepper, tar, chocolate and coffee that mesh well with the roasted and savoury flavours of Tandoori Chicken. Zinfandel’s refreshing character, along with a hint of sweetness, allows it to manage a low amount of spicy heat while still being a delightful combination.
The key to Zinfandel and Tandoori Chicken Pairing is to stick with medium-bodied and medium-low priced Zinfandels. When you get to those higher-priced Zinfandels, the alcohol content and flavours shoot way up and will swamp out the chicken flavours of your Tandoori Chicken. Higher priced Zinfandel is also loaded with higher levels of alcohol which will conflict with the spices in your Tandoori Chicken and make the pairing taste ‘hot.’
Beaujolais-Villages & Tandoori Chicken Pairing
Beaujolais-Villages is a French red wine that is light and fruity, low in tannin and high in acidity. As it is low in alcohol and tannin, Beaujolais should be able to handle any low to moderate spicy heat without making your mouth feel like it has been set on fire.
Fun and lively, Beaujolais-Villages is alive with fruit flavours of cherries, raspberries, plums, and strawberries which keeps things dancing as you are enjoying your Tandoori Chicken. You’ll also find subtle flavours of earth, spice, minerals and pepper, which complement the smoky and savoury flavours of Tandoori Chicken.
A richer medium-bodied Beaujolais Cru, such as, Moulin-à-Vent, Côte de Brouilly or Morgon makes for an even better pairing. Beaujolais Cru is much harder to find in North America than Beaujolais Villages, as not as many Crus are produced and imported. Furthermore, smart wine drinkers often quickly pick the Beaujolais Crus off the shelves due to their outstanding value.
Off-Dry Riesling & Tandoori Chicken Pairing
When it comes to spicy Tandoori Chicken, somewhat sweeter or effervescent white wines are a fantastic choice. The wine’s sweetness will take away some of the heat, allowing you to fully appreciate the food’s earthy and smokey flavours.
Off-Dry Riesling is only has a kiss of sweetness, and depending on your heat tolerance, it should be refreshing enough to counteract any fiery chilli peppers used. Riesling also boasts refreshing flavours of peach, lemon, lime, nectarine, apricot and green apples that electrify all the savoury flavours of Tandoori Chicken, bringing all the flavours to life.
Riesling turns off many people in North America as their first wine experience may have been with an extremely sweet and poorly-made Riesling that they probably overdrank and got sick off of, turning them off the grape. While there are plenty of sweet Rieslings on shelves, there are also plenty of bone dry or off-dry Rieslings that are incredibly food-friendly and worth trying.