11 Wines That Pair Perfectly With Saag Paneer, Tandoori Chicken, Gulab Jamun, and Other Dishes on Your Diwali Spread

You'll want to stock up on these bottles.

When you think of Diwali, wine isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Jalebi, poori, and burfi, yes, but wine is often an afterthought.

Diwali in my home begins with a clattering in the kitchen. Pots and pans are readied for a big feast, the good cutlery is dug up, and the dining table is dressed with marigold flowers, embroidered napkins, and dotted with freshly polished wine glasses.

Photo by Antonis Achilleos / Food Styling by Rishon Hanners
Photo by Antonis Achilleos / Food Styling by Rishon Hanners

Diwali is a celebration of good over evil, and light over darkness. That is why homes are symbolically decorated with diyas, small oil lamps, to spread light. People around the world celebrate this universal concept, and for the first time this year, a bill was introduced to make Diwali a federal holiday.

Like any holiday, Diwali is also about gathering, and wine seems to do a pretty good job at getting people to do that. In my home, you not only get a Diwali ladoo at dinner but also a glass of wine to go with it. Here are simple ways I’m pairing Diwali foods with wine.

Aloo Samosa with Champagne and Gruner Veltliner

Trust me, pairing samosas with Champagne is a no-brainer. Both are fantastic ways to start a party; samosas, with their flaky, buttery crusts, are filled with spiced potatoes, and Champagne has high acidity to cut through the richness of the fried bites. The bubbles also act as a palate cleanser, so each bite of samosa feels like new. If you’re serving samosas with green mint and cilantro chutney, try  them with an Austrian Gruner Veltliner, which has herbaceous, lemon, lime, and grapefruit flavors and hints of white pepper, all of which complement the chutney.

Hash Brown Chaat with Lambrusco

Lambrusco, a sparkling red wine from Italy, has tart red and black fruit flavors, much like the Indian fruit of jamun. The slight sweetness and floral notes in Lambrusco help temper an otherwise spicy chaat, while herbs, chutneys, and veggie toppings help guests savor  this  crushable wine. The bubbles are refreshing with the crispy potato patty. Quality Lambrusco is affordable and also great with grilled meats.

Tandoori Chicken with Gewürztraminer and Zinfandel

Tandoori chicken will have a yogurt and garam masala-based marinade, and smoky flavors from the grill. An Alsatian Gewürztraminer is a beautiful match because of its ginger, rose, lychee, and citrus notes, which contrast the chicken. This wine is highly aromatic and pairs with many Indian dishes, including Tandoori Pomfret. Domaine Zind Humbrecht is a classic producer for the wine. If pairing the dish with red wine, go for a good quality, fruit-forward Zinfandel. The jammy red fruit, cinnamon, and smoky notes in the wine pair well with the spices of tandoori chicken.

Poori and Chana Masala with Cotes du Jura Chardonnay and Vin Jaune

Chana masala or Indian spiced chickpeas, is a staple with poori. Oxidative wines from the Jura region in France go beautifully with this combo. Chardonnay from the region will have gripping acidity and honey and dried fruit characteristics. Vin Jaune, which translates to “golden wine” in French, has sherry-like notes with dried nuts and bruised fruit on the palate. Both pair nicely with the earthy flavor of chickpeas. The intensity of the wines makes them incredibly food-friendly and will take on even the most flavorful chana masalas. Domaine du Pélican and Domaine Baud are both excellent producers.

Mustard Greens Saag Paneer with Riesling and Chardonnay

Pairing wine to the elements in the sauce is essential to this dish. The mustard greens are rich and savory, balanced with creamy paneer, which is wines with too much tannin — like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Malbec — will make the greens in this dish too bitter. Instead, go with a German Kabinett or Spätlese Riesling with some residual sugar. The green apple, lime, honey, and floral notes balance the bitterness of the greens, and the high acidity will cut through the rich paneer. A Napa Chardonnay is also delicious here, offering a heavier body and creaminess to go with the paneer. Try Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Arcadia Chardonnay for a delicious pairing.

Gulab Jamun with Sauternes

Gulab Jamun are deep-fried dough balls steeped in a sugary syrup. They are so beloved that they are first offered to the Gods in Diwali pooja. A sweet wine like Sauternes, with honeyed dried apricot, butterscotch, caramel, mango, ginger, cashew, and toasted almond notes,  pairs beautifully with this decadent dessert. Not sure where to look? Sauternes from Bordeaux, France, and Australia are exceptional.

Jalebi with Tokaji Aszú

Diwali is incomplete without sweet treats, and jalebi, a fried fritter steeped in a sugary syrup, is a star on the holiday. When pairing, always make sure the wine is sweeter than your dessert. Try jalebi with the Hungarian sweet wine, Tokaji Aszú. This golden wine is a honeyed nectar, with notes of orange blossom, ginger, dried apricot, and orange peel. These flavors go very well with the saffron and cardamom in the jalebi syrup. Serve about an ounce of Tokaji, chilled, with warm jalebi. Royal Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos is a fantastic choice.   

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