With the Yuletide family festivities behind us, some friends suggest the inevitable alternatives that only a visit to an Indian Restaurant can offer. Off we set to the city centre for a curry frenzy. As my friends will doubtless confirm, I can rarely get through any meal without a discussion about wine, nowhere does this appear most complicated than when one is trying to match the myriad of flavours various Indian cuisine offers.

Now I know that most of us have spent our formative years speedily washing down curries with the ubiquitous glass or two of lager. I have long since found this combination somewhat lacking, it has its place of course and the first glass appears perfect, but as the meal ensues the increasing feeling of digestive imbalance normally catches me out. A study in how wine could bridge this gap looked impossible at first, when I was initially asked to provide such a list some years ago for my local curry house. Upon reflection certain consistencies began to surface. Spices such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and star anise are regularly used in a glass of mulled red wine anyway and the challenges of chilli and garlic alongside wine, have long since been a staple and successful part of Spanish cuisine. Nils desperandum I thought, there must be a route.

After many attempts, and considerable nightly research, a number of benchmarks began to occur. White wine naturally splits into four general categories, Fresh and Dry, Fragrant, Soft, and Aromatic and Fruity.

With fresh dry white wines such as Soave from Italy, young Semillon from Australia or Pinot Gris from Alsace, a perfect compliment to predominantly citrus dishes find some accord. The two acidic elements balance each other well on the palate causing a neutralising effect, allowing the wine and the dish to harmonise. Fragrant whites such as Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc  cope well with the heat of Indian cuisine. Such heat is normally generated by chilli, cardamom and peppercorn and is generally neutralised by the wine’s natural acidity, and the fruit begins to show well.

Soft, aromatic whites such as Roussane and Marsanne in the Southern Rhone or white Rioja from Spain, show a gentle ripe fruit balanced with soft acidity. This is achieved by the fermentation process known as malolactic which transforms one acid into another by softening the dominant acidity. Such wines work well with dishes cooked in yoghurt, another malolactic process, and successfully complement most chicken dishes.

Fruity wines such as steel fermented Chardonnay or Viognier should be matched with dishes that are hot. The fruit of the wine should be intense enough to cope with such heat, although it’s best to avoid barrel fermented wines as they tend not to work with hot spices, the combination often producing a bitter aftertaste.

Red wine falls nicely into four main categories too. Juicy, Elegant and Firm, Warm and Spicy, and Big, Bold and Ripe. Careful selection is needed here to chose a fruit- driven red. It is only when the wine is virtually tannin free will the wine gently mingle with chillis when used as seasoning only. Turmeric, so commonly used in early medicines to combat acidity in the stomach, will offer such a red the opportunity to gain opulence. Elegance and finesse in reds, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir will transform into bitterness when faced with chilli. They come to the fore however, with spices such as tamarind and onion seeds where the spices soften the tannins appearing to make the wine more approachable.

In the warm and spicy sections, wines of some intensity such as Rioja, Carignan, Shiraz and Malbec can offer surprising marriages within Southern Indian Cuisine. The richness of these wines means that they can generally handle dishes with a high intensity of flavours. Ginger and turmeric will reflect positively on the wines. The final category of Ripe and Bold expresses strength and power from the grape variety. Using a commonly found pickling spice mix composed of cumin, fennel and mustard seed, grapes such as Cabernet Franc from the hot South of France and Zinfandel from California, a wonderful alchemy takes place. The grapes release aromas of eucalyptus and liquorice which marry perfectly with some of the most demanding dishes.

If you find yourself with any of the above appearing difficult to locate on an average Indian wine list, most lighter styles of food can be refreshingly partnered with even the most modest of sparkling wines such as Cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy or the myriad offerings of fizzy Chardonnay from the Southern Hemisphere. Certainly the new breed of city centre restaurants such as Oasis on the Norwich ring road or Spice Lounge in Tombland, have spent a lot more time in the development of their lists and should reward the most inquisitive of customers wishing to experiment with their evening out and maybe, if I am right, shares in the Kingfisher Brewery could slump overnight.