Butter chicken and basmati rice

If you haven’t yet read Beppi Crosariol’s recent Globe and Mail article on pairing wine with Indian food, I highly recommend you do so. It’s one of the most informative pieces I’ve read on the topic and it was my introduction to the innovative wine program at St. Clair West restaurant, Pukka. 

Let’s face it, most of us tend towards beer or, in my case, water, when we’re having Indian food. Pairing wine with food is complicated enough – with a table full of wildly varied Indian dishes being eaten family style, how do you even know where to begin when selecting wine? Which dish goes with which wine? Is there one that will pair well with all of them? 

The fact that Pukka is even trying to make wine and Indian pairings a part of the experience was enough to interest me in a visit – that they have the brilliant sommelier Peter Boyd curating their wine list added it to the ‘must try’ list.

After two recent visits, I am more than impressed with what Peter and owners Derek Valleau and Harsh Chawla have accomplished with their wine program. Not only is their wine list extensive and extremely well curated, Peter has begun a series of events where diners can discover more about the process of pairing wine and Indian food. This is a unique opportunity to learn how one of the city’s top sommeliers is tackling this fun challenge, and it’s well-worth the ticket price.

Delicious salad, which pairs well with sparkling wine

Pukka does Indian food that blends traditional with the unexpected. It’s what I’d consider gourmet Indian – smaller portions, complex flavours, unique twists on traditional favourites. What you really need to know, of course, is that it’s delicious. Both times I’ve eaten there I’ve spent the next few days raving to friends about how much I loved my meal – their butter chicken is, without question, the best I’ve ever had.

Tandoori Chicken Tikka

But it’s not just the food – the entire Pukka experience is what makes it work. The restaurant is sleek and modern, but not intimidating. The service is friendly and consistent. The owners are there to greet you and answer questions. Even without the wine program, it’s the type of place I’d want to go. That they are doing such interesting things with wine is simply icing on the cake.

And Boyd’s pairings are nothing if not interesting. Sipping a lively 2011 Cotes du Rhone from Domaine des Lauribert, I was not expecting to love it with butter chicken or Indian curry, but I did. And, while I don’t eat red meat, it was fascinating to see the table agree that a 2011 Malbec-Syrah from Perlita in Mendoza was a great match with grilled lamb lollipops with turmeric, mint and coriander curry. Red wine and Indian food is something I typically wouldn’t do – that will change now that I know how well it works.

Seared Spiced Duck Breast

One of the best things about the wine and food pairing experience at Pukka is Peter himself. Warm, engaging and not the least bit intimidating, he is the type of sommelier who inspires me to want to go back to wine school. He is so smart in his pairings, but also open to new ideas and willing to admit that with wine and food there is a subjective element at play. He keeps his audience enthused with funny stories from his 30-plus year career and reminds us that, while wine is an art, it doesn’t always have to be serious.

Sweet Potato Samosa

With 30 wines on the current wine list (and an expectation that there are more to come), Pukka is a great stop for serious wine folk who want to try their hand at Indian food pairings, but it’s also just fine for those who are hoping to have a beer and some curry. It doesn’t have to be an elegant meal with proper pairings – but if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll find it here. And, while it’s not on the menu, you can ask to order with 3oz pours, an option I really like that allows you to try several wines without feeling like you’ve overdone it.

And, for those interested, Pukka will be continuing their Spring and Summer Wine Evenings event series through August. This is a fantastic intro for both the novice wine fan or for serious wine students – Peter teaches at a level that is accessible to everyone and there is ample time to chat and learn from those seated around you. The next one is June 9th and you can find the upcoming list here: http://www.pukka.ca/events

For more information on Pukka: www.pukka.ca/
To read the Beppi Crosariol article: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/food-and-wine/wine/the-curry-quandary-how-to-pair-wine-with-indian-fare/article18102283/

* My meals at Pukka were complimentary, but my opinions are my own.