Gandhi India Restaurant, 2601 W. Devon, 773-761-8714.
Classic northern Indian food is served at this simple, long-standing corner eatery. The gracious staff is accommodating and willing to make suggestions from a menu that includes tandoori-style chicken, lamb, or shrimp, more than a dozen other lamb preparations, and a host of meatless options. One section of the menu is devoted to breads (nan, kulcha, paratha) with various toppings and fillings: potatoes (alu paratha), onions and spices (piazi kulcha), or ground lamb (keema nan). The rich and robust flavors of cloves, curry, and garam masala (a mixture of dry-roasted spices) make it a complex cuisine and interesting to match with wine. While Gandhi India does have a short wine list, patrons can bring their own bottles for a $10 corkage fee. We found that several crisp, acidic wines worked well with the food's flavors and textures. Consulting experts on this trip were R.B. Green and Rob Hultman, who run the wine program at Spring.
1. Besserat de Bellefon Cuvee des Moines Brut Rose (Champagne, France), $34.99. This is a cremant-style wine, subject to half the pressure used in traditional champagne fermentation and a lower dose of sugar, which gives it only moderate effervescence. The low sugar also lets more of the crisp green apple and citrus flavors come through (with hints of strawberries and Bing cherries on the nose), while a higher-than-normal proportion of pinot noir gives it the blush color and a fuller-bodied flavor. The refreshing, acidic finish makes it a fine match for the lemon juice, musty cayenne pepper, green cilantro, fresh tomatoes, and starchy potatoes in the alu chat, a spicy cold potato salad. The wine mellows the dish's powerful flavors, while the dish brings out the wine's more subtle midpalate flavors, toning down the moderately pungent citrus. The salty tandoori chicken, given a squeeze of the lime that accompanies it, works well with this wine, too: the citrus notes in the wine match those in the food (and also work as a palate cleanser). (Binny's)
2. 1997 Panther Creek Melon, Stewart Vineyard (Willamette Valley, Oregon), $12.99. The melon grape, infrequently used in American wine making, originated in Burgundy, though these days it's more widely grown in the Loire Valley, where it's known as muscadet. This single-vineyard, small-batch wine is moderately sweet with a viscous texture and an aroma of fresh herbs. It's highly extracted, giving it a full body and midpalate roundness on the tongue. Five years of aging has allowed for deep flavor development--hints of oak, vanilla, and honey combine with peach, Bartlett pear, and apricot on the nose, and there's almond and toasted oak on the finish. The subtle herbs in the masala dosa--a thin crepe filled with potatoes, onions, and nuts--are enhanced by the combined flavors in the wine, while the starch from the potatoes helps soften the wine's slight petroleum finish. (Sam's)
3. 1999 Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Spatlese (Germany), $12.99. The cool evenings and steep, south-facing slopes along the Mosel River yield good acidity in the wines of this region, the smallest in the valley, while the lower alcohol levels typical of Rieslings make them food friendly. The spices and fresh cilantro in the alu chat become more vibrant in this wine's company, while the heat of the cayenne is mitigated. The sweetness and acidity of the wine smooth out the tart vinegar and lemon juice flavors. The shrimp biryani, perfumed with cardamom and cloves, works with the wine in a different manner, keeping its citrusy flavors lively without mellowing the fruitiness. The naturally sweet shrimp itself is compatible with the moderate sweetness of the wine. (Sam's)
4. 2000 Domaine Raspail ay Gigondas (France), $12.99-$15.99. While this is one of Chicago's more widely distributed Rhone Valley wines, it shouldn't be viewed as mainstream. Made primarily from the grenache grape (blended with smaller proportions of syrah and mouvedre), it has incredible fullness and depth of flavor, in part due to its malolactic fermentation (a second process that reduces overall acidity). Flavors of black cherries and berries along with hints of cassis and dried plum give the wine a firm structure that can stand up to a full-bodied dish like the woodsy saag mushroom, a rich spinach and mushroom mixture in a brown sauce based on a garam masala. An essence of truffle and a hint of barnyard in the wine make the match to mushrooms even more appropriate. A good dose of white pepper in the sauce also works well with the wine's peppery finish. (Sam's, Wine Discount Center)
5. 2000 St. Hallett Faith Shiraz (Barossa Valley, South Australia), $15.99. Shiraz is the most widely grown grape in Australia, where it's produced in a new-world style (young, bold, with big forward fruit). This deep red black version has spice and cherry on the nose, followed by rich plum, cherry, and smoke on the palate, notes of leather and clay, and a hint of toasted oak from 18 months of American oak maturation. While this wine is big and fruity, its tannins (the astringent compounds in the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes that cause the drying sensation on your gums and teeth) are subtle. The combination of all of the above calls for a sturdy dish like the lamb vindaloo; after a taste of the gamy meat and its aromatic vinegar-based curry sauce, the shiraz became almost velvety on the tongue. (Sam's, Wine Discount Center)
Alu Chat 1, 3
Masala Dosa 2
Chicken Tandoori 1
Lamb Vindaloo 5
Shrimp Biryani 3
Saag Mushroom 4
Sam's Wines and Spirits 1720 N. Marcey, 312-664-4394
Binny's Beverage Depot 213 W. Grand, 312-332-0012
Wine Discount Center 1862 N. Elston, 773-489-3454