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This Week: Northern Indian

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Matching wine to cuisines it isn't traditionally drunk with is the focus of this periodic feature, in which we pick a BYO restaurant, sample a few dishes, and recommend some wines.

Indian Grill

2258 N. Clark | 773-477-8000

Grilled shrimp appetizer 1 (Grilled marinated shrimp with mace, cardamom, lemon juice, ginger, and garlic)

$9

Tandoori chicken 2, 3

$13

Dal makhani 2 (Lentils sauteed in a creamy tomato sauce with Indian Spices)

$10

Vegetable jalfrezie 2 (Sauteed vegetables with bell peppers, onions, spices, and herbs)

$11

Rogan josh 3, 4, 5 (Cubes of lamb cooked in gravy)

$13

Tikka Ram Sharma, the chef and owner of Lincoln Park's INDIAN GRILL, specializes in northern Indian cuisine, much of which is cooked quickly in the intense heat of a charcoal-fired clay oven, or tandoor. Meats, which come out tender and flavorful, are seasoned with powerful but not overwhelming doses of classic Indian spices and served with counterbalancing sweet chutneys and cool raitas. Curry dishes combine turmeric, saffron, fenugreek, pepper, curry leaf, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves--a complex melange that calls for a muscular wine, with moderate to high acidity and medium to full body. The consulting sommelier on this visit was Amy Lewis of X/O Chicago.

1. 2003 Richter Estate Riesling (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany), $12-$16. Rieslings are generally thought of as very sweet wines, but they can range from extremely sugary and luscious down to only lightly sweet. This bottle exemplifies the dry end of the spectrum, its hint of residual sugar balanced with fruit and mineral flavors. It's relatively low in alcohol, hovering around ten percent. Floral, citrus, and pineapple notes and a touch of slate come through in both the aroma and the flavor. Paired with the spicy grilled shrimp, this wine gets fruitier; the shrimp tastes a little milder. (Que Syrah, Sam's)

2. 2003 Rainer Wess Wachauer Gruner Veltliner (Wachau, Austria), $20. The gruner veltliner grape, native to Austria and hardly found elsewhere, gives wine a peppery flavor, a quality that makes this one pair well with a wide variety of northern Indian dishes. Its nose is very peppery, but you can also detect gentle notes of wet stone, quince, and papaya. The color's almost clear, with the slight green tinge indicative of youth. We loved it with the tandoori chicken. The wine's pepperiness and the chicken's saltiness and spiciness balance each other out--the former cuts through the latter so the chicken's true flavor can emerge, while all that salt and spice tempers the wine's sharper flavors and brings out its fruitiness. The wine has a moderately long finish that stands up to the dish's after-burn. Its mineral flavors go nicely with the earthy lentils in the dal makhani, and its moderate to high acidity complements the mildly acidic tomato sauce, making it taste richer. The clean flavors of the vegetables in the jalfrezie bring the wine's fruit flavors forward, revealing subtle notes of apricot and peach that were undetectable with the other dishes. (Que Syrah)

3. 2002 Artazuri Garnacha (Navarra, Spain), $7.50-$11. Garnacha, Spanish for grenache, is one of the most widely planted grapes in Spain. To make this wine, Artazuri grows the grapes on 75-year-old vines and ferments and ages their juice first in stainless steel tanks, then in wood casks. Most of the wines from this maker are strong and full-bodied; this one, with its aromas and flavors of tart blackberries and mint and peppery finish, is no exception. It has enough structure and body to stand up to the tandoori chicken; milder berry notes complement the spiciness of the dish without dominating it. The fruitiness is nice with the rogan josh too, keeping the gaminess of the lamb in check while emphasizing its savoriness. (Binny's, Que Syrah, Sam's)

4. 2002 Ramsay Pinot Noir (Carneros, California), $14-$16. Pinot noir is the grape that creates arguably the most elegant wine in the world, red Burgundy. The best Burgundies age gracefully, reaching in advanced years a sublime state of balance and finesse. Younger pinot noir wines tend to be a little harsh, with more acid than fruit, but this relatively young bottle already has flavors of dark raspberries, black cherries, and cassis, rounded off by a distinct hint of vanilla imparted by oak aging. The plush texture and soft tannins hold the promise of a lovely mature wine, but even in its underdeveloped state this is a great choice with the rogan josh. The strong gamey and earthy flavors of the meat are mitigated by the rounded fruit flavors in the wine; the lamb, in turn, brings out the wine's raspberry flavors and makes the vanilla taste more luscious, almost like caramel. (Que Syrah, Sam's)

5. 2002 Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc (Napa Valley), $25. The cabernet franc grape has long been combined with other grapes to make cabernet sauvignon and merlot in Bordeaux, but it's bottled as a single varietal in the Loire Valley and, more recently, California. This dark--almost black--single-grape wine has big flavors of dark berries, cooked plums, and cassis and a moderately bitter aftertaste. There are herbaceous aromas and flavors too, plus a dose of minerals and a hit of strong tannins that give the wine enough brawn to take on the rogan josh. (Que Syrah)

Binny's Beverage Depot 3000 N. Clark, 773-935-9400

Que Syrah Fine Wines 3726 N. Southport, 773-871-8888

Sam's Wine and Spirits 1720 N. Marcey, 312-664-4394

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