Wine wisdom for happy hours

LIVING IN THE KITCHEN

Indians are taking to wine like never before. The Indian wine industry produced 7 million litres in 2009 and wants to make it 60 million litres in 2020. With 500 wine industry professionals, 5500 registered wine lovers and 12 sommeliers, wine is working hard to carve a niche for itself as a popular drink. The domestic wine industry is growing at an annual rate of 25 per cent, compared to a measly 2-3 per cent in 2000.

A new hospitality service lets you host wine parties at home, with a  sommelier in attendance.  So, ready yourself to be  taught the correct etiquette when it comes to ordering and drinking wine.

The server  presents the wine bottle and announces it, asks you to verify the temperature, and then proceeds to open the bottle, ideally at the table. He will then offer the cork for sniffing. Not much can be told there, but if the wine has really gone dank, the cork will smell pretty awful. Otherwise, you can squeeze the cork and check its elasticity.
A ‘spongy’ cork is a healthy sign; a dry and brittle cork indicates either bad quality of cork used by the winemaker or, in the case of an expensive wine, bad storage conditions. However, with the new plastic corks and screw-cap bottles, don’t expect any of the above.

Then, a tasting portion is offered. If one feels that the wine is not fine, the best way to indicate the same is to say, “I think the wine is a little off. What do you think?” Perfect wine etiquette, wouldn’t you say?

The pairing of Indian food with wine has brought forth many experts. One connoisseur declares, “Red wine with spicy chicken? Absolutely perfect. Red wine with white meat? Sacrilegious!” But others argue that it’s actually the sauce that swings the pendulum. Rigid rules of ‘white wine with white meat’ and ‘red wine with red meat’ are now being relaxed.    

According to Raj Mehta, a sommelier of repute, “The test is to match a kakori kebab or a murg kali mirch (both of which rate very high on the spice scale) with an Orvieto or a Chardonnay.”

It was during an Indian sojourn, that Jancis Robinson, ranked among the world’s 200 masters on wine, experimented with “high spiced local dishes and Indian wine”. Two conclusions came up in her feature on Indian wines in the Financial Times, London. “Indians,” she wrote, “tend to be far too damning of their own wines, and there is no reason why wine should not be enjoyed with the local food served in India...”

Homebred winemakers and connoisseurs are all for pairing desi delicacies and wine. Sanjay Menon of Sula Wines has long been trying to bring down inhibitions of pairing Indian food with wine. But he feels that for more meaningful pairings to happen, top Indian chefs will have to keep wine in mind while creating their culinary masterpieces.

In Mumbai, celebrated chef and food writer Jiggs Kalra trained Moet & Chandon champagne expert Benont Gouez to match his wines with Indian food. Says Jiggs. “It is a myth that vegetarian food  does not go with wine. If you can have Crepes Florentine with Sauvignon Blanc why not with Palak Paneer?”

Michael Rolland, famous oenologist and wine consultant, says: “I have had at least 150 great Indian meals and enjoyed wine with each, every time. Your job is not to taste and take notes, but to enjoy!”

“In France,” says Kapil Grover of Bangalore-based Grover Vineyards, “at all the Indian restaurants, the French opt for our white wines with lightly done food, and for food with tandoori masalas they prefer the reds.”

 In Indian restaurants outside India, efforts are on to make diners club wine with curry. In London, master chef Rohit Khattar and sommelier Charles Metcalfe started this trend at their restaurant Chor Bizarre: they called it a ‘Wine & Dine’ experiment. Metcalfe concentrated on spices used in a particular preparation and tried to match the flavour with a range of wines. For instance, the tamarind and yogurt in aloo ki tikki make it high in natural acidity, and therefore an ideal pairing for a dry German-style Riesling. He matched chicken tikka or pakoras of spinach/ eggplant/potato/ onion with a Chardonnay. The salmon tikka, he declared, is “sublime” with a white wine, while the lamb sheekh kabab or the paneer tikka is best savoured with a Chablis. Metcalfe found that a white burgundy “provocatively” matched not with the meat, but the herbs and cinnamon used in the kebabs. He also made recommendations of wines for chicken (Riesling) and lamb curries (Cabernet).

Chef Vineet Bhatia of Zaika, the first Michelin star Indian restaurant in London, has appointed a sommelier to pair a 400-bottle selection with the delicious fare he has on offer. Now, for the big question: Does champagne go with Indian food? Moet et Chandon aficionados certainly think so. Although, ideally, one must not have very spicy food or food with very strong flavours with champagne as it kills its inherent bouquet, mildly rich food can help carry off a mildly rich drink as champagne, say the experts. And that’s reason enough to raise a toast!

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