Someone said (and the guy put his finger right on it), “Here’s to cold nights, warm friends and a good drink to give them.” And there can be little better to warm the cockles of your heart than being with a few friends and enjoying an evening of wine and food. So the idea of putting together an evening with wines from Sula Selections (the import wing of Sula) with food contributed by the attending guests, sounded fun.
Sula Selections was keen to showcase a part of their selection of Australian, Chilean and Italian wines, and rather than do the whole evening at a restaurant (the obvious choice), I thought a dinner at a home would add an extra glow of warmth. That the home in question was that of the extremely gracious couple, Sunil and Kiran Chainani, was an added bonus. The spacious lawns, patio and large rooms meant that 16 guests could even sit down to a four course meal with no problem. The group consisted of close friends, all wine lovers, and just incidentally all former presidents and committee members of the Bangalore Wine Club, the oldest wine club in the country.
The young sommelier from Sula, Najeshda Deshpande (her name has Russian origins, she told us) put the wine pairings together once the dishes for the dinner were decided. To begin, there was an excellent cheese platter with dips, toasts and more. We cracked open bottles of the extremely accessible and well priced (particularly for India) Hardy’s Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir, and its freshness made for a perfect beginning. There is really nothing to top a sparkling start to any evening, I think. It lifts the spirits and adds an edge to any party. The good thing is that the sparkling wine market, Indian and imported, is looking up in India – such an exciting development.
The rest of the menu/pairings went like this:
Appetizer: Cold prawn salad in yoghurt dressing with Cono Sur Reisling (Chile)
First course: Baked fish with shallots and mushrooms with Ruffiono Orvieto Classico DOC (Italy).
Main course: Roast leg of pork with sides of roasted vegetables & potatoes, and a vegetarian platter (a medley of oven-roasted vegetables: bokchoy, tofu, shiitake mushrooms, grilled red and yellow peppers). This was with the Ruffino Chianti DOCG (Italy).
Dessert: Sticky date pudding with toffee sauce and ice cream, with the Cono Sur Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile).
The food was just perfect: no surprises here as it was all home cooked by master chefs (and I’m not being jocular – we had three professional chefs in the group of which two were men) – the others all excellently qualified amateurs with oodles of experience in turning out wonderful tables of food at their own parties at home. So everyone was happy to dive into the kitchen and do their bit – no case of too many cooks here!
So what was not to love about this dinner? The parings seemed to fit seamlessly together. The cold prawn salad offset the Chilean Riesling better than one could have imagined – the ‘steely backbone’ that Najeshda described coming through to hold it in place. The baked fish and the Ruffino Orvieto pairing could not be faulted. The roast pork was delightful with the Chianti, the crispy crackling and stuffing sealed the deal. And Kiran’s oven roasted peppers ranks among my all-time favourites, simple and delicious.
The surprise pairing of the day was the Cono Sur Reserva Cab Sauvignon with the sticky date pudding – no pairing with chocolate here, but the toffee sauce, the dates and the warmth of the pudding worked beautifully together with the hints of oak and red fruit in the wine.
The laughter, jokes and bonhomie was the additional glue which held together an evening which we will all remember. This was no formal, stuffy wine dinner, and everything came together just right: the food, the wine and the company. We played safe with the food this time to ensure easy and happy pairings, but we are ready to cross more adventurous frontiers on future occasions, why ever not!
Evenings like this are the proof that food and wine events of a more informal order will work, and all types of food made at home can find its match – made in heaven or just putting together elements which you think would work. After all, the joy in making discoveries such as we did, beats searching for regular expert guidance.
Try it and see for yourself!
(Sula Selection wines are available at major retailers across the country. Prices range from Rs 800 to Rs 1050 for the wines we tasted)