(*with apologies to Robert Browning)
I think everyone knows by now, that most Indians like to drink their wine as an aperitif. Which is why, I think, several Indian wine companies are deliberately tweaking their wines to an easy-drinking, supremely quaffable style.
But the very idea of not pairing wines with food is still taboo in the Old World. the French would ooh la la at the very idea of drinking a top notch Bordeaux or Burgundy without the correct food to go with it. And those of us who have spent some time drinking wine would agree that there is no better way of underlining the structure and body of a well-made wine than by pairing it with the right food. In fact, reflecting on some of my favourite wine moments, I have to say I cannot think of some of the very special wines without thinking of the food I had with them.
For instance, a simple, rustic meal we had during a family holiday in Provence – a hearty, delicious veal casserole with the most stunning purple potato mash (a specialty of the region, I was told) was made memorable by the equally simple, robust but well-structured house wine, a local Rhône red. Another time, it was a salad with foie gras, served on simple white plates on a sunny terasse restaurant in Séguret, which went deliciously well with a perfectly chilled and fairly lush Domaine de Mourchon rosé, bursting with red berries.
And a meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Avignon was especially memorable not just for the seamless service, perfect food flavours and plating, but because of the fabulous wine we drank with it. In fact, I picked the wine, a Viognier from Condrieu, rather hesitantly, I recall. I had ordered Chef Christian Etienne’s signature and ever-changing menu des tomates equally hesitantly, as I’m not a huge tomato fan, but I was intrigued by the way the chef had laced the courses together with this single food element, right down to dessert. Each course was varied, different; some vegetarian, others seafood or red meat. We wanted a wine to do justice to most. I picked the Viognier when the sommelier came to the table, wondering if I was doing the right thing. “Wonderful choice, madame,” smiled the sommelier. (All sommeliers should be so wonderfully friendly and reassuring, I say). What the heck, I decided, I wanted to drink the Viognier*, and drink it I would. At first sip, the wine was as seductively fruity and complex as I had imagined. Nectar in a glass.
It also worked like a dream with the food. The husband, who favours big reds and was looking forward to our visit to Chateauneuf-du-Pape the next day, was charmed by this wine and its stunning aromas and gorgeous floral and citrus notes. And we ordered a second bottle to take us through all eight courses of the tasting menu (I especially recall the goat cheese mousse with green tomato chutney). At the end of the meal I summoned the sommelier and thanked him for not trying to veer me away from it. “It’s an excellent wine, madame,” he said, “I knew it would make you happy.”
That’s really what a good wine should do during a meal. Make you happy.
That day, sitting at the restaurant overlooking the fabulous Palais des Papes, it was a wine and food voyage of a different kind. Wine pairings tend to do that to you. If you make a discovery, find a wonderful wine, and perchance, even by accident, pick the perfect food to pair it with, it’s a discovery worthy of saying Eureka!
Eat your heart out, Archimedes.
*The wine was Andre Perret Coteau de Chéry 2011, a stunning expression of the Viognier from a one of the most noted vineyards in the Condrieu appellation.