Have you always paired wine with cheese, cherry and pineapple or maybe a la tagliolini – or perhaps an insipid looking grilled fish? Probably because pairing wines with ‘desi’ dishes was unheard of?
I don’t blame you! We Indians were never taught to pair wines with our fiery red chicken curries or the Indian staple butter chicken or even dal chawal, were we? It was a blasphemy if we did so!
Fast forward to today. Indian wine makers are growing grape varietals from the old world regions like Italy, France and Spain to produce wines that will pair perfectly with our very own butter chicken, mutton biryani, the fiery sallan and a host of other desi dishes. There’s a change afoot and Indians are welcoming it with open arms.
This couldn't have been more evident to me than on a recent trip to the vineyards in Nasik.
A six-hour drive from Pune to Nasik was reason enough to unwind at the vineyard first, even before we started exploring the city.
A dusty path on the outskirts of the city led us to the Grover Zampa winery with its verdant green hills that had heaps of charm.
As we settled down for lunch, my expectation of a stiff four-course meal received a big blow when the host served us rice, dal, chapati and chicken kadhai to go with a glass of fresh Viognier poured into flute shaped glasses.
Although a little perturbed, I was happy to note how the viognier (wine) paired beautifully with dal chawal and chicken kadhai. I had never known a wine that could pair so well with desi food.
Why should wine always be paired with Italian or continental? One of our biggest endeavours is getting everyone to have only Indian food with wines. A rosé will work beautifully with regular Indian staples like dal chawal or sambhar rice.Karishma Grover, granddaughter of Kanwal Grover, founder of Grover Vineyards
Karishma is the chief winemaker at the vineyard and agrees that wine goes really well with luxe food – but it should not stop there.
Nikhil Agarwal, Sommelier and CEO at All Things Nice, says,
The biggest challenge is to rid ourselves of this notion that Indian food and wine cannot be done. The key to pairing any food with wine is to either match flavours or contrast them – and this can be applied to Indian food as well. Even for our spicy food, wines made from Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc or even new world Viognier can be an excellent match. For foods prepared using the tandoor, full bodied reds from Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon are fantastic. Even for something as simple as a cold curd rice with a curry leaf, a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio is wonderful.
The evolution of Indian vineyards is creating a new interest in wines. When the wine producers first began, they started off with standard varietals like Chenin, Shiraz and Sauvignon. Fast-forward 10 years and some have taken to growing a host of other varietals.
“Grover Zampa was the first to use the Viognier to launch a fermented barrel version of white wine in the country, in 2007,” says Karishma.
The viognier is a straw yellow grape and the wine has aromas of honey-suckle, spiced pears and apricots on the nose. It has a refreshing, rich mouth feel and viscous texture that makes it pair beautifully with spicy dishes like chicken tikka masala, methi mutter malai, etc.
Similarly, the Syrah that is native to Iran abounds in her vineyards. The wine made from these grapes is an elegant red with violet tints having aromas of raspberry, blackberry, anise, blackpepper and forest fruits. Thus, it is no wonder that the wine pairs well with lamb dishes like mutton keema as well as tandoori chicken and lamb.
Another vineyard, Fratelli, grows a host of international grape varietals like Sangiovese, Marsalan, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.
Craig Wedge – brand consultant at Fratelli wines – feels that all these French and Italian clones that were grown in their vineyard a decade ago have now become desi, as they are re-growing them from our own grape vine cuttings. “Fratelli’ s vineyard nursery is supplying our needs for today and for the future,” he adds.
When asked about how the terroir plays a role, Craig confesses that the unique soil in the region has had an impact on the structure and inherent freshness in all their wines. It is this vibrant acidity and freshness in the wines that makes them pair so well with Indian food.
Ajit Balgi, a wine and spirits expert at The Happy High, says,
I often get this question on how to pair wines with classic Indian ‘chaknas’ or bar bites. I would recommend a fruity glass of sparkling wine from Sula vineyards in Nasik or a glass of Sauvignon blanc from Charosa vineyard in Dindori, Maharashtra. A ripe Indian Shiraz like the reserve expression from Reveilo or even a Charosa tempranillo works fine with mutton kadhai.
Lastly, Nikhil drives home the point that we must experiment and find out what suits our palate.
I promise you that there is NO kind of food prepared in India that does not have a wine to go along with it.
(A freelance food and fashion blogger, Pranjali Bhonde Pethe aims at getting people and their favourite food and style closer through her blog moipalate. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on @moipalate.)