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Pairing Indian Food with Wine

Indian Cuisine and Wine, a topic that not mean wine experts are very comfortable about, given the high spice content of most of the Indian Dishes and curries. As we take you on a journey of pairing Indian Coastal Food from Goa, Kerala and Mangalore with some fine wines, the results might surprise you!

Chilled Wine Glasses, Four Seasons, Chenin Blanc

Pairing– The concept of bringing together two popular food or beverage items, so that each enhances the flavour of the other, and the end-result is actually not just the sum of the experience of the food and beverage together, but an exponential amplification of both the components. As a concept, this sounds rather like a mathematical definition, and in actuality, it actually involves a lot of chemistry, common-sense, an inherent understanding of the ingredients involved and most importantly, experience. Food  pairing can be something as simple as french fries and mayonnaise, to something exotic like Chilled Vodka & Caviar, and my personal favorite, Wine and Indian food.

I met up with Mr. Abhay Kewadkar, Winemaker at Four Seasons Wine, and a veteran of the Indian Wine Industry, at the iconic restaurant of the Gateway Hotel, ‘The Karavalli‘ which serves coastal cuisine from Mangalore, Goa and Kerala too. Our aim was to pair some of the best of Four Seasons Wines, with Coastal Indian Food, to see if we could get a whole new high. Also, present on the occasion was Executive Chef Naren Thimmaiah, who has been a chef here for more than 25 years, and his experience in working with local produce would come in handy too, to decide on the pairing.

We had the following 3 Wines at hand, a popular white, and 2 barrel-aged reds:

  1. Four Seasons Chenin Blanc
  2. Four Seasons Barrique Reserve Shiraz
  3. Four Seasons Vintner’s Reserve

Here is a short video, where the Chef and the Winemaker are in an intense discussion to decide on the food-wine pairing:

  1. Chenin Blanc v/s Chicken Satay

Chenin Blanc: This is a white grape variety, which can either result in either a dry wine or a sweet wine, depending on how the wine is made.However, one factor which makes Chenin Blanc easy to pair, is the fact that it had got a beautiful acidity, which can cut across several types of dishes, including Mediterranean as well as lightly spiced Asian Dishes.

The Wine: Coming to the Four Seasons Chenin Blanc, this wine is made in an off-dry style(which means that it still has a bit of the residual sugar left in it, so the sweetness of the sugars balances the dryness of the grapes, bringing it’s palate down from a dry varietal to an off-dry varietal). This wine has a pleasantly fruity smell, and has its acidity on the crisp side, so pairing this wine was relatively easy.

The Food:We decided to have a the Chicken Singapore Satay to go with our chilled glass of the Four Seasons  Chenin Blanc.

Four Seasons Chenin Blanc with Singapore Chicken Satay Skewers

The Pairing: The Chicken Satay was not the classic thai version which is served with peanut sauce. Rather,these were roasted chicken pieces on skewers, pan-fried a little to give them a little dimension and served with a tangy sweet-spicy red sauce. This went really well with the Chenin Blanc, and a pairing that I instantly liked. The freshness of the wine enhancing the flavours of the skewered chickens, this is a highly recommended pairing, though it isn’t exactly Indian Food.

2. Barrique Reserve Shiraz v/s Pork Sorpotel

The Wine: The word ‘Barrique’ actually refers to a particular type of french wooden barrel, in which wines are aged. The Four Seasons Barrique Reserve Shiraz is a wine-blend consisting of 87% Shiraz, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Viognier, which is aged in barriques for about 12 Months, and another couple of years in the bottle. This wine was of a inky-red colour, with a nose of dry spices and dark fruit. The flavour profile was a bit on the smoky side, with a intense charcoal flavour coming through. I think this wine would go perfect with barbecued items.

The Food: This was a tricky one, especially considering, that we were dealing with Coastal Cuisine, where the flavours are much fresher. We decided to go with the Pork Sorpotel, a goan-interpretation of pork in a red gravy, high on spices and flavour. This was served with fluffy sannas on the side, to help mop up the slight gravy that remained.

Goan Pork Sorpotel with Barrel Aged Shiraz, Four Seasons Barrique Reserve

The Pairing: The pork item that arrived is probably one of the best dishes of Pork I have had over the years, with beautifully roasted pork pieces in authentic goan spices, with the slightly sweetness of cashew balancing the spices. But having this with the Barrique Reserve was not a very happy conclusion. The spices of the curry drowned out the smokiness of the wine, and vice-versa. For this wine, I think if the pork was smoked, it might have gone down better. Nonetheless, a lesson learnt, Very Smoky Wines do not pair well with spicy goan red curry.


3. Vintner’s Reserve v/s ‘Atturachy Ularthu’ (Kerala-Style Dry Lamb Dish)

A barrel aged fine red wine with Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes

The Wine: The term ‘Vintner’ actually means a wine-maker, so Vintner’s Reserve symbolizes a Reserve Wine that is recommended by the Wine Maker. The Four Seasons Vintner’s Reserve is a combination of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz grape varieties, aged for 2 years in oak barrels, and another 2 years in the bottle. This wine is a delight to have, with a deep plum color, and smoky notes, balanced with mellow spice notes. This wine almost seemed like the older brother of the Four Seasons Barrique Reserve Shiraz, with similar base characteristics, but more well-rounded and mellowed out.

The Food: This complex wine called for food that has a richer texture and more complexity to it. We decided to go with the ‘Atturachy Ularthu‘, as recommended by Chef Naren. Ularthu in malayalam means dry, and this preparation of lamb is a dish from Travancore. Lovely cubes of lamb, cooked to perfection in typical kerala spices, such as black pepper,nutmeg and fennel powder. This was another dish that was superbly done by the chef, and it would be interesting to see how this paired with the wine.

Vintner's Reserve Barrel Aged Fine Red Wine with Kerala Style Dry Lamb Appetizer

The Pairing: This turned out to be an interesting exercise in wine-food pairing. The beautifully rounded wine cut through the fine spices in the lamb, and the pairing turned out to be the highlight of the day. Since the Wine itself had slight spice notes, and the slight smokiness of the wine elevated the ‘Atturachy Ularthu’ to a different dimension altogether. A Worthy Pairing!

All in All, after pairing several coastal Indian dishes from Goa and Kerala with Wines, it has become clear to me that Indian Cuisine can indeed become a good companion to good wines from around the world, and Wines can complement Indian Food as well, if you are willing to give it a shot. The only way to know for sure is to keep experimenting with different wine varietals and food combinations, until you find something that hits your ‘sweet spot’. Well, What are you waiting for, try pairing your favourite wines with your favorite food, and tell us the results!