“A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou…” sought Omar Khayyam. In many cultures the world over, the wine has had a long history of being a constant partner at the table and has also influenced the evolution of culinary traditions. Even in India, viticulture has a long history dating back to the time of the Indus Valley civilisation when grapevines were believed to have been introduced from Persia. Winemaking has had a long history in India. ‘Sura’ has been consumed as an intoxicant in mythology as well. Winemaking was also encouraged in the colonial times in India.
Since the 1980s, wine production is seeing a boom, with a growing middle class taking more interest in luxury and fine dining. The majority of wine consumed is domestic, as the tax on wine brought into India is 150 per cent. The entry of Sula Vineyards, the largest Indian wine producer today, in the market in 2000 meant that new consumers need to be educated with the nuances of wine to be able to pair them correctly with food. Rather than following a set of rules, local cuisines were paired simply with local wines.
The modern “art” of food pairings is a relatively recent phenomenon, fostering an industry of books and media with guidelines for pairings of particular foods and wine. The Lalit Hotel in Chandigarh recently called upon the award-winning sommelier, Charles Donnadieu to conduct an experiential evening of tasting Sula wines over mouth-watering Indian cuisine at the Baluchi. Hailing from the region of South of France, Charles grew up with a lifestyle where wine was a part of every meal and decided to settle in India to instil the same passion into the hearts of the Indian guest. In 2005, Charles completed his graduation in Manager en Hôtellerie Internationale from the prestigious Vatel International School Of Hospitality And Tourism Management located in Nîmes, France. He then specialised in Wine Service from Lycée Professionnel L’etincelle in Nîmes where he learned to pair and store fine French wines. He has worked around the globe at well-known hospitality establishments.
“There is no rocket science in pairing. It is all about what tickles your palate,” quipped Charles, but went on to add that “Both food and wine have texture and flavour. It is when these interact with each other, in the right combination, it makes the entire dining experience more enjoyable.”
I risked bringing in subjectivity in the matter of ‘tastes’, and he raised an eyebrow before laughing out loud so I could breathe easy. The master sommelier noted that food and wine pairing is like two people having a conversation: “One must listen while the other speaks or the result is a muddle”. This means either the food or the wine will be the dominant focus of the pairing, with the other serving as a complement to enhance the enjoyment of the first. In regards to weight and intensity, if the focus of the pairing is the wine then a more ideal balance will be a food that is slightly lighter in weight to where it will not compete for attention with the wine but not too light to where it is completely overwhelmed.
It was with this ground rule in mind that I sipped the delightfully citrus Brut Tropicale. I was in love with this surprisingly fruity elixir that reminded me of pear, passion fruit, and lemon sherbet. The dry cream cracker finish was not overpowering and the bubbles give it a creamy frothy mouth feel. The Sula Sauvignon blanc made the perfect combination with the starters.
I understood the importance of the historical anecdote, still repeated today, “White wine with fish; Red wine with meat” when the Sula Rasa Shiraz’s fruit-forward flavour contrasted with the main course dishes including the Bharwan Gucchi Masala, Lamb Masala and Dal Baluchi – paired with Gilafi Kulchas from the famed Naanery at the Baluchi. While the alcohol did accentuate the oils and made the spices a notch hotter, but the red wine seemed to overpower the flavours a bit. I was glad I had made a good student when Charles nodded in approval and remarked, “That is a lesson in contrasts!”
As the grand finale, the decadent Khubani Ka Meetha served atop a Bakarkhani was amazing with the Sula Reisling but after a few morsels, the tart taste of the apricots seemed to assert itself over the Reisling. “When pairing desserts and dessert wines, it’s easy to overwhelm the taste buds with sweetness. Instead, choose a wine that’s a touch lighter and less sweet than the dessert,” concluded Charles.
Text and images by Aarti Kapur Singh