Wishing you a year of wine fun!
The featured picture says it quite well: Indian food goes best with white wine. There’s such a variety to choose from. Break out the Albariño, Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, Viognier… you get the point.
But what if your guests show a strong preference for red wine? I typically push a bottle of white with the savory and spicy hors d’oeuvres and hold the red to appreciate with the main meal. Surprising for host and guest alike — each persisting in a certain wine view — we have begun to like the other’s choice. Even those who would start the evening with a heavy red enjoy whites, and I, swearing by them, have learned to appreciate the complexity of reds with the burst of Indian spices.
The result: Great wines during the holidays.
Centerpiece: Whole Indian Chicken.
For a friend’s birthday celebration just before Christmas, we served baked brie with cranberry sauce and fruit. This is a great time for kiwifruit and we sliced some for color, texture and look. Since the meal was Indian, the samosa couldn’t be far behind. Well, we dressed it up a bit with garbanzos for a nice chaat dish.
Enter the Ekam 2014 from Castell D’Encus in Catalan, Spain. A blend of Riesling and Albariño, this wine is partially fermented in stone vats from the twelfth century. The first sip was astonishing. Light and crisp with grapefruit, tropical fruit, lychee, and strawberry. It went very well with both the appetizers, but I reveled in its flavor by itself.
For dinner, I went to the cookbook by Vikram Sunderam, the chef who worked at the first Rasika restaurant in Washington, D.C. (Brag note: the Obamas love the place.)
The principal dish was murg mussallum or whole chicken, a complex and labor-intensive production. This was driven not by masochism but the dish’s provenance. It comes from my hometown of Lucknow in India. The recipe calls for a mind-boggling range of spices.
So what wine would go with it? I considered a Sangiovese, a Cab, which my friends love but I thought might be too heavy, or some high-acid Italian wine. In the end, since my friends like to try new wines, we went with Robert Mondavi’s 50thanniversary Maestro 2013– a Bordeaux blend from Napa. Over half Merlot and 25 percent Cabernet Franc with a smattering of other grapes, this is smooth, supple, with enough heft to pair well with rich Indian food.
For the next big invite, we did Indian food tapas style, bringing out a dish at a time. This time I offered a 2016 Viognier from Bonny Doon Vineyard. A dry white with an aroma of jasmine and apricot. Surprisingly, it had the pleasing bitter aftertaste of a Vermentino. (Sure, it takes getting used to, but Vermentino-esque bitterness is great.) My anxiety about its appeal to our guests’s palates was assuaged when they remarked how good it tasted.
Please look carefully at the illustration. Bonny Doon owner Randall Grahm tells the story about how he imported what he believed to be Roussanne grapes from Chataeuneuf-du-Pape and proudly made a delectable “Roussanne” wine. Ready with a pun for every occasion, Grahm asked a calligrapher, later his illustrator Wendy Cook, to make a label. He suggested Cyrano de Bergerac, the long-nosed protagonist of the play written by Edmond Rostand in the late nineteenth century. Cyrano loved Roxanne but believed she’d never agree to marry him because of his long nose. (Think A Star is Born, where Lady Gaga’s character says she was told her nose would get in the way of success. A case of art following art, eh?) Later, when Grahm found out that the Roussanne was actually Viognier, a Pinocchio nose seemed in order. To him, at least.
Look carefully at the illustration and you’ll see that Pinnocchio’s nose is actually the letter ‘R’ in reverse followed by the spelling of Roussanne in cursive on his nose.
How do you match a story like this?
The Sea Smoke 2014 Southing doesn’t have a story I know, but it was a hit at our little dinner party. A Pinot Noir from the Santa Rita Hills in Southern California, it is available by allocation only. It is rich in spice with milder notes of black currant. I enjoyed the understated black currant, which didn’t overwhelm as it occasionally does in some California Pinots. Long after the meal was over, we sat and chatted as our palates luxuriated in this delicious wine. What greater way to spend a holiday evening!
Featured image: Shutterstock.
Pinocchio: Bonny Doon Vineyard.