The Indianisation of wine. Pairing Ideas

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For many in the developing world, drinking wine is a complicated process. For most here in India, the complication borders on being even scary due to the sheer expanse of the perceived fears about its mismatch with Indian food. This keeps many away, besides being unusually judgmental, while considering a wine trial. Kulpreet Yadav reports. indian_food_wine1.jpg


Easily put: People are skeptical that the culture is only western and incapable of indianisation. But this is fast becoming history, particularly in most of the so called tier one Indian cities. And others too are not far behind.
Some might even argue that the stickiness bordering the Indian food and wine issue is still very much intact, there are others who have long shun the dilemma. I belong to the latter. And I have no dearth of like-minded friends in media, wine enthusiasts and wine educationists who are outspokenly on my side. They are doing their bit, clearing clouds of misunderstanding, reaching to the conscious of people with the right kind of advice. For me this journey of educating people must continue.
The bhite bhine (white wine) and Rhed bhine (Red wine)
Sticking to the debate about matching Indian food with wine that is fast becoming the favorite topic of discussion at restaurants let me try and piece together my experience. The amount of willingness that I have noticed of late, quite frankly, has surprised me. Here is why… you go to a neighbourhood just-opened-restaurant in Delhi suburbs (where I live) and the steward, complete with a smile and that slight bow, begins suggesting wine. This when you are thinking about beer… Fish and Chicken bith bhite bhine (with white wine) and mutton bith rhed bhine (with red wine), sir. Who gave you this idea? You ask, startled? And the manager appears who assures you that the man is right and repeats the same sommelier advice but with a better pronunciation. It’s pretty much the same at most of the diner restaurants where the cost of a meal for two is upwards of INR 1500 (USD 38 Approx).
Is Mark Twain’s statement really wrong when applied to Indian wine scene?
So let the fact be told: Mark Twain, for once, was wrong when he famously popularized the Benjamin Disraeli semi-ironic statement that there are three types of lies, lies: dammed lies and statistics. For, in the case of the Indian wine consumption, it is not just the statistics that are swelling; the lifestyle too is fast adapting and evolving itself around the world of this new found fascination called wine. The Indians may not be still fully prepared to love the culture like they love their Hindi cinema or Indian food, but hey they seem damn serious about it. And the wave is spreading to the untouched before areas. Don’t still believe me, try going to any of the restaurants and ask for their wine menu and a surprise awaits you in the form of variety, and cost. Racks are full with Indian wines that are laid neatly across the imported ones, dressed up in trendy stickers and labels.
Indian food and wine pairing: Is it really mumbo-jumbo of opinions?
Matching food with fine has always been a topic of much debate and discussions even in regions where wine has been consumed for centuries. It is just that the Indian boys and girls are just waking up to it. And in India, due to the staggering variance in the types of cuisine from region to region, the exercise is seemingly more arduous. Add to that the vast difference between home cooked food and restaurant ones. Then there is this street food, now fashionably attired and dressed up on pristine white plates and given fancy names. These are some of the factors which, I feel, sometimes end up confusing the foodie to an extent that a shot of vodka or a beer looks simpler and with much lees fuss. How long before we tumble across this tiny tumble block is then anybody’s guess?
While time, as always, remains the best hope to demystify all the lives problems, the complexity, I am sure, will get drowned to a large extent soon enough. Until then, let me proffer my take but with a disclaimer that these are original and work for me and my friend and family, and may not work exactly the same way with others. If latter is the case, be rest assured that you are right, because wine, after all, is the experience of enhancing the pleasure of food and mood.
The prescription
Kebabs, Kormas and Aromatic Biryanis – Medium to full bodied Shiraz, Medium bodied Sauvignon Blanc, full bodied Merlot or Sweet Rose
Chicken Tikka, Sheekh kebabs and Rumali rotis Semi sweet Riesling, Sweet Rose Zinfandel preferably, medium bodied Traminer
Vegetable Fritters, Panner dishes, Vegetable koftas and Nan Sparkling wines, any red or white that is decidedly crisp and fruity with a sharp acid finish.
Indian fast food like Momos, Samosas, Pav-bhaji and Vadas – dry and fruity sparkling wines
– Kulpreet Yadav

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5 Comments

  1. I must say that when it comes to taste matches of wine and food pairing it is quite a different story. It does become difficult and sometimes complex as to what is the right wine with our diverse Indian cuisine. Lets first ask ourselves the question as to Why are we drinking wine in the first place ? Is it because it is chic, healthy, or taste ? Or at the end of the day all of the above and a bit of kick as well. For most Europeans wine is consumed as an Aperitif, food accompniment, or polish off their meals with dessert wines. At the end of the day lot of them concentrate on the alcohol rather that the taste or pairings. For this very reason I think the taste should be dry,fruity, light to medium bodied and easy to drink. The sweet wines can cause cloying of the tounge and if you were to polish of a few glasses it becomes hard to drink much sweet wines. Further the sweetness or the sugar content can fill you up too soon and restrict your appetite. For this very reason dry wines have a much larger share. In my view perhaps the safest and best combination with any spicy Indian food is (unless offcourse you have a developed aquired taste) a fruity, slightly sweet or dry and acidic sparkling wine. Many wine upstarts I have met in India even have the notion that a wine must have some sweetness or else it is not drinkable but we need to educate them that key to a good wine is the balance of five “tatvas” which are also a key to our balanced Indian cuisine, astringent (tannins from the grapes), acidity (from the grapes), sweet (from the ripeness of fruit), bitter(tannins) and creaminess (from the Body). I am convinced balance is the key any good taste unless offcourse you just want to get a kick.

  2. Avininder Singh on

    There are very few occasions when both the Article and the Comment excite the INTELLECT but these two have certainly done so!! I think the real point at issue is that whereas Kulpreet has paired wines with COMMERCIAL, as in Restaurant,Indian food Romi, I presume because of his years living in Australia and France, has thought of the comparison as more related to HOME FOOD or, even more simply, as wine drunk for itself and not as paired with food. I personally feel that until we, as Indians, start drinking wine at HOME – and believe me it is much cheaper that way than drinking in a Restaurant – we will never really get into the wine culture. At the end of the day alcohol, in any form, is what WORKS FOR YOU so if Beer or Vodka be your poison play on, but with Wines you have to experiment and that really is more than half the fun!!

  3. Robert Fripp, the English guitarist and composer, once famously remarked about wine – music is the wine that fills the cup of silence.
    I am thrilled to hear so much about Indian food and wine from Romi. In a uniquely articulated way, the importance of balance has been brought in. I endorse her views. It might be noteworthy here to mention here that India is a land that has seen large scale immigration and intermingling of various ethnic groups over centuries. And this is very much visible in the diverse cooking techniques adopted by different regions and the importance of aroma of each dish. Then there are religious beliefs in-between. Anyway, at the moment, according to me the real challenge lies in pairing these local dishes with wine. This will allow the Industry to leapfrog outside the mega cities and see the graph-worm go bullish. In the interim, let the music play… And fill the glasses of wine, silently.

  4. …personally feel that until we, as Indians, start drinking wine at HOME – and believe me it is much cheaper that way than drinking in a Restaurant – we will never really get into the wine culture…
    Thanks Avininder! I agree with you totally. I guess the key for this transition to take place, there are two prerequistes — one, easy reach of the commodity, and two, the willingness to buy. And I think both are taking an upward bound fillip.

  5. Wonderfully written article especially for those Indians who are apprehensive about wine.It is really heartening to know that there are people who know wine and also know how to write about them in the local context. I know for sure that a group of my friends have read this article and tried out some of the pairings and they are loving it. Romi quite rightly points out the Indian perception for a wine to be sweet so as to differentiate it from the rest of the -OH group but that perception may soon change with people like Kulpreet writing such convincing articles.

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