WINE AND DINE
Have you always been confused about which wines to serve with what food? Chef Vikas Kumar has all your answers...
When I was a young student at the IHM Kolkata, I could almost understand and relate to most subjects taught there as I had a reference point to most of them including cooking, housekeeping, accounting and maintenance. But the time when I felt completely lost was during the classes on wines. In the second year of our college, we had to learn about international wines, their origins, specialities, making process and other deeper characteristics such as acidity, body, tannin content, alcoholic content, sweetness etc. But it was only after I started working and critically evaluating wines that I came to understand and appreciate its subtleties, finer nuances and how it enhances the overall dining experience. India has traditionally been a low wine consumption country with the per capita wine consumption among the lowest in the emerging economies, but the situation is fast changing. As per a report on 'Research and Market.com', the wine market of India has observed a growth rate of more than 25% CAGR over the last five years and continues to be quite robust. In this article let us discuss the history and modern-day nuances of food and wine pairing and try to understand how different wines can be used to complement the overall dining experience.
Historically wine has been served alongside food for many millennia; in fact, wine and food together find mention in many historical and religious books. One of the reasons could be that wine was consumed as another dietary staple and was often found to be more hygienic, perhaps even plentiful than the local water supply. Armies and travellers would also find wines to be relaxing and invigorating after their heavy and demanding physical labour. In the modern context, wines and foods are paired to enhance the dining experience. In Europe and the Americas it is quite common to have at least one variety of wine with meals, especially dinners.
Although there are certain guidelines or rules that have come about regarding the pairing of food with wine but in my personal belief, food and wine pairing is a personal perspective and many people that I know do not want to stick to the traditional combinations. But nonetheless, it does make sense to be aware of these broad guidelines and then decide for yourself.
Great with Great: This is among the first and the easiest principles to understand. When pairing wine with food, do remember that the really good quality wines will always taste better with really good quality food and vice versa. If I were to put it in context, a good quality Merlot or Sauvignon will definitely be a better accompaniment to a well prepared, elaborate meat dish rather than a salad or a sandwich which could do with more humble choices.
Red to Red, White to White: Another universally accepted rule to food and wine pairing is to serve red meats such as lamb and beef etc with heavy bodied red wines such as red burgundies, 'Merlot' or 'Shiraz' and white meats such as seafood and fish and lighter dishes will pair well with white wines such as a 'Chardonnay' or a 'Pinot Grigio'. One of the reasons for this combination is that wines can help accentuate dominant flavours of the dish and red wines with their strong tannins and intensity help in developing the inherent flavours of red meats. Similarly, the light floral characteristics of white wines help in enhancing the subtle taste of fish and other white meat dishes.
Salt-Sweet-Acid: Generally, the components of salt, sweet and acidity in foods should be balanced with the same three dominant components of the wine. The saltiness in food, for example, is a great contrast to acidity in wines. Similarly, sweeter wines lend themselves to sweet dishes and dishes with inherent sweetness such as sweet water fish. For example, it is a good idea to pair high acid wine such as a 'Riesling' with Asian dishes heavy on saltiness due to use of soy sauce. Also, it is a good idea to use a sweeter wine such as a 'Sauterne' to accompany desserts, taking care that desserts are not too sweet in comparison to the sweetness of wine, otherwise it will hide the softer, floral palate.
Think flexibly: Although it is always a good idea to pair food and wines carefully, especially for formal and high profile occasions, there certainly are quite a few wines that go well with most foods and should be kept in stock, just in case a wine lover visits you inadvertently. Among red wines, 'Chianti' and 'Pinot Noir' varieties are most flexible since these are flavourful and robust, yet have strong fruity notes and lots of tannins, making them good accompaniments for a wide range of dishes. Among white and sparkling, the most common example can be the ubiquitous Champagne which goes well with almost everything. Besides that, wines with slightly high acidity such as a Riesling can be a good option.
So what to drink with my Chicken Tikka?
Considering the universal acceptability and craze for Indian food, it is a fair question to ask as to which wines will go well with our Curries, Lababdars and Kormas. The general rule of thumb can be, the richer the curry, bolder the wine. So if you have a Mutton Rogan josh or a Chicken tikka masala, think about pairing it with a robust 'Pinot Noir' or a 'Cabernet Sauvignon'. A good 'Riesling works well with almost all Indian dishes owing to its fruity and hearty characteristic. Also, if a dish is quite heavy, it is a good idea to pair it with wines that are slightly acidic, such as a 'Sauvignon Blanc' or 'Cabernet Sauvignon'.
In the end, all I could say is that wines are a personal preference and although rules are good as guidelines, don't restrict yourself from trying out new combinations.
Don't forget to try the recipe of a wine based dessert mentioned above. It is among the simplest but most flavourful desserts you could ever make.
Red wine poached pears with ginger Sabayon
Fresh pears 4
Good quality semisweet red wine (such as a Merlot
or a Cabernet) 300 ml
Water 100 ml
Sugar 50 gm
Cinnamon stick 1 inch
Star anise 1
Fresh thyme 10 g
Egg yolk 4
Fruity White wine
(such as a Riesling) 100 ml
Ginger powder 10 g
Sugar 50 g
Pour the red wine, water, sugar, cinnamon stick, star anise and fresh thyme in a saucepan. Peel the pears and put all of it (along with the stem) in the liquid.
Simmer gently till the pears are tender and the liquid has reduced by half, 30-40 minutes. Cool.
For the Sabayon, whisk the egg yolk and sugar until pale. Add the wine while whisking continuously, and finally add the ginger powder.
To serve, place the room temperature poached pear on the serving plate with a little of the reduced poaching liquor.
Spoon over the Sabayon, serve immediately. A dollop of cream can be served along if desired.