RECENTLY, I was talking to a friend who happens to be a winemaker. He also happens to be a winemaker in one of the most prestigious wine appellations of the world: Sauternes. But he isn’t one to piggy-back on a famous appellation. If anything, it’s his wines, which make this appellation so coveted (if you doubt my words, look up Chateau Doisy-Daëne). And he believes that Indian food is best paired with the wines of Sauternes.
Now, every person in the world is allowed his share of the whimsical and fantastical, and some may argue that this could be his. Others might maintain that he is spot on and nothing could be more obviously true. I, for lack of information on the subject, would love to see this experiment taken forward irrespective of whether he is proven right or wrong.
So why the lack of data? Firstly, and most importantly, it’s because Sauternes is a sweet wine with residual sugars in excess of 100 g/l and no matter how crackling the acidity (read: sourness) to balance this sweetness, it is highly unlikely that Indians will give in to ordering what they mostly consider a dessert wine for their starters and mains. In fact, the world would think twice before ordering a dessert wine for mains. Sweet is only good in small quantities and nobody can last more than half a glass of the stuff, let alone next to a rogan josh.
Next, sweetness is India’s biggest enemy, especially among the affluent. Being genetically predisposed to diabetes makes us more wary of anything that contains sugar. Wine, for most Indians, is a health drink. To then imagine having sugar in it, that one thing, which people avoid in practically every other quotidian indulgence, would be a tough one to swallow.
Another reason why we don’t have the necessary data and neither will in the near future is because, as Indians, we barely drink with our meals, let alone after. In fact, most of our drinking is focused on the cocktail hour when we linger on with drinks and floating rounds of snacks well past civil dinner time. And then, when the drinking stops, a drunken grub-gorging fest begins, which lasts all of 20 minutes before we scramble to get home. To imagine wine pairing in such a scenario would not be just wishful, but downright disastrous.
And yet, I am keen to explore the possibilities of pairing Indian dishes with Sauternes. For one, the sugar would surely help when the chillies become too much to bear. Sure, we all have our personal thresholds for spice and heat in food, but sugar can always come to the rescue. Apart from sweetness, the marked acidity could also help with the grease-laden preparations and we have enough of them (think makhani gravies).
I would love it if I had some good Sauternes at hand and could get food from a few restaurants to pair it alongside. Dum Pukht at ITC Sheraton and Southern Spice at Taj Coromandel come first to mind. From the rich and layered kebabs and biryanis to the fiery cuisines from the south, Chettinad preparations would surely test the wine to the maximum. And then some place that does coastal preparations—Karavalli at Taj Gateway in Bengaluru is what I am thinking, or Fernando’s Nostalgia in Goa for a taste of authentic Goan-Portuguese fare and to see whether it can sustain a Recheado attack. Then a quick stop at Kewpie’s in Kolkata (mustard does pair well with Sauternes, for I have tried this) before halting in Jodhpur at the Ranbanka Palace for one last spicy onslaught with their lal maas and maybe some ker sangri to boot.
I don’t know if Sauternes has what it takes to manage it all. I don’t know many wines so versatile, but it’s always worth a shot, if only to experience some lovely food and wine alongside, if only to learn and enrich our platter of experiences, and if only to make a winemaker friend happy and share some memorable moments with him. I think the table is already set for a perfect pairing. Now, to convince Fabrice to come and bring some bottles along…
The writer is a sommelier