‘Economy forced me to become a vegetarian, but I finally starting liking it.’ admitted Mr. A P J Abdul Kalam, ex-president of India, John Cleese the famous British author once questioned ‘If God did not intend for us to eat animals, then why did he make them out of meat?’ and Sir Paul McCartney of the Beatles fame declared ‘If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.’ Well I am not here to debate about food choices but this topic of vegetarianism or consumption of meat is in contention many a times, with both parties trying to convert each other with the odd Vegan scorning at both of them. I am a vegetarian and strongly believe in eat and let eat.
We vegetarians would inadvertently choose a paneer or a mushroom considering them being ‘celebratory’ or ‘ exotic’ from a menu and when it comes to choosing a wine from a list to match with our vegetarian food, you memory goes for a spin as nothing much is spoken about vegetarian food and wine pairing. Well it is difficult to pair specific vegetables to specific wines but we shall some broad principles for food and wine pairing whilst witnessing some pairings done by the Sommelier and Chefs from leading hotels in the country.
Rich and Oily:
Any food preparation which is creamy or fried will require a wine high in acidity, the acidity helps to wash down the fat on your palate to make the food experience better. For e.g.: the humble Indian samosa could be paired well with an Indian Chenin Blanc, a grape which is naturally high in acidity. Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Burgundy Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Dolcetto are some wine grapes known for its refreshing acidity.
Tangy and tart:
Tomato, tamarind, vinegar etc are ingredients which bring the acidity in your food and when pairing a wine with food high in acidity like a tomato pasta or a salad with lemon dressing one should pair it with wines with good acidity, the ones which an stand and shine through the food. Sparkling wines like Champagne, Prosecco or even local produce have mouth watering acidity. Note: Acidity should not be confused with the medical term; it refers to the mouth-watering element in food and beverage.
Chef Debdash Balaga and Sommelier Madhu Sudhanan from Jamavar – Signature Indian restaurant at the Leela Palace, Chennai with their pairing
Gucchi Makkai Mushrooms: Kashmiri morels with golden corn and mushrooms in a creamy tomato sauce
Chassagne-Montrachet, 1er Cru Morgeot, Louis Jadot, 1999: The heavy duty Chardonnay from Burgundy, France
Why does the pairing go well? This golden Chardonnay laden with ripe apple and almond aromas and juicy acidity, complements the opulent sauce and the earthy mushrooms very well whilst allowing one another to unleash themselves to the end. Truly a Royal affair!
Sweets and desserts:
The thumb rule is that the wine should be at least as sweet as the food. Indian gulab jamuns, considering their sweetness are a difficult bet however to put a figure to sweetness in wines, it could be as low as 50 gms of sugar per litre and can go as high as 400. I am sure the jamuns have their soul mate somewhere. The easiest available sweet/dessert wines in India are from local producers like Reveilo, they label it as the ‘late harvest’. Also in contrast; a salt and sweet pairing works well too, a salty cheese and a sweet wine, it pairs just like goat cheese and honey, like it; don’t you!! Lastly, people also say when in doubt, crack open a bottle of sparkling, see if it works for you!!!
Spicy and hot:
Spice in the food flares up our palate and the wine has to refresh it with every sip. In my opinion for the wine to do its job well, it has to either be sweet on the palate or at least smell sweet. Grapes like Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Merlot do good justice, also bold juicy reds like Shiraz from hot climates like India, Chile or California fit in well. Albeit when we are speaking of very hot Indian Cuisine, it is very difficult to pair a wine, I would go with a glass of water.
Chef Deepak Dange and Sommelier Manoj Jangid from Tuskers the pure vegetarian Indian restaurant at Sofitel, BKC, Mumbai with their pairing
Sangri ke kofte: Cottage cheese dumpling, stuffed with pickled Ker Sangri cooked in tomato and yogurt gravy
Nobilo Icon, Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand: A wine with good body, oak nuances and excellent finish.
Why does the pairing work well? Sangri ke Kofte in sharp and mildly spiced gravy receives the refreshing element in the pairing from Nobilo Pinot Noir, bursting with dark berry fruits and spice from the oak, it is well rounded with soft tannins only to leave one amazed after every morsel.
Proteins and Soya:
Dishes high in protein should be matched with wines high in tannins. Tannins which dry your mouth out and are only present in red wines soften the proteins and thus making both the wine and food more enjoyable. Aged cheeses like Cheddar work very well with heavy red wines. Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Barolos are example of some heavy red.
The fifth sensory element, which really heightens one’s gourmet experience and one, cannot really stop at one!! Mono Sodium Glutamate also called ajinomoto is the artificial form but there are natural glutamates which are not harmful present in fermented products like Soya sauce, aged products like parmesan cheese, also in ripe tomatoes, mushrooms etc. Care must be taken while paring a wine high in tannins as the combination feels only bitter and less fruity. Crisp and juicy aromatic white varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Arneis etc work very well.
Chef Ramandeep Kukreja and Sommelier Manu Manikandan from Riwaz, the Indian restaurant at the Ritz Carlton, Bengaluru with their pairing
Subz aur Gucchi di Galouti (Galouti kebab): Cardamom and saffron scented ‘melt in mouth’ dumplings prepared with seasonal vegetables and morels, pan seared.
Dr. Burklin-Wolf , Riesling, Germany: A perfectly balanced wine with fresh pineapple, pear and spicy aromas rounded off with balanced mouthwatering acidity.
Why does the pairing work well? The vegetarian Galouti kebab is made with seasonal vegetables and edible mushrooms, morels. In this preparation the mushrooms dominate the flavour of the kebab. A dry Riesling wine balances the rich flavours and goes well with Indian cuisine.
Last but not the least, every palate is different and food pairing principles are for giving you a head start into the intriguing world of wine and food. Sooner than later you should call the shots, you make your rules, remember you are the consumer!