Of ‘Gru-Vee’, blissful Indian cuisine and a unique marriage

I wrote this article a while ago for an Indian wine website but realized that somebody had worked overtime to write on the same subject. So, unsurprisingly, it ends up here…a forum for my wine rants :).

Official menu for the event

Who could have ever thought that the cliché ‘Indian food does not go well with wine’, which was once widespread in the country, would be completely thrown out of the window in recent times? Not that the purists are willing to let go this apprehension, but not only are they in the minority now, the entire approach to Indian food and wine pairing is also experiencing a paradigm shift.

Nowhere else typical north Indian food is celebrated with as much pomp and passion as in ITC Hotels. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as the hotel chain has over the years represented the very best that Indian cuisine has to offer, and the worthy torchbearers of this distinction deservedly go to two of its branded restaurants – Dum Pukht and Bukhara / Peshawri. The nature of cuisine in both could be, interestingly enough, quite wine friendly too if one is able to split the dishes right down the middle and understand the flavour and sensory components in play. This decoding of the spice combination and cooking method along with appreciating the wine’s characteristics is the key in wine and food pairing in these restaurants. Once this technique is mastered, the combination works wonders.

One such ‘marriage’ was recently solemnised in Dum Pukht at ITC Maurya at the initiative of Sommelier India wine magazine. The actual wine pairing was arguably the most audacious attempt in my wine adventures so far!

Attended by the Austrian ambassador and his wife along with some of the most notable faces from the media, the dual idea behind the event was not only to showcase the diversity of Austrian wines but also to make a strong statement regarding the ability of classic Indian cuisine to partner with a varied and even idiosyncratic range of wines. Needless to say there was a lot of anticipation surrounding this dinner. The build-up to the event was highlighted by the actual pairing of an eleven-course menu with 22 of the choicest Austrian wines representing some of the most highly-regarded wine producers from across the country’s wine landscape. They ranged from light and austere Weissburgunders (Pinot Blanc) to the funky and extremely expressive Gruner Veltliners and unique blends of red grape varieties.

The tone for the extensive meal was set by the sampling of two light aromatic varieties as aperitifs –Welschriesling (no relation to the more famous Riesling) and Muskat (Muscat), both belonging to the Burgenland region. The latter, although on the sweeter side, was particularly talked about due to its easy going, jasmine like floral characters combined with a tingling acidity and a hint of minerals.

A selection of Dum Pukht’s signature kebabs kicked-off the meal, each paired with two different wines, carefully chosen to let the delicate spice components in these delicacies to shine through. Whilst   the soft-textured Paneer in Dudhiya Kebab and the succulent Murgh Chandi Tikka were duly complimented by the two typical citrus toned and mineral laden Rieslings from NiederOsterriech (Lower Austria), the leafy and refreshing Sauvignon Blanc from Burgenland mingled well with the overall profile of the Paneer. But as expected, the Kakori Kebab and the two wines paired with it attracted the most attention. The sweet spices, protein in the finely minced lamb and the pate like texture of the smoky kebab were the main elements and surprisingly the Gruner Veltliner from Weinviertel was the preferred wine (over a Zweigelt from) owing to its overall bold and expressive fruit structure, impressive body and a seductive acid profile.

The main course was a long drawn affair involving some of the most renowned Dum Pukht items like Raan-e-Dumpukht, Murgh Khushk Purdah and Shahi Nehari, among others. It was once again Austria’s national grape variety ‘Gru-vee’ – a funky slang for Gruner Veltliner, which came up trumps among the wines as partners of these dishes. A typical peppery spice along with a melange of soft stone fruits (apricots and nectarine, mainly), subtle layers of stony minerality and nicely integrated acid ensured that they balanced the exotic Indian spices all along. There were four of these wines representing The Chardonnay (known as Morillon in Austria) with its mandarin and blossom dominated aromas.

Among the red wines, an unusual blend of Zweigelt, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot stole the show. The traditional black fruit dominated aromas of a Cab/Merlot blend were given an extra edge by the earthiness and sour cherry like aromas of the Zweigelt.

A fitting finale to the dinner came in the form of two mouth-watering desserts – Shahi Tukra and Shahad-e-jam. A luscious Trockenbeerenauslese (a dessert wine of the highest quality and sweetness level) made up of Gruner Veltliner from the Kamptal region was the perfect partner with its caramelised honey, marmalade and orange candy flavours adding to the overall experience of the meal.

In the end, it really sounded like ‘getting ‘Gru-Vee’ – the Indian way’!