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Fine wine and dine
Italian delicacies on display; (above) guests enjoy dinner at The Park on Saturday. Pictures by Rashbehari Das

It's funny that so many of our accepted practices, which over the years attain the status of rules that more or less must be followed, actually came from a premise that was: 'There are no rules'!

What seasonings, spices, herbs and ingredients we will or will not use for a particular dish, which wine we will pair with seafood or red meat or poultry, what sequence we will follow in arranging a four or five-course meal ' all these things evolved over a long process of trial and error; certain universal human leanings played their part, as did innumerable other factors, and at the end of the day we invariably do certain things in certain ways, without there ever being some divinely ratified higher authority that told us what to do. We arrive at a pretty fixed and widely accepted set of dos and don'ts, and yet there were never any hard and fast set of rules to begin with.

About a month ago Tongue Twister had mentioned the starting of a wine club at The Park so that connoisseurs could enjoy and appreciate the experience of old and new age wines and delve deeper into the subject, and on July 22 ' last Saturday ' a course by course sit-down Italian dinner was organised by them, with carefully selected wines to go with each course. We were introduced ' simply and informally ' to the wines by a charming young sommelier Claudia Cesarino. They were from the vineyards (in Tuscany and Umbria) of winemaker Marchesi Antinori.

There was no detailed academic analysis ' just a general description of the wine and its characteristics, which went with each course. Antipasti, or starters, consisted of four items ' Rolled Sun-dried Tomatoes with either anchovy or gorgonzola capers, a selection of preserved wild mushrooms, Fish 'in Carpione' and Cabbage Soup, Valpellina style.

The Fish 'in Carpione' is a dish which is actually cooked, allowed to cool and then kept in the fridge to marinate for two to three days before being brought to the table. Bekti fillets are dusted with plain white flour and fried in olive oil till each side is crisp, and kept aside. In a separate pan, finely chopped onions, carrots and celery are fried in olive oil. Red wine, white wine vinegar, peppercorns, bay leaves and juniper berries are added and this is allowed to simmer for a few minutes before being poured over the still warm bekti fillets. The dish is then put into the fridge after it has cooled.

The Cabbage Soup, Valpellina Style is made by cutting and trimming savoy cabbage and boiling it in salt water till tender. It is then drained and cooled and a layer of it is placed in a saucepan. Over this comes a layer of stale bread cut into cubes and over this a layer of fontina cheese, also cubed. These layers are pressed down with a ladle and over them is poured some chicken stock. After soaking for a couple of minutes, melted, still foaming butter is poured on top before serving. The antipasti course was accompanied by a white wine ' Cassasole Orvieto Classico ' which is described in its tasting notes as a nicely fruity, well-balanced wine with a subtly sweetish finish.

On to the first main course, my favourite item here was Spaghetti with Seafood Sauce. The spaghetti is served with a sauce made with bekti, prawns, squid rings and aar fish cooked with white wine and fish stock and seasoned with thinly sliced fried garlic, dry red chillies, crushed black pepper, salt and chopped parsley. Other options on this course were Stuffed Squid with Pesto Risotto, Vegetable Caponata and Neapolitan Style Macaroni. The wine served was Peppoli Chianti Classico, a red wine, 'rich in aromas of mature fruit'.

The main dish of the second main course was San Domenico Rabbit. A mixture is made of minced rabbit, kidney, offal, soaked bread, parmesan cheese, capers, marjoram leaves and pancetta (Italian bacon). The mixture is placed on deboned, flattened rabbit meat and rolled to form a roulade. This is seared over a hot plate till golden in colour and then oven-cooked at 200OC for 20 minutes. When it has cooled to room temperature, it is refrigerated.

The next stage is to heat oil in a pan and saute some chopped onions. Then, round slices of rabbit cut from the roulade are added along with olives, sage, marjoram, salt, pepper, wine and rabbit stock and this is covered and allowed to simmer. Finally, artichokes, tomato puree and chopped parsley are added and the dish is allowed to simmer for 15 minutes more before being served. Other items on this course were Chargrilled Vegetables and Mushroom Risotto, which I really enjoyed. The wine served was Nobile Di Montepul Ciano Docg, also red, 'a medium bodied, fruity wine, best consumed when young'.

For dessert there was Hazelnut Cube and Tiramisu, and the wine for this last course was Passeto Di Pantellaria Ben Rye, a white wine, 'fruity and sweet, with hints of apricot, peach and almond'. It was somewhat like a liqueur in consistency.

A rich repast, deserving to be spread over two to three hours at least, savouring every moment and mouthful, the wine providing balance and complementing the food well, all in a relaxed atmosphere of joi de vivre. The club has had an excellent kick-off and in the near future we can expect more interesting events, including interactions with some of India's well-known wine gurus.

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