|Pictures by Rashbehari Das
Kick off with Rotoli Di Pomodori Secchi (rolled sun-dried tomatoes with gorgonzola capers) alongside Cassasole Orvieto Classico for appetisers. Tuck into Calamari Ripieni Con Risotto Al Pesto (stuffed squid with pesto risotto) while sipping Peppoli Chianti Classico or savour tender portions of Coniglio San Domenico (a rabbit dish) with a glass of Nobile Di Montepul Ciano Docg. Round it off with an after-dinner Passito Di Pantellaria Ben Rye with Torta con nocciole or some Tiramisu.
'Wine is the most civilised thing in the world,' Ernest Hemingway had said.
If one goes the Hemingway way, Calcutta is getting civilised in right earnest.
No longer shy of exploring the mellow magic of the amber and burgundy liquid, the hip and happening are also keen to seek out the perfect pairing of food to go with their Chablis Saint Martins or Chianti Rufina Nippozanos.
The wine-dine duet, from Italian to French to Australian and Spanish, Chilean and Argentinean or even Indian, is gaining currency in a city once synonymous with all things classy in food.
'It's good to be seen drinking wine; it's classier and doesn't have the same alcohol-like image. Wine is also healthy because it is known to help prevent cancer, reduce risks of heart problems and even retard the physical ageing process,' observes professional sommelier Magandeep Singh. Better availability and a more informed and travelled clientele have contributed to wine's growing popularity, feels Singh.
Among the first off the blocks to tap this new trend and create a like-minded forum has been The Park Hotel, with an exclusive wine club. 'The Roxy Wine Club was born out of a desire to create a culture of wine drinking, to provide a unique platform where sommeliers, wine aficionados and enthusiasts could come together,' says Anirban Simlai, director, food and beverage, The Park.
The club, which has started hosting theme sit-down wine dinners, tables laid out with the 'perfect pairings', now boasts a roster of 50 members, with 'request from another 50-plus', as the experience of wine drinking seeps in to become a regular ritual for the city's upper crust.
SWISH AND SWIRL
'What's your poison' is passe, giving way to 'What's your wine'. And nobody wants to miss the drift. 'We have been at the forefront of introducing 'food and wine' to town, and are now aiming to get international recognition from Wine Spectator for our wine list. For us, it's about combining the best rated wines with food,' stresses Taljinder Singh, general manager, Taj Bengal.
| Author Amitav Ghosh at a special wine-dine evening
Agostino Pinna, Italian consul-general in Calcutta, agrees the wine culture in the city is on a heady upswing. 'Italian restaurants like La Cucina and Fire 'n' Ice have been doing extremely well here, and since Italian food is perfectly complemented by Italian wine, more and more people are trying out the combination,' says Pinna.
So what are the basics in the grammar of pairing wine with food' 'The idea is to look at the dish and its style of preparation, rather than the ingredients only ' heavier dishes with reds, lighter, subtle-flavoured dishes with whites,' explains sommelier Singh, who anchored a wine-cheese pairing at The Park in June for 150 eager guests.
Singh agrees that Calcutta is 'ready and rocking' and counts the city among 'the more aware and eager' wine-drinking stops of India.
'Wine tastes different in every bottle, which makes it an adventurous drink to try. Today, it might be a style statement to be the member of a wine club, but once you are in it, the intricacies of taste, flavour, sweetness or oakiness of the wine will make sure you don't want out,' smiles Naveen Pai, owner of Coffee Pai and a member of the Roxy Wine Club initiative.
With an array of 'affordable' Indian wines now on the shelves, the appeal is bound to get wider, feels Pai.
MIX AND MATCH
At ITC Sonar Bangla, it's all about 'exploding the myth that Indian food doesn't go with wine', says general manager Ranvir Bhandari. The five-star address known for its stress on F&B, serves up Bespoke and Grazing menus, where the connoisseur is given the option to choose from a platter of five or six different wines to go with a dish.
'It's about breaking the mould of pairing and opening up a whole new world of tastes and flavours with no structured grammar to restrict the diner,' adds Bhandari. Sonar Bangla hosts 'special evenings of like-minded people' with wine and cigar, after-dinner drinks like Grappa and Limoncilla and 'animated conversation'.
Swim with or against the tide, the wine trail in Calcutta is still pretty much about discovery and awareness creation. Most outlets promoting the 'healthy intoxicant' are aware of this.
'For instance, it's important to keep a wine bottle horizontal for the cork to remain moist. The ideal storing temperature should be 11 degrees Celsius, but anything between 5 and 8 degrees is fine,' says Salmoli Mukerji, director, public relations, The Park Hotels. Roxy, which will hold its wine club conclaves every Wednesday and Friday, is also planning to introduce theme wine-jazz evenings.
Wine consumption has shown an upward swing, not just in quantity but also in the variety of wines, feels Manas Krishnamoorthy, F&B manager, The Oberoi Grand. 'Our guests travel the world, and are conscious about fine wines from both the Old World and the New World. Awareness, and a taste for wine is growing, and to cater to this variety of demand, we offer a wide selection of wines at The Chowringhee Bar,' he says.
Standalone restaurants too are riding the wine wave. 'Wine consumption has increased manifold, and some of our diners don't just say they want a red or a white wine, they even specify the label and grape,' says Nitin Kohli, director, Grain of Salt, which hosted a 'very successful' wine-and-cheese festival at its 22 Camac Street premises.
Mocambo, the oldest surviving standalone continental cuisine stop in town, also reports a steady rise in wine sales. 'Continental food goes well with wines, and many of our guests now order white or red wine by the bottle or by the glass. It's a combination of style and health that has made wines popular,' says proprietor Nitin Kothari, also vice-president of Hotel and Restaurant Association of Eastern India.
SIP IT BY THE BOOK
As a thumb rule, heavier dishes go with red wines, lighter, subtle-flavoured ones with white wines
Wine for fish in tomato-based gravy ' Pinot Blanc (crisp, fresh & dry)
Wine for barbecued chicken ' Chenin Blanc (fruity, sweet)
Wine for pasta/risotto ' Chardonnay/Pinot Noir
Wine for pasta with pesto sauce ' Chardonnay/Merlot
Wine for Caesar Salad ' Chardonnay/Sangiovese (a lighter but somewhat spicy red wine)
Greek Salad ' Sauvignon Blanc/Dolcetto
White wine matches best with soft cheese and stronger flavour
Red wine matches best with hard cheese and milder flavour
Fruity and sweet white wine (not dry) and dessert wine works best with a wider range of cheese
The more pungent the cheese you choose, the sweeter the wine should be