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Wine tutor
- A PYT’s guide to food and wine pairing

Think sommelier and you picture an elderly gentleman, possibly bearded, looking a little intimidatingly at a glass of red wine, holding it up against the light. What you wouldn’t imagine is a pixie-haired perky girl in a waistcoat.

Irene Vigolo, all of 25 and certified by The Italian Sommelier Association, is that unlikely kind of a sommelier. She is visiting Taj Bengal to train the staff to pair food and wine better. During her 15-day stay, she will also be at the hotel to guide guests at the table on how to pick wines with their dinner. But don’t let her fresh-faced enthusiasm mislead you — this lady knows her stuff. As t2 found out with a delightfully paired meal spanning dishes from all the restaurants of the Alipore five-star address.

First up, pita bread in three flavours with hummus, which was paired with Lancers Brut, a sparkling wine from Portugal. “So tell me why do you think this one goes?” she asks. After much discussion, a conclusion is reached — the effervescence of the Brut cuts the creaminess of the hummus. Easy peasy. But the next courses weren’t so. The Kolokithi, or vegetable fritters with a creamy garlic-flavoured yogurt dip, that was paired with Leeuwin Estate Riesling (a south Australian white wine made with Riesling grapes). “Here, the acidity helped cut the fat of the fritters and the creamy yogurt, and yet the residual sugar content helped balance the yogurt’s acidity,” explained Irene.

The third was the universal favourite — Steamed Fish in Ginger Garlic Sauce with Sula Blush Zinfandel. The delicately-steamed fillets of basa were off-set with a little bit of coriander and juliennes of ginger with a very subtle sauce. The rose wine is a favourite with most mildly-prepared white meat but one would have to combine the two at Chinoiserie to exactly know its sweet and floral aftertaste. Ah, bliss!

The last and final course saw another Taj favourite. The Kakori Kebab from Sonargaon was paired with a Sensi Collezione Montepulciano d’Abruzzo red, an Italian red wine made with Montepulciano grapes. The “tannins in the red wine contrast with the soft textures of the kakori,” said Irene.

But the coolest lesson yet? “There is just one basic rule to pairing food and wine. You either pair by analogy or by contrast.” Contrast is easy; fat with acidity is what we did twice in this tasting but how do you do an analogy? “Well, dessert wines with desserts of course,” smiled Irene. But of course!

irene’s Fave food and wine pairing from Italy:

1. Durello with Soppressa (a kind of salami): The effervescence of Durello with the ‘fatness’ of salami makes it a winner.

2. Verdicchio with seafood: The acidity of the wine is fantastic with seafood from Marche.

3. Zibibbo with green cheese: The sweetness of zibibbo grape is a wonderful combination with spicy cheese.

Five fave Italian wines

1Durello: Durello grapes; the wine is acidic and hard to find outside Italy.

2 Prosecco: Sparkling wine obtained from Glera grapes. It’s a nice aperitif. Often described as the Italian answer to champagne.

3Franciacorta: Franciacorta is a sparkling wine from Lombardy with 85 per cent Chardonnay, 10 per cent Pinot Nero and 5 per cent Pinot Bianco. Has a fantastic bouquet that comes from the second fermentation like bread or honey.

4Ripasso Valpolicella: It’s a fruity and complex red wine from Valpolicella, the viticulture zone of Veneto, north-eastern Italy.

5 Chianti Classico: An old-style, Bettino Ricàsoli recipe with white grapes, bouquet of a white wine with the body of a rose wine.