The voice of the hostess announcing “Dinner is served” with an edge of firmness, or sometimes a shrill appeal, has brought many a fine adda and drinking session to an end. Somehow, in this part of the world, dinner usually signals the end of a party. It is usually the last item on the agenda and once over, it’s time to say goodnight and head for home. Compared to many other cultures, dinner is served inordinately late as well, and those who are unused to this custom quickly learn to have a quick supper before going to the party.
I have to confess that I belong to the lot that doesn’t get many brownie points from hostesses. We enjoy our drink, we believe that tomorrow can take care of itself and even if dinner is served at about 11pm, it is like a death knell to the proceedings and we will politely invite the ladies to go first (if it’s a buffet). See how many more millilitres can be squeezed in and generally play for as much time as possible before heading for the table like errant schoolboys. The only saving grace is that there is no hostess yet who can say that you truly did not do justice to the food.
There must be explanations for this phenomenon and perhaps one of them is that we are, and always have been spirits drinkers and rum-coke or whisky-paani don’t exactly go well with food. However there have been major changes in the last couple of decades and most importantly has been the availability and acceptance of good wine.
The great advantage of wine to my mind is that it goes well with, and in fact enhances, a culinary experience. Not only can you take it to the table after a round or two, the table itself becomes a focal point of the adda. People can be seated and go through a leisurely course-by-course meal with breathers and drink breaks in between and rise, fully satisfied with food and drink a good two or three hours later. Sit-down meals in any case are far preferable to standing up with the plate in one hand and negotiating your food with a single fork.
A couple of fine-dining experiences last week reconfirmed this. The first was a dinner at the Blue Potato, at a private do where my fellow columnist Chef Shaun Kenworthy was in his element. The occasion was the launch in Calcutta of Bouvet-Ladubay, from vineyards in the Loire Valley of France, which have been acquired recently by the UB Group. The Bouvet-Ladubay wines go back over 150 years and the name is synonymous with the finest sparkling wines in the world.
On arrival, guests were offered an appetiser of grilled Mediterranean vegetables with a dressing and Parisian cheese. Once seated, the first course was Ceviche of Seafood (squid, sea bass, shrimp) actually pickled, not cooked, with lemon juice, vinegar and other ingredients and flakes. Chef Shaun had used Bouvet Brut, one of the sparkling wines, as an ingredient. Bouvet Brut was, in fact, served to complement the grilled vegetable starter, and the salad was complemented with Bouvet Tresor Blanc, also a sparkling wine.
The main course was New Zealand lamb cutlets with a red wine glaze made by reducing a combination of lamb stock and red wine. There was also Duck Breast, lightly grilled and served with a compote made with black currants in a vinegar-sugar reduction. The wine to complement the main course was Chinon Rouge, a still red. For dessert there was Raspberry Creme Brulee, accompanied by Coteaux de Layon, a sweet fruity wine.
The next afternoon there was a lunch party, this time with the sole intention of showing how well wine can be paired with Indian food. The food was from the kitchen of a new restaurant called Urban Desi at 6 Camac Street and the wines served were the same, and in the same sequence as well, with the exception of the last one which complemented the dessert. The starters — Cheese Kurkure and Kadhai Prawn — were complemented with Bouvet Brut. The salad — an interesting Caesar salad with tandoori chicken in it — was accompanied by Bouvet Tresor Blanc. And the main course — an excellent Dal Makhani with assorted kebabs, sauces and raita along with naans — was served with Chinon Rouge. Dessert — Shahi Tukra with chocolate and orange — went well with Saumur Blane Nonpareille.
Indian food, in fact, goes very well with wine, particularly north Indian. Juliette Monmousseau, who is from a family that has worked with Bouvet Ladubay for five generations and was here for the launch, was thrilled to know that the Sahyadri Valley in Maharashtra, where much of India’s wine is produced, was producing wine even centuries ago for the court of Shah Jahan.
Indian, Chilean, Australian and Californian wines, among others, are New World wines. But the acquisition of the Bouvet-Ladubay vineyards has made it possible for us to buy, at shops across the city, Old World French wine. In my opinion, they are top class.
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