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Wine first, or later?

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It’s not easy to pair the right wine with food, but it can be a palate-altering experience.

While in the West people wash their food down with wine, in we tend to have wine as an aperitif — before the food. The reason is simple: ours is largely a (“Piye, Piye, Khaye, Khiske”) culture where most drinking is done before dinner; dinner is invariably served late, and in a buffet style (which is not conducive to holding a glass). People tend to leave once the dinner is done.

Happily, a few organisations are trying to change this: wine importers, wine clubs, and dining clubs in the major cities have been holding sit-down dinners for a select audience for some years now — generally three or four-course affairs with two whites and two red wines, the food being matched with the wines being served. These gastronomic extravaganzas are both difficult and expensive to organise: each course (and the accompanying wine) must be served at an appropriate temperature, at an appropriate interval, and the back end (kitchen) must have perfect coordination with the serving staff. Doing this in a remote location is doubly difficult.

Which is why I was so impressed with a recent dinner organised for the Italian wine company, , in association with the fine-dining restaurant Olive Beach at a farmhouse on the outskirts of Bangalore for about 50 of the city’s glitterati.

Allegrini is based in , the city of and in north-east Italy. The company produces some three million bottles of wine annually (about India’s total consumption of imported wines) and is rated by among the top-10 wine companies in Italy (which is actually a very big deal considering that Italy has over 10,000 producers of branded wines). The family-owned company has been around for over 350 years, having started wine production around the time that India was ruled by the Mughal badshah Akbar.

Owner Marilisa Allegrini personally hosted the evening. Yes, there was an aperitif with the canapés — a soft, fruity, and easy-drinking Soave, the Corte Giara Pagus 2008, and another white with the salad, an Allegrini Solosole Vermentino 2008 from Toscano, crisper, with hints of flowers and nuts. The second course (choice of sausage Risotto or pumpkin gnocchi) came with an Allegrini Palazzo Della Torre 2006 — a very good red made from a combination of Corvina and Rondinella grapes (and 5 per cent Sangiovese) in a unique ‘partial ripasso’ method where 30 per cent of the grapes are allowed to dry in the shade for three months before vinification. The resulting wine has depth while still being fruity and well balanced. Lastly, paired with an outstanding braised lamb shoulder there was an Allegrini Amarone 2005, rated in the early 1990s by , a wine of considerable complexity, with lovely balanced tannins and fruit and oak, a real pleasure to sip.

It’s no surprise that the menu was classic Veronese-Italian — after all, there’s nothing like matching the wines of a region with that region’s cuisine.

It helped that chef Manu Chandra was also present to personally supervise the back end, while his manager Rajat Kulshreshta abandoned his normal charge (at the restaurant) to direct the service.

All we’ll say is Salut!

[Alok Chandra is a Bangalore-based wine consultant]

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