The clan of wine aficionados have been accused of many things. They are stuck up, elitist, condescending, standoffish, even rude and derogatory to others who they consider lesser mortals. However, these were traits that we have all learnt to handle in our daily business, knowing when to ignore them, and just how. But I don’t know at what point did we miss the biggest crime committed by wine lovers in the history of, well, loving wine – that of being racist!
Pardon the outright allegation but to even nurture the idea that white wines are meant for white meats and red wines for reds reeks of nothing short of the unspeakable crime of discrimination based on colour. What happens to other meats? Worst still, what about the non-meats?
In the days gone by, long before you or I can remember, the idea of fine dining came from one country—France. In that country, the fish is fresh and cooked in a manner to preserve this freshness. The meats on the other hand are hung, preserved, smoked and cured, everything and anything to enhance their shelf-life and more importantly, concentrate the richness of their flavours. The sauces matched the strength of the meat and the whole dish was geared to deliver satori in satiety.
Pairing wines with such dishes was simple—the fish was always suited to crisp aromatic elegant white wines while the reds were reserved for the meatier darker flavours of all flesh red. Things like duck meat and pork, the little anomalies of gastronomy—ones that are classified white but taste like red meat—were the only points of contention that required some deliberation. Outside of that, it was pretty much a ‘happily ever after’ setting.
But that was before India (and the rest of Asia for that matter) put these Western wines to the test with their varied cuisines. As wines came to conquer India they found themselves battling an adversary in an entirely different garb. Here the distinction of meats based on colour not only seem to not apply, it was openly and commonly flouted. Fish were spiced up to the point of rich, meats were stewed to the point of blandness, the idea of textures was turned on its heads when approaching that field of food classified as kebabs. All in all, any sommelier who tried to stick to the book while pairing landed up in disastrous mid-meal situations which worsened with every course.
Here is what I suggest one must do—follow the order of the food no matter how that changes the wine order. We start with kebabs, the only true meat course—allow for rich reds to be served with them. Cool them down a bit to help tone down spices as also provide a sense of lightness. En suite, once the curries follow, switch to whites. Rich slightly oaked whites can sit well alongside anything from dal to subjis, curries to stews. Finally, as biryani or similar are brought out, switch back to a fruity mild-bodied red, nothing too overwhelming yet luscious enough to round off the meal. With the sweets, if it isn’t chocolate, coffee, or caramel based, prefer white sweet wines. Do not roll out the crusty Port just because you have some. Always make sure the sweetness in the wine is intense enough to sustain the sweetness of the dishes. Any lesser and you will find yourself drinking sour juice.
In short, be playful, experiment, and remember to have fun. But please, never ever allow anyone to tell you to follow the colour route to pairing wines and dishes. We Indians are nothing if not tolerant egalitarians.