Julia Child, the legendary American Chef and TV personality, had famously remarked that “Wine is meant to be with food – that’s the point of it”. Even though single malt and beer are my preferred poisons, I often pick a glass of red wine to accompany my dinner because of how well wine gels with food. Single Malts can be paired with food, as can be beer. Yet, neither complement your grub as effortlessly as a glass of wine. However, there’s an art to picking the right wine for the right kind of food.
Last week I was invited by Westin Hyderabad Mindspace to a wine dinner at Prego hosted by the Hyderabad Wine Society — city’s first group dedicated to vino lovers. The monthly meets organised by sommelier Suryaveer Singh and co-admin Vishal Fernandes showcase exquisite wines paired with food by some of the finest culinary minds in the city. I was welcomed to the dinner with an aperitif of Jacob’s Creek sparkling wine by the pool-side. After brief introductions, all of us moved into Prego and grabbed a chair. The wine dinner at Prego boasted of a four-course menu, each accompanied by a carefully picked Old World Wine. All the wines showcased came from Prego’s extensive Wine Library.
The antipasto was a clever assortment of a myriad of flavours and textures. A creamy, refreshing Caesar Salad in a jar. A savoury Whipped Chevre (a light goat cheese) served with sumac and cracked pepper biscuits. And finally, Garlic Infused Tomatoes and Re-hydrated Baby Plum Tomatoes served with Buffalo Mozzarella. Accompanying them was Donnafugata Anthilia Sicilia — a Sicilian White Wine with a fruity nose but a somewhat surprisingly robust acidity. Suryaveer instructed us to focus on the length of the aftertaste. A rule to thumb to discern good wines is to measure how long the taste lingers on your palette (anything upwards of 8 seconds being rather impressive). I estimated this one to clock in around eight or nine seconds.
Next up, was a Fillet of Grouper, sporting a gorgeous crust of pistachio and olives, served with cherry-tomato emulsion. The crisp, nutty and slightly bitter crust was absolutely delicious and paired like a dream with the mild citrus notes of the Bibi Graetz Casamatta Bianco. The fish itself, however, didn’t possess much flavour. Casamatta translates to ‘crazy house’, but there’s nothing crazy about this wine. It’s an easy-drinking yet sophisticated Tuscan wine. I was curious to see how much of a difference the right food and wine pairing makes and requested another serving of the Donnafugata that I had enjoyed with the previous course. I immediately appreciated Suryaveer’s picks. While not entirely out of place, the acidity of the Donnafugata, which worked very well with the saltiness of the Whipped Chevre, was a tad too much for the fish to balance.
The secondi was a roast loin of lamb served with pine nut puree. The lamb was over-done but was still fairly moist. Giving it company was the second Bibi Graetz for the night – Casamatta Rosso. This one is a full-bodied, earthy Sangiovese. Unlike most New World Wines, Italian wines typically don’t call out the grapes in their labelling. The wine lovers are expected to identify the grapes based on the region the wine comes from. Suryaveer is an affable guide who adeptly fielded queries from novices and pros alike. He managed to dispense a fair amount of wine-gyaan without ever making it seem like a lecture. He explained that the basic principle of wine pairing is to match the intensity of flavour of the protein with the intensity of the wine. Red Meat is best enjoyed with a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Malbec, whereas Pork would take a Shiraz well. Chicken and Fish can go well with a Chardonnay or a Pinot Noir.
The final course – a platter of merengue, macaron, and chocolate, was accompanied by Torres Moscatel Orro from Spain. An unmistakably sweet and floral dessert wine that’s been made by the Torro family for over seven decades. It’s both a people and critic’s favourite. Unfortunately, I don’t like my drinks to be sweet, and this one proved to be a bit of a challenge for my palate. The parting surprise for all the guests was a sinful brownie from Fat Kitchen.
When I received an invite for a wine-dinner at Prego, I walked in expecting a sombre and formal gathering. I was in for a big surprise. It was a full house at Prego, and the wine lovers who had congregated weren’t the stereotypical wine snobs. They were a boisterous bunch that cracked jokes, danced and made merry. The Hyderabad Wine Society takes their wine seriously, but they also know how to have fun while exploring the world of exquisite wines. And that’s the way it should be.
Images Courtesy – Santosh Photography