Friday, January 13, 2012

A wine-coloured night

A five-course dinner, along with suitable wines from Sula Vineyards, made it a night to remember at the Casino Hotel

Photos: Ajoy Shaw (standing) chief wine-maker and associate, Sula Vineyards, giving a talk; A bottle of Dia

By Shevlin Sebastian

The setting is romantic. Round tables covered by crisp white tablecloths, with gleaming glasses, steel knives, forks, and spoons. The lighting is muted. On every table, there is a lit candle. Twenty couples sit and speak softly. Instrumental music wafts in through the large speakers – old classics like 'The Love Theme' from the Godfather film and Lobo's ‘I'd love you to want me'. And standing right in the middle -- of the Durbar Hall of the Casino Hotel -- holding a mike in his hand, is a bespectacled man, with a tiny goatee. He is Ajoy Shaw, chief wine-maker and associate, Sula Vineyards. The aim: to have a five-course dinner allied with the best wines from Sula.

“Outside India, there is a good wine culture, where people drink wine with food,” says Ajoy. “This is missing right now in India. However, over the last few years, wine has taken centre-stage. From being one of the drinks in parties, it is one of the main beverages now. What we are starting will hopefully become a habit when people will have wine and food together.”

So, for the first course, garden fresh lettuce, pears, and Parmesian salad, it is best to have it with a sparkling white wine called Sula Brut. “The fruitiness of the pears matches the fruitiness in the wine,” says Ajoy. “The yeast, in the wine, which is fermented, goes well with the ingredients, like the lettuce and the vegetables. Basically, you are matching the intensity of the fruit flavour with the intensity of the acids and the flavours in the wine.”

It is important that the wine should not mask or overwhelm the food. “Wine should bring about a synergy and accentuate the aromas of the food,” says Erin Louis, the general manager of the Casino Hotel. “That is what food pairing is all about.”

Meanwhile, for the seafood soup, Ajoy suggests the Sauvignon Blanc. “It is a white wine which goes well with sea food, with its mix of herbs like basil and thyme,” he says. Next is the grilled fish, which is marinated in masala, along with garlic butter, and accompanied by spinach.

“Chenin Blanc is the best wine to have with this, because it has honeyed characteristics, and gives off a languid effect,” he says. “The wine also has a residual sweetness, which balances out the spiciness. Sometimes, it is good to have a contrast. When you have rich and oily food, you need an acid wine to cleanse your palate.”

For the chicken, with olives, what is best is a red wine, Cabernat-Shiraz, while for a dessert of bitter chocolate mousse, Dia is the best bet. “Dia, one of our most popular, is a light sweet sparkling wine,” says Ajoy. “It offers an effective contrast to the bitter chocolate.”

Since Sula Wines is unable to advertise because of Central government restrictions on alcoholic drinks, they do these intimate dinners to publicise their wines. And Ajoy is upbeat about the Kerala market where sales have been doubling every year.

“We have noticed that two groups of people all over India, including Kerala, are dedicated wine drinkers,” he says. “One is in the 25-30 year category, and they work mostly in the IT industry. They have chosen wine because it is in fashion now. Plus, they have been abroad and encountered a wine culture in restaurants. The other category are those who are fifty years and above, who have tired of drinking hard liquor for years.”

But among the general public, especially in Kerala, wine-drinking still means having a sweet home-made concoction during Christmas. “Wine-drinking is an upper-class activity,” says Erin. “However, sales are going up steadily. Ten years ago, there was only one company, Grover Wines, selling wine in Kerala. Now there are seven. I am sure the more sessions we hold like this, the more we will be able to create an awareness. In the end, wine has many health-benefits, as compared to other drinks.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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