• 19th November 2009 - By Rakesh

    Business Today

     No Bull, Just Wine

    Mr. Metcalfe Goes Indian by Sourish Bhattacharyya
    April 2009


    Charles Metcalfe doesn’t jump to conclusions-Kathryn and he went through 27,000 wine and food pairings over seven months for Sainsbury Pocket Food & Wine Guide. 

    smoked salmon thayar satham, tomato thokku

    smoked salmon thayar satham, tomato thokku

    The name Charles Metcalfe will ring a bell for anyone acquainted with Delhi. A master of oriental languages, he took charge of the Mughal capital under the East India Company in 1811. He was an opulent character who behaved like Mughal satrap, but the Charles Metcalfe I met at Indian Accent, Rohit Khattar’s, new Restaurant in one of Delhi’s tony neighbourhoods, was anything but posh. A gifted wine writer and speaker with a charming wife (Kathryn is also his writing better half), Charles can claim credit for liberating Indian food in Britain from the tag of being appropriate only for lager louts. Wine sophisticates scorned Indian cuisine, but Charles, with his spot-on pairing suggestions for Chor Bizarre restaurant in Mayfair, brought wine culture to Indian restaurants.

    I once asked Hugh Johnson, the English wine guru, famous for his Pocket Wine Book, about the wines that would pair well with Indian food. Flummoxed, he suggested that spicy red wines should do well. The author of the Oxford Companion to Wine, Jancis Robinson, agrees. To be fair, neither of them had bothered to delve into the subject, which is surprising in the light of the popularity of Indian food in Britain. The other, more fashionable theory was that the Gewurtztraminer, a sweetish, aromatic white wine from Alsace in France, was the best fit.

    “Gewurtztraminer? Have you ever enjoyed one with an Indian meal?” asked Charles, as I slurped a Riesling from Gunderloch, one of my favourite Germans. Charles doesn’t jump easily to conclusions-Kathryn and he went through 27,000 wine and food pairings over seven months for the Sainsbury Pocket Food & Wine Guide they put together in 1995. Some years back, I attended a dinner at Chor Bizarre (formerly Gaylord, a restaurant owned by Mahendra Kaul, who brought the tandoor to Britain in 1966).

    Charles paired the wines with the menu and reminded us that no one wine could suit India’s vast cuisine, an idea that seems lost on other wine writers.

    As with any other cuisine, you select a wine to go with a particular dish only after you’ve checked out how it has been cooked. A wine that goes with a yoghurt based dish may not work with a preparation where the main spice is zeera or saunf. With Indian cuisine, what work best are fruit forward, slightly dry whites (like a Riesling or a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, which goes great with that evening’s bharwan mirch packed with goat cheese mousse and chilli aam papad chutney).

    Tamarind glazed lamb shank, khasta roti fingers, crisp potato sayviah

    Tamarind glazed lamb shank, khasta roti fingers, crisp potato sayviah

    Red wines are tricky, especially if the tannins haven’t softened up-they accentuate the chilli, which is not a very comfortable feeling, but a young Tempranillo from Spain or an Australian Shiraz, like the one that simply danced with the tamarind glazed lamb shank we had for dinner, can add lots of excitement to any Indian meal.

    Charles and Kathryn have written extensively on wine, food and travel in Spain and Portugal. If only they would travel the curry route across India pairing wines along the way. I may have set them on this journey when I urged them to ditch Karim’s and check out the seekh kebabs and mutton korma at neighbouring Al-Jawahar. I wonder which wines will go with them.


    Sourish Bhattacharya is Executive Editor, Mail Today

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