edited by Sue Courtney
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Peter May's view from 'Snorbens'
Sue Courtney's recent article on wines with spicy Thai food got a response from Warren Edwardes in the UK who is launching a range of wines designed to match spicy foods. As Sue's 'man in the UK' it fell to me to taste them. There are at least 5000 Indian restaurants in Britain, and Chicken Tikka Massala was reported by a government minister as being our most popular dish. So, while Sue chose Thai, I would eat traditional British - i.e. Indian - dishes.
What to drink with spicy Indian food is the question and too frequently beer is the only answer. But let's gear up our time machine to take us back several centuries to the Mughal Emperor's court in Delhi. We recline on embroidered pillows while admiring carvings of entwined grapes and vines on surrounding pillars. As nautch girls dance for our amusement, huge silver platters of lamb and vegetables baked in fragrant rice are carried in. Bearers gratefully lower the steaming mounds of biriani and start serving. And what are we drinking? Our beakers are flowing with wine from imperial vineyards. The Mughal emperors had their own vineyards, carrying on a winemaking tradition that was already thousands of years old.
Indian restaurants in Britain serve food derived mostly from northern India and the Mughul courts so there is no reason why wine should not be a perfect accompaniment. It's a misconception that all Indian food is hot, and even if chillies give some dishes an attractive heat then so do many English meals by adding pepper, horseradish sauce or mustard.
'Wine for Spice' is the inspiration of Warren Edwardes who hopes to encourage British curryholics to pass on boring beer and try his range of three semi-sparkling wines especially designed to match spicy foods from India, Malaysia, Thailand and elsewhere. Warren, who comes from Goa, has family in Spain and it is there that he worked with local wineries to design lightly naturally sparkling wines that would not only tempt beer drinkers but also satisfy wine drinkers. They are attractively presentedin tall thin bottles with colour coded labels showing a Lutyens canopy. 'Viceroy White' is the driest, made from a blend of Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo grapes. When poured the wine, which is a pale straw colour, produces a deep head of bubbles and thereafter continues to produce a fine beading. The wine does not have a distinctive nose, but it has the body to stand up to quite spicy food and a clean mouth quenching taste with a lemon/lime finish. 'Raja Rose' is a medium dry wine with a beautiful dark pink colour gained from Garnacha and Tempanillo with a meaty body reminiscent of rose hips and red fruits of the forest. Again, a good amount of bubbles on pouring followed by a steady flow. I enjoyed this wine that had an attitude often missing in roses. "The intention", Warren said "is a wine a couple of notches above Mateus Rose", an aim it easily exceeds. 'Rani Gold', with 16-19 grams per litre residual sugar, is classed as medium. It's the sweetest in the range and the one I was least expecting to like. But although it seems sweet on first taste - and especially after the first two wines - in practice it provided an excellent match with the chillies in my Murgh Jalfrezi and its sweet uplift on the aftertaste made a soft, palate pleasing finish which encouraged frequent top-ups. This had a nose of raisins indicating its Muscat parentage, which forms 60% of a blend along with Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo.
Wines for Spice intend introducing these wines through Indian restaurants in the UK over the next few months and is actively looking for partners abroad.
The recommendation is to serve them ice-cold in chilled glasses, like beer. But such treatment suppresses wine bouquets and flavours. These wines are not overly distinctive even at room temperature and ice cold it is hard to get any thing much. We had them sitting outside with an Indian takeaway on one of the hottest days. With the temperature above 30C our wines soon warmed up. Thus we were able to taste not only at the recommended chilled temperature but also warmer where they displayed a little more character.
Warren told me that while he was drinking cold beers with a curry he realised that a wine which was lightly sparkling served ice cold would also make an ideal accompaniment.
A lot of thought and planning is going into Wine for Spice, but I find it hard to visualise the beer drinkers I know foregoing pint mugs of amber nectar for stemmed glasses of pink sparkling wine. And at twice the alcohol content of beer they certainly shouldn't be gulped like lager. Will people who already choose wine be tempted by ones that have less flavour and are served ice cold? I must admit I am doubtful, but then again, I didn't think everyone would want a mobile phone.
Wines for Spice is at www.wineforspice.com.
© Peter May
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