I spent an interesting evening this week at one of London’s leading Indian restaurants Benares. It was organised jointly by a wine events company called The Wine Nose and SOPEXA, the promotional arm of the French food and wine industry.
The problem with these exercises is that they tend to be product-led. Alsace produces six different types of wine so there have to be six courses, each matched with a different wine which is not really the Indian way of doing things at all.
The food at Benares is also quite complex so it’s difficult to draw conclusions of the Pinot Blanc goes with X variety when X is a hard-to-replicate recipe involving a coconut, peanut, sesame and roasted onion sauce.
Having said that there were some good matches and insights to be gained:
* Most of the dishes were quite mild so none caused any of the wines too many problems.
* the dishes that worked best (and this was true of the beer dinner on which I reported the other week) were dry-spiced. Curries with lots of sauce are much harder to match with wine . . .
* the wines that worked best, and those of you who are familiar with Alsace wines and spicy food won’t be surprised, were the Tokay Pinot Gris (now known as Pinot Gris) and the Gewürztraminer
Here are my ratings for the individual dishes - and the reasons for them:
*** Great match, the best of the meal
** A good match
* An OK match but one which slightly diminishes the food or the wine
No stars A misfiring match
** Crisp soft shell crab with spicy squid with passion fruit dressing with Domaine Riefl Crémant d’Alsace
The rather dull crmant was immeasurably improved by pairing it with the crispy crab with its mild sweet/spicy dressing which brought out its freshness and crispness
* Salad of scallops, grilled prawns, gem lettuce and grape-ginger dressing with Riesling Grand Cru Cave de Turckheim 1999
Only one star because the salad knocked a bit of the stuffing out of this magnificent mature riesling. A less expensive, younger riesling would have worked just as well, if not better
**Aubergine steak with coconut, peanut, sesame and roasted onion sauce with Pinot Blanc Philippe Zinck 2005
I was surprised how well the pinot blanc - the nearest style Alsace has to chardonnay - stood up to this dish, especially the sauce, retaining its character and acidity. I suspect the pinot gris might have had the edge with the smoky aubergine but my glass was whisked away before I had a chance to try it out!
* Chicken malai tikkia with spinach with Tokay Pinot Gris Cuvee Albert Mann 2004
Although dry, the chicken had a quite a sharp-tasting marinade which had the effect of distorting the taste of the pinot gris and making it taste much sweeter. Oddly, it would have been better with the rather undistinguished Pinot Noir below
***Sea bream poached in a coconut and tamarind sauce served with coconut rice with a Gewurztraminer Cave Vinicole de Ribeauvill 2004
The outstanding match of the evening, the gewurztraminer picking up and enhancing the spicing, especially the fresh ginger.Coconut, as I noted the other day, is an exceptionally wine-friendly ingredient. The pinot gris which I did manage to try with it worked well too.
Lamb braised with cinnamon, ginger and kashmiri chillies with Pinot Noir, Domaine Paul Blanck 2005
Although this wasn’t a hot dish it was an intensely aromatic one with a lot of sauce and totally overwhelmed the rather weedy pinot noir. The gewurztraminer, I suspect would have worked better.