Food & Wine Pros

Pairing Indian food with the biodynamic wines of Bonny Doon

I have to confess I found it pretty hard to concentrate on the finer nuances of the food and wine combinations at the recent Cinnamon Club dinner. But when the speaker is the discursive Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon and you're sitting next to him that's no great surprise. Before the meal had even started we were into Kierkegaard and a vigorous discussion of terroir in the bar below over our glasses of Vin Gris de Cigare (a typically unorthodox full-bodied rosé based on Grenache, Cinsault and Roussanne).

The Cinnamon Club for those of you who are not aware of it, is based in Westminster and is one of London's top Indian restaurants - and a regular haunt of nearby MPs and lobbyists. (Or it was until the recent expenses scandal.) Its food, which is presided over by the genial Vivek Singh, is designed to be wine-friendly and they frequently hold wine dinners there.

Grahm, one of the most colourful figures on the international wine scene, probably needs no introduction but you may not be aware that his wines, which tend to be made from the same grape varieties as are grown in the Rhône, are now produced biodynamically. (For an account of how his approach to winemaking has changed check out this brilliant comic strip created for the Wine Spectator here) I've always liked his wines - he abhors over-extraction and excessively high levels of alcohol - and I was fascinated to see how they would shape up with spicy food.

Rather less well than I had hoped was the disappointing answer. Successes were the Vin Gris de Cigare which kicked off brilliantly with some mildly spicy nibbles of chicken tikka and pooris, a lovely Ca del Solo Albariño which perfectly hit the spot with an edible martini of Norwegian king crab with tamarind and green pea relish and a stellar pairing of the luscious late-harvest Le Vol Des Anges Roussanne with a mango fondant and chilled mango soup.

But I felt the intervening dishes, though skilfully spiced didn't show their accompanying wines to best advantage: Roast loin of rabbit with dried fruits in a mustard marinade took the edge off the opulent, waxy Cigare Blanc 2007 (a blend of two thirds Roussanne, one third Grenache Blanc) and the two reds, a gamey Syrah Le Pousseur 2005 and a rich, complex 2004 Cigare Volant were similarly diminished by their respective partners, a Tandoori breast of Anjou squab pigeon with peppercorn and cloves and a smoked loin of Welsh lamb with Chettinadu curry. In a more conventional Indian meal with several dishes on the table or with 'wetter' curries I suspect they would have been slaughtered.

I realise this is a personal view. I'm not a big fan of full-bodied reds with spicy food but the wines of the Rhône - or Grahm's particular take on them - seem particularly ill-suited to the task. You need more upfront fruit, a style he no longer embraces.

Incidentally Grahm read an extract from his new 'vinthology', as he calls it - a collection of his musings and writings called Been Doon So Long - involving a spoof encounter between Loulou Bize Leroy and Robert Parker. I've been meaning to read it and certainly will now. You can find out more about it here.

I attended the dinner as a guest of the Cinnamon Club.

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