Last Wednesday was spent in the company of fine wines and finer people at a wine tasting event at JW Marriott organized by The Happy High – a Mumbai based beverage consulting, education and experience firm started by Ajit Balgi. I have been interacting with Ajit on Twitter and was surprised when he invited me over to taste Austrian wines. Surprised because my knowledge of wines is limited to mostly the Indian brands.
The wines, that Ajit received from a family run winery in Austria, were to be paired with food at Mezzo Mezzo – JW Marriott’s Italian restaurant. Mezzo Mezzo has recently appointed Chef Matteo Arvonio who has previously worked with Four Seasons Mumbai. The wines that we were going to try came from Topf winery (in existence since 1751) located in Kamptal in the Danube region known for its Gruner Veltliners and Rieslings. You can read more about Austrian wines here.
The evening was packed with people who KNOW their wines – Antoine Lewis (the food and beverage writer who I look up to and follow), Sachin Rane (wine importer), Piyush Gadkari (from Indian Wine Society), Sayoni Bhaduri (from Hipcask), Rojita Tiwari (beverage writer and consultant), Ritesh Chudhary (Food and Beverage Director at JW Mariott), Satyam Savla (owner of Juben Wines), Deepti Bhatnagar (actress and TV show host), Sonal Holland (the first indian to be enrolled in Master of Wine education program) and Saroja Sirisena (Hon. Counsel General of Srilanka). I would say that I was a little intimidated in the beginning but this is the time when you intently listen to the conversation and try to grasp as much as possible. I learnt that aged wine doesn’t necessarily mean good wine. If you don’t know much about wines, stick to the new. Also, the screw cap doesn’t reflect the quality of wine. It’s mostly the aged wines that need corks. I also got a lot of help as we started the tasting. Piyush told me that smelling-the-wine bit is all about recognizing it – fruity, flowery, sour – excluding all the ingredients/objects it doesn’t smell like and then focusing on the smell that you relate to. And, ultimately it’s all about whether you like it or not.
Our dinner was a six-course meal that started with Parmigiana Leggera – baked zucchini and eggplant parmigiana, provola cheese. The flavours were subtle and the ingredients fresh. The dish was paired with Topf Gruner Veltliner, Offenberg, First Growth, 2013 Kamptal reserve – white grape variety with a fruity smell. However, it didn’t taste as sweet as it smelt.
Tartar di Tonno e Panelle – Sicilian style yellow fin tuna tartare, panelle chips. The tartare was delicate and the panelle chips – deep-fried chips made of gram-flour – reminded me of pakodas. The chef told us that these chips are a famous street food in Sicily and are eaten with fish or meat. This was paired with Topf Riesling, Heiliginstein, First Growth, 2013, Kamptal Reserve – drier than the previous one but not when compared to what was coming next.
Risotto alla Zucca e Funghi Selvatici – pumpkin risotto, wild mushroom, pistachio crumble with Johann Topf, Riesling, Zobinger Heiliginstein 1999. The aged version of Topf Riesling was drier and brought out the cheesy flavour of the dish.
Merluzzo Nero e Pappa al Pomodoro with Topf, Blauburgender, Stangl, 2009. The black cod was cooked “al cortoccio” – meaning cooked in parchment – and had beautiful flakey texture. It was served on a bed of Tuscan style stewed tomato caviar (thick tomato sauce) and Swiss chard (leafy greens). This was so far the best dish according to me. The wine, a bright red, had fruity aroma but a lot of heat. For this course I focused more on food than wine.
Costoletta d’agnello al ginepro e passatina ai ceci – herb marinated lamb chop, juniper berries, chickpea sauce paired with Topf, Zweigelt, Sachsenberg, 2009. The wine, that was sitting in a decanter for a while to breathe in air, had a sour aroma which my co-diners termed as sweaty horse saddle. The pairing went quite well and I couldn’t get enough of the creamy chickpea curry. Fans of hummus will love it.
This was the most interesting pairing and quite unusual. Topf Riesling, TBA, Wechselberg Spiegel 2009 – sugary sweet dessert wine – was paired with Gorgonzola, Mascarpone e Fichi – sweet and savoury dessert of gorgonzola and mascarpone mousse, caramelised figs, black pepper caramel. The savoury in dessert and sweetness of wine perfectly balanced each other out.
Austrian wines are known for their acidity hence can be paired well with Indian food but Chef Matteo did a fine job and made every pairing stand out.
There’s a lot that I learnt that evening and came home knowing more about wines. Every wine has a story and the art is to figure that story out through its aroma and taste.