The delicate flavours of a meen pollichathu rise to meet the residual sweetness of a Zinfandel Rose. The fruity robust structure of a Cabernet Shiraz matches the smoked strength of tandoori food. Shellfish and fish curry marry well with the acid and residual sweetness of a Chenin Blanc or Viognier while the heartiness of aloo paratha and dahi is accentuated by the versatile Chenin Blanc. But there are no hard and fast rules to pairing of food and wine, says Ajoy Shaw, chief winemaker, Sula Vineyards, who was in the city for a Winemaker's dinner at Hotel Casino. Follow your heart holds good, it seems. Let the mood take over and enjoy the moment when the palate is washed by bursting flavours and teased by subtle notes.

Yet, Ajoy offers a broad guideline. He says that pairing is generally decided by matching texture, flavour, richness, structure of the food to that of the wine. In some cases a contrast too goes well, for a total cleanup of the palate. But finally it is all about synergy, to bring out the flavours from the food and wine rather than mask or overwhelm one by the other.

Popular Reds

Though the Indian wine market is small, Ajoy is optimistic about the future. It is looking up and growing quite nicely at 20 -25 per cent every year, he says. More people in India are starting off with drinking red wine. In comparison to white, reds have a share of 60-65 per cent. “Wine has come from the background to the foreground,” he sums up. Internationally too the wine scene is bubbly. Though India is a small producer but its wines are selling in the best restaurants in the western world and are being uncorked at celebrity events. The sparkling wines being produced in England are noteworthy, he says. The face off between new world wines and the established old world vintages is an exciting phase that's proving heady. As part of jury in many wine competitions Ajoy talks about the ‘Parkerisation' of wines with each winemaker trying to match and emulate the wines given cult status by controversial, renowned wine critic Robert Parker. As against that, a few winemakers are deviating and coming up with interesting innovations. In a blind tasting session, he says, one often comes up with something startlingly different, almost refreshing.

As a winemaker he is responsible for the quality of the wine. Right from harvesting and meeting any natural exigencies and subsequent changes in course of action, the winemaker is always on tenterhooks. The nervousness arises mainly from the undependable weather conditions that affect the grape. Sugar, flavour, maturity are the things under constant watch. “Harvesting requires military precision. Until the wine is finally blended I really don't know where it is going to be. I am always on tenterhooks.”

Ajoy recollects that as a student of biotechnology he was uncannily asked by his professor to try making wine from oranges! “That had been my only tryst with winemaking before entering the field.” After a couple of harvests in California and one at Bordeaux, a diploma from WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) London, Ajoy says the winemaker's job is not a regular on the line job. The challenges lie in the unpredictability of harvesting an agrarian product.

The challenges are many and more so in India as the industry is still very young.

Wine comes with many heady tales of folks stomping grapes in vats, Ajoy says that the custom is dead except for in a few wineries in Portugal.

At Sula, they do have a wine tour of the vineyards and wine stomping parties more to promote and educate the people about the story of the grape till it is bottled.

He is currently experimenting with different varieties like Riesling, which he says is the wine that goes perfectly with Indian food.