Sula Wine & Indian Food – Rotarian Wine Fellowship Dinner at The Conrad

Finding time in the midst of the work week tends to be a challenge, but there are certain events for which one most definitely makes an exception. An invite from a dear friend to be a part of an exclusive private evening – a Rotarian Wine Fellowship dinner at one of the city’s newest star hotels, The Conrad, for Indian food paired with Sula wines, did not go unanswered! Starting out at The Conrad’s rooftop pool, we gathered to enjoy some bubbly – Sula Brut, and take pictures a-plenty, before we headed to our sit down dinner at Indian Durbar, The Conrad’s specialty Indian restaurant. With the co-founder of Sula, Kerry Damskey, and the brand’s chief wine maker, Karan Vasani in attendance, we knew we were in for an evening that would be both educational and delicious! I hadn’t realized that Sula has been around for close to 2 decades, or that it as one of the earlier vineyards in the country. And did you know that Sula is the brand that brought Zinfandel to India?

We started off with an amuse bouche of a miniature sized dhokla topped with a mint foam – quite living up to the name of the course! This was followed by the soup course, which was a lamb broth, simmered overnight, served with pickled lemon and tomato relish. Our appetizer was Kandhari Murgh, a wonderful spring chicken marinated with red chili spiced curd and dried pomegranate and served with dollops of the sauces. It was interesting how the combo tasted citrusy rather than having the sweetness of pomegranate. The Sula Riesling was the accompaniment for the early courses. Now if you’re a Riesling drinker, you’re likely to find this one mild, but it, as the winemakers pointed out, makes for a perfect starter wine for someone who has just begun to drink wine. And it’s unassuming nature means that it pairs well with a variety of food.

With the breaking out of the RASA wines from Sula, the evening got even more interesting. To accompany our Kashmiri Lagan ki Seekh, which had a charcoal sauce, we we were served Rasa Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine I will definitely look out for on the shelves, as too the Rasa Shiraz, which was the next pour, to accompany the main course of Hyderabadi Dum ka Nalli or Seabass Polichattu for the non vegetarians. I am usually a fan of Shiraz, and this time was no exception, offering the anticipated body and flavor. And I learned that decanting it for a bit before serving to open it up and release the aroma. While the Nalli – my choice for mains – was nice, it was the accompanying da-e-durbar and tadka saag that packed a flavor punch. A variety of naan and paratha made dipping into the gravies all that more enjoyable.

Our dinner ended with a dessert trio: Belgian dark chocolate kheer, Sonpapdi, and Kerala vanilla pod kulfi, decorated with gold leaf., and the wine poured was the Late Harvest Chenin Blanc. I must admit to not being a sweet wine fan, and usually avoid dessert wines. Sula’s Chenin Blanc was no exception, and registered quite high on the sweetness notes. So definitely for my palate, it was the two reds that worked, over the two whites served that night. Rasa Shiraz is definitely making an appearance in my drinking at home wine collection! Getting to hear first-hand, the story of Sula, the expanding team of winemakers on board, and break bread with the co-founder and chief winemaker made for a memorable experience, in the recently opened Conrad Hotel’s opulent surroundings.

 

 

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Going Classic with coffee ‘o’ clock: A Tasting Session with Classic Coffee

Craft and artisanal coffees are all the rage these days, and a little exploration of the coffee expressions and variants available in India today show an expansion of the country’s coffee culture. South India, long the bastion of “filter kappi” and strong, dark brews, is now home to a wide range, and a growing appreciation of the various expressions of coffee. I am not a coffee drinker, but I am a curious foodie on the trail to new and interesting things related to food and drink, so an invite to a tasting of Classic Coffee’s new Premium Coffee Range that offer brews for different times of the day,  had me in attendance.

The cool coffee’o’clock invitation that was hand delivered suggested I would be in for a treat – and I figured with four craft coffees, created to suit different moods and palates depending on the time of day (morning, afternoon, evening, night), I would likely come across one I’d enjoy too! And indeed, that turned out to be the case – though much to my surprise the coffee that found favor with this non-coffee drinker was the morning brew, Blaze!

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The coffees come from estates owned by Classic in two of Karnataka’s well known coffee plantation areas – Sakleshpur and Chickmagalur, and comprise of both Arabica and Robusta beans. Mr. Purnesh, MD, Classic Coffee, the man who started the brand, took us through a talk on the brand’s premise, history, and offerings, and then we were all presented with a tray of the four coffees from the Premium Range along with tasting notes and little bites that paired with them, including a piece of cheese, dark chocolate, fruit, and cake.

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And because I am no coffee expert, let me leave you with the words from the brand (scroll to the end), so you can decide which coffee will suit your tastes – or you could give them all a try! Available both online and at our favorite grocery stores like Godrej Natures Basket, Westside Gourmet, Namdhari, and Nilgiris, the colorful packaging is sure to catch one’s eye! And it also makes each variant easily recognizable by the colors of the labels and packaging.

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Blaze which is a blend best suited for the morning. This has been blended to create a heavy-bodied brew, intense and malty with a rich mouth feel. Blaze has been crafted to help create the morning kick with a nutty fragrance and pleasantly bitter aftertaste.
Matinee is the afternoon blend in the range. Its tasting notes indicate a mix of spice and sweet citrus acidity with hints of mild berry. This has smooth mouth feel and a light body and has been designed as a perk-me-up brew.
Sundowner is the evening offering of the range; and has been crafted as a blend to be enjoyed with company. It has clean notes with hints of sweet milk chocolate, rich mouth feel, which creates the ideal, mild better, aftertaste to act as precursor to dinner.
Afterhours is a night blend which has been carefully curated to soothe and help one wind down. It is a mellow and flavourful cup which has hints of spice and pleasant citrus to create a smooth body. As with the other three blends are 100% Arabica, Afterhours is blended using Arabica Plantation AA beans.

New Blends by Classic Coffees (2)

Did someone say (Go) Cheese?

Cheese is comfort food for me – there may not be much else in my refrigerator at times, but cheese will have its place. That, and some bread are enough to make a meal of. I remember as a kid, when we had family coming from the UK, US, or even the Middle East, cheese would be on the list of requests – blue cheese, goat cheese, sharp cheddar, a rich brie. La vache qui rit and Kraft tins (anyone recall those?) in fact are part of some of my earliest memories. And there was always Amul on hand, locally. But let’s face it, the very reason we asked for cheese from foreign shores was that the choice here in India was quite limited. Later, living in the US, I could enjoy even gourmet cheese without breaking the bank, and did so quite regularly!
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Now of course, there is every manner of cheese and brand available here in India, but still, most come at a rather steep price. But in the last couple of years, the market has seen local brands bringing more variety, and at an affordable price. Go Cheese has been one I keep going back to, for their slices and the wedges. Thus, when an invite came to a Go Cheese tasting event at The Biere Club, in association with Femina Magazine, where the brand’s spokesman, celebrity Chef Ranveer Brar would be leading the way, I accepted even though it was just a day after I was back in town, after two weeks away. And am I glad I did! I learned more about the brand, its parent brand Parag Milk Foods, different ways I could incorporate cheese into dishes and how to create interesting flavor combinations, and came away with a goodie bag that introduced me to some new Go Cheese flavors (kacha aam, peri-peri and more), and has me well stocked with a food I consider a staple!
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The evening began with a short set by stand-up comedian and a founding member of East India Comedy, Sahil Shah. I am always leery of stand-up acts because many a time they either cross the line from funny to offensive, can be overly sexual, or well, just aren’t that funny. Mr. Shah was, much to my delight, on point, hilarious, and sharp witted – nimble both with his jokes and with finding that balance between funny and outrageous. It was a fun and funny start to our evening.
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Mr. Mahesh Israni, Chief Marketing Officer of Parag Milk Foods (Go, Gowardhan, Topp Up, Pride of Cows), was next on stage to talk to us about the brand’s various offerings, their processes, and enlighten us as to the cheese scene in India. Did you know that Gujarat consumes the most cheese in the country, with Bangalore coming in 3rd and Delhi 4th? The company has more than cheese to offer, btw, under it’s different lines – there’s also milk (regular and flavored), ghee, curd, buttermilk, butter, and paneer. They are geared up for even more growth than the current 35%, equipped with a plant that has the capacity to churn out 1600 varieties of cheese products! One very interesting factoid we learned was about the Pride of Cows (currently in Maharashtra only) brand under Parag Milk Foods, which offers premium, organic milk that is never touched by human hands across the entire cycle, from cow to packaging to sale!
And now, it was time for the main man himself, Chef Ranveer Brar. Rather than making it a formal talk, he chatted with the audience from the stage, and gave us a quick rundown of facts on cheese, and then half a dozen cheese pairing and sides (sauces, fruits, etc.) options. His suggestions incorporated both Indian spices and elements, and Western condiments. As he talked, we were served a three-cheese platter with Gouda, Colby, and Cheddar (not sharp), alongside crackers, fresh figs and grapes, a sauce, and of course – wine. Both red and white were on offer, from KRSMA Estates, a Karnataka brand. I decided to have a little of each, and tried the cheeses with them, to see how the more acidic white and the drier red would play with the flavors on my palate.
The high point of the evening, food wise, was the platter of hors d’oeuvres made with Go Cheese, that appeared at the tables next. Cheesy Pepper Agrodolce Calzone, Beetroot Carpaccio with herb Almette and mini greens, Cheddar and Monterey Jack flour nacho with avocado salsa, Mustard, Tomato and Olive bruschetta, and a wedge of crumb fried cheese accompanied by Chilli Grape chutney – all delicious and showcasing the cheese beautifully. The carpaccio and the bruschetta were my favorites – the former for the mouthfeel and the herb Almette cheese, and the latter for the sharp mustard tang that lingered. We ended with two desserts, made with cheese – Saffron Cream Syllabub with fresh fruits and Biscotti Crumbles and Almette Cheese Topped Humming Bird Cake with Edible Flowers – both were a tad too Indian to find favor with me, but were liked by others at the table.
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I came away feeling good about supporting locally made cheese and not needing to buy imported to get my cheese fix. I now have some varieties of spicy cheese to add to my next grilled cheese sandwich, or top my pasta with. And the next time friends gather for a drink or even just tea, I will have a trick or two up my sleeve, thanks to Chef Ranveer’s tips. All in all, an informative and delicious two hours!
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