PGC’s long delayed lunch meet finally happened on Sunday Oct. 11, 2015. The motivating factor was our good friend and long time supporter Dr. Rajesh Rasal, India’s most well known independent wine maker who accepted our invitation to showcase his new wine.

Space limitations forced me to cap the number of attendees to 20. First preference was naturally given to members who showed their willingness to help with the cooking. The Europartial menu was emailed to all along with cooking tasks.

The responsibility of the bread basket was given to our skilled bakers Vivek Mannige and Shubha Nafrey. Vivek brought fresh baguettes and the latter not just a multi grain loaf but Brioche and Focaccia. 

The wine selection was left to the guest of honour, Dr. Rajesh Rasal who presented 5 wines.

The first was a Sauvignon Blanc Gold 2014 from Soma owned by Pradeep Pachpatil who had a long stint as VP at Sula. Rajesh informed us that this wine is made in the New Zealand style – dry on the palate with herbaceous, grassy notes, citrusy on the tongue and with just that hint of green capsicum. It was refreshing to discover that our boutique wineries are treating wine lovers with respect. Somanda’s Sauvignon Blanc Silver apparently is fruit forward.  Those who tasted this wine in a Riedel glass found it more than satisfying.

The most important rule about food and wine pairing they say, is there ain’t no rules. So no attempt was made pair the dishes with the wines. To each his/her own was the motto.

It soon became evident that the pleasure of an oozy baked Camembert/Brie stuffed with fresh thyme on a baguette slice and a glass of the SB Gold did offer a most satisfying experience. All I did was put in the wheel of Kodai Cambrie for 10 minutes in a 180⁰C oven. 

As everyone helped themselves to the New York style Iceberg wedge with a blue cheese dressing prepared by Muriel Pinto, many wondered if a litre of dressing was a tad too much. I was not surprised at all when just a few tablespoons were left at the end of the afternoon. I used Kodai Blue which is not as smelly or sharp as Roquefort or Stilton but still offers a taste acceptable to the Indian palate. 

By this time Rajesh opened Soma’s Chenin Blanc Gold 2014. Unlike Indian Chenin Blancs which are on the sweeter side, Soma is rather dry.  Rajesh told us that the Gold and Silver were made using different processes. Apparently Mr. Pachpatil wants to give his clientele a choice since the whites are available in both versions. The dry ones appeal to the European palate while Indians prefer more fruit accents. 

Purnima Singh and Abijit De presented their own versions of the French farmhouse staple – coq au vin. Purnima tinkered with a recipe from The lllustrated Encyclopedia of American Cooking and Abhijit did his own version without shedding light on the origins. Purnima’s was darker of the two with the chicken parts well braised in a full bodied red wine. In the end one pot had just a few chicken pieces and the other had only the sauce. Both were very, very good.

After the first hunger pangs were assuaged, Rajesh presented for tasting his 500 bottle latest limited edition creation, Reisha (Spanish for root), a Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz blend (85/15) aged for 30 months in new French oak barrels.  The bottles were uncorked, emptied into a degustation decanter and poured. The wine had a very good bouquet and the tannins were distinctive but not harsh. One can read reams of tasting notes, but ultimately the proof of the wine is in the buying. Rajesh explained that the wine would be ready to drink out of the bottle by March 2016 and would age very well for the next 7-8 years in the bottle. Perhaps this wine will break the myth that Indian wines do not age well. 

The next wine was Arros 2012 by York. This Shiraz / Cabernet Sauvignon blend (ratio not mentioned) aged for 13 months in French and American oak barrels limited to 4,709 bottles. It’s a nice smooth wine - eminently drinkable. The necker has extensive tasting notes with references to coffee, black currant, nutmeg, cloves, chalky tannins etc. For a wine buff high on curiosity and low on sophisticated palate and nose, I thought it best to let the wine do the talking. And it asked, will you buy me for Rs. 1,045? Yes, I certainly will, said I.

Arjun Chowdhry, I suspect, did not expect to end up cooking when he suggested baked fish be added to the menu. To his credit, he did not demur when given the task and by all accounts, he outdid himself. He presented not one but three black pomfrets, each with a different marinade. One had pesto, another garlic and thyme and the third an oriental accent. He neatly sliced them into fillets and served the guests. I feel this firm fleshed fish lends itself to baking and grilling better than the silver pomfret.

Dessert included not just a rice gelato – a Florentine treat - but also a dessert wine with a difference. Not the usual late harvest Chenin Blanc but a Sauvignon Blanc from Soma. I’m not a great fan of dessert wines but most who tasted this version were quite intrigued.

Working on the rice gelato, I wondered if it would be just another version of a Lucknowi Phirni or a glorified rice kheer. Surprise, surprise, it was anything but. Arborio rice, milk and sugar were twice baked in an oven with vanilla bean and orange zest. Then half of the mix had to be blendered (an invented word) fine and then blended with the rest and so on. Not as simple as making payasam, that’s for sure. Ultimately the palates of 20 had to pronounce a verdict. The proof of the gelato, lies in the eating. Hardly 100ml was left. The other two desserts – Banana ice cream made with overripe Kerala Nendira Payam and the Lemon ice cream made with the highly aromatic Bengal Gandharaj were devoured in a blink.

At the end of it all, I asked everyone how much they thought the lunch was worth inclusive of food and wine. It ranged from Rs. 850 to 1500 per head. We did the numbers and discovered it cost just Rs. 600 per head!!! That’s what I call value for money.

And so another PGC leisurely lunch meet came to a satisfying close around 4:30pm, half an hour before closing time. 


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