Semillon paired with the staple breakfast of South India - Idli

The Story of the IDLI

Idli - Back home, this is what I grew up eating for breakfast almost every other day. Idli is basically steamed rice cakes - and the best part is, they are as healthy as any Indian breakfast can get. The thought of Idli brings back nostalgic memories of the aroma filled kitchen when the Idli batter is getting steamed in a pressure cooker.

My mom used to make the batter for Idli every Sunday so it would last her a week and she did not have to worry about breakfast during those crazy, busy morning hours in Chennai. It used to be so interesting to witness the various forms that Idli took during the course of the week. It starts of as fresh Idlis for the first couple of days, then when we complained about the 'same old Idli' every morning, mom used to pan-fry them with some oil and chutney powder (podi). When that got old too, she would cut them up and make the 'Idli Upma'. This is where moms are at their creative best, frying the cut Idlis with mustard seeds, curry leaves, some asafoetida groundnuts and etc. Not just this, the types of Idlis there are is mind boggling! And my favorite of them is the Kachipuram Idli. But that is a separate topic in itself.

My point is, if your path ever crossed with a South Indian, there is NO way he or she can go back in time and not associate Idli as one of the most important parts of their breakfast memories.

So, one fine Saturday morning, I decide to make my Idlis for breakfast and while in the mood, I made my three favorite chutneys - coconut, onion & tomato and coriander leaves (cilantro) chutneys. And a plate of idli is never complete without a side of Idli (chutney) powder mixed with some oil (preferably one called gingerly oil found in Indian grocery stores). The collage below with the three chutneys, steamed Idlis and the very last picture shows one plain Idli and one mixed with the chutney podi (just yummy is the word).

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The WINE pairing with Idli

Idlis and chutney have to be paired with a wine and that is just the right thing to do.

First, I think a smooth German Muller Thurgau with its chalky minerality and subtle grapefruit flavors will do the trick. Then, I sway a little bit towards an Austrian Gruner Veltliner because I feel like the Gruner has more body that will stand up to the spicy green chillies in the chutneys and yet compliment the steamed Idlis pretty darn well.

But, somehow I am not convinced by either. So I analyze the subtlety of the Idlis and spices involved in the chutneys. For a dish like this, I definitely require a wine with some fruitful aromas and maybe very little residual sugar. Oh yes, I think I have it! Drum roll please, for the Oro En Paz 2011 Semillon!

Semillon is one of the 3 white grapes of Bordeaux (Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle being the other two). It is mostly a blending grape and is used to blend with Sauvignon Blanc to increase body and balance the acidity of Sauvignon Blanc. The Semillon grape has the potential to ripen with such high sugar level that they make some of the world class dessert wines of the Sauternes region in Bordeaux. 

Tasting notes

My first impressions are that, I would have liked a little more body on this wine with a dish like this one. But after a few more sips, clearly this wine is a winner when I need a minimalistic wine to pair with Idlis that are almost flavorless when eaten by themselves. And yet the Semillon has a subtle apricot and pear taste on the palette along with a tinge of sweetness as an after taste. This aspect made this wine perfect with the spicy, flavorful chutneys. 

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That said, am I ruling off red wines for the Idli and chutney combo - absolutely not! As a fun experiment, I also opened a bottle of the Dutcher Crossing Petite Sirah to pair with this dish. And I was pleasantly surprised how the Petite Sirah did not overwhelm the Idlis as much as I thought. It turned out that this particular Petite Sirah had more acidity than usual and that balanced the red fruit flavors beautifully and also resulted in complimenting this breakfast dish very nicely.

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The verdict

The healthy idlis with chutneys paired like they were tailor made with the Semillon - if every breakfast was like this who would skip the most important meal of the day?

BONUS!

Did you know that Semillon is one of those grapes that can make the best out of the worst situations? Puzzled? There is this rot caused by a fungi called 'Botrytis cinerea'. Even though it is rot, it is the 'noble' kind. It has this characteristic to affect certain grape types more than others - like the Riesling, Semillon etc. that have a tendency to ripen to high levels of sugar. Once these grapes are attacked, this fungi sucks all the water out of them leaving behind just sugar - making the grapes almost as sweet as raisins. So, botrytis becomes essential for these grapes that turn in to phenomenal dessert wines like Chateau d'quem. Now, wouldn't you agree with my statement about the Semillon being one of the most optimistic grapes?

+Kavitha