You say Masala Popcorn...we say Torrontés!


I was walking down the farmers market close to home this past Saturday morning.

While chewing on some farm fresh cherries, I was strolling along under the bright sun, enjoying the sights and sounds of the market. Then I was suddenly transformed to my childhood days walking on the island grounds for exhibitions and fairs in Chennai. The reason was the aroma, sight and sound of freshly made popcorn!

I would wait all year for the exhibition day in Chennai for 2 reasons: the amazing rides and masala popcorn!

Masala popcorns are packed in plastic packets and are sold on the streets and also movie theaters of the Chennai city. But, something about these trade fairs and masala was magical how the entire exhibition ground would smell of popcorn and fried rice papadams

I did buy a huge serving of kettle corn from the farmer's market, but I just had to make the masala popcorn with all these nostalgic thoughts. And so I did just that.


The WINE paired with Masala Popcorn

With all the butter and salt in the 'Americanized' popcorn, I can see how a beer might just be perfect.

But, with the Indian masala popcorn, it is a whole other story! There is turmeric powder, very little chilli powder, garam masala (blend of several spices) and salt to taste. So every corn kernel that transforms in to pop corn is doused with all these spices. 

When I started thinking about wine pairing with all these spices in mind, I spotted a Torrontés (from Salta, Argentina) that caught my attention. The wine bottle showed 85% Torrontés and 15% Riesling. This definitely intrigued me. And the wine shop employee mentioned that this wine had a decent amount of body - which convinced me that this wine can handle gracefully, the spices in every bite of the masala popcorn.


Tasting notes

This was a very unique Torrontés because it had more body than the usual. The first taste notes I got on both my nose and palette were those of herbs, lemongrass and some citrus fruits. But the most amazing part for me was, even though the Riesling was only 15% of the total composition, there was a clear, bold pear and apple flavor profiles so typical of a Riesling.


The verdict

The pop corn looked and tasted just like I remembered. I even added some Chaat masala to the spice mix in the oil before throwing in the corn kernels. The pop corns and its spices were beautifully accentuated by the Torrontés and Riesling. It was a beautiful hot day to munch on spicy masala pop corns paired with a chilled Torrontés. Just as always, I could hear the kids screaming while enjoying the rides in the Chennai fair while I kept munching on the masala popcorn. Except now, I was also sipping on this beautiful wine from Argentina!

Life is good... and it gets even better with fond memories and good wine. Salud!


The Hand Of God and Mumbai Burger (Vada Pav)


Vada pav is a street food fondly reminisced by anyone who hails from the city of Mumbai. I know this for a fact because, though I am from South India (Chennai), I am married in to a family settled in Mumbai. So I have heard about Vada Pav like it is part of the family :)

My first encounter with this savory delicacy was not in Mumbai, but Chicago! Yep, you heard it right. Believe it or not, my first bite of Vada Pav was in Chicago at Devon Avenue's Little India. I got to bite in to a 'Garama-garam' (Hindi for nice and hot) Vada Pav - and instantly I was transported to my happy place! 

A Vada Pav can be best described as a Mumbai burger. The key ingredients are part of its name:

  • The Vada (deep fried balls made of potatoes, onions, ginger, green chillies, salt and some cumin/coriander powder)
  • Spicy garlic chutney spread (This chutney is very key to this dish)
  • The Pav (bun or bread). There is one more secret ingredient, the world famous Vada Pav spicy garlic chutney that has to be generously spread on the buns before assembling the Vada on them.

Note: The word 'Pav' must have originated from the Portuguese word 'Pao' for bread. It is quite possible given how close in proximity Goa (once upon a time a Portuguese colony) is to Mumbai.

The best part of this dish is that all the ingredients required are usually available in my kitchen at all times. So as soon I set my mind to this, I instantly started making my garlic chutney first and then deep fried my Vadas. Finally I finished with toasting my burger buns (Pav).


The WINE paired with Vada Pav

The ingredients in the Vada Pav is no joke. The spices and vegetables used are quite earthy and wholesome. For instance, the garlic chutney includes generous portions of cumin and coriander powder - both very bold and earthy spices. The deep fried potato balls has tiny pieces of onions, ginger and green chillies. All of this can overwhelm and take over the experience unless paired with a wine that can portray a powerful, versatile personality.


Ta-da! Introducing the Hand of God wines - a red blend of Malbec, Syrah and Petite Verdot. 

CONFESSION: I have been meaning to pair this wine with one of my Indian street food fares for quite some time. I have had the good fortune of exchanging a few emails and talking on the phone with the founder of this brand - Jon Staenberg. Ever since getting in touch with Jon, I have been craving to sip on this amazing product made by the 'Malbec Master' Santiago Achaval.

But, the conundrum was, for a wine of this stature the food paired should posses several layers of complexity, yet poised with elegance. So when I decided to make Vada Pavs, it just clicked and I ran to the nearest wine shop that housed the Hand of God wines. 

Tasting notes

The wine looked luscious with a typical Malbec color (dark, bold purple with shades of maroon). I was blown away with the very first sip. There were intense blue berries, multi-dimensional spices and floral aroma. I thought I got some vague lavender flavors too! It was amazing how the bouquet of Malbec stayed in my palette long after I had sipped the wine. The Syrah and Petite Verdot perfectly balanced the Malbec flavors and provided the right amount of body.


The verdict

Excitedly I took my first huge bite of Vada Pav followed by the red blend. The very first thing I noticed was, this red blend unlike a Cabernet does not have an extremely long finish. The flavors do linger for a long time but in a very subtle, manner - not overbearing at all. This aspect married the flavors of cumin, ginger and other spices in the Vada Pav. I could not decide if the food made the wine better or vice versa. For a moment I felt intertwined in a true paradox - Mumbai street food paired with an elite Malbec blend. 

Cheers to paradoxes like these that I can definitely get used to, embrace and relish for a very long time!


Malbecs are referred to as 'Cot' and can be found more prevalently in South West France. Both Malbec and Petite Verdot are part of the 6 grapes that belong to the elite 'Bordeaux blend'. The other 4 grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Carménerè. Carménerè is called the lost grape of Bordeaux (but gained momentum and popularity in Chile) and is rarely part of the Bordeaux blend. So essentially, the blend mostly consists of 5 grapes only.

Malbec specifically was used to give Bordeaux wines its beautiful color and some balance. But, always came third in popularity and importance to the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. That is, until Argentina happened! Argentina embraced Malbec like its own because of how well the grape performed on the high elevations of the famous Mendoza region in Argentina.

It is like they say, one land's pain is another land's pleasure!