wine

Wine, Bhajji and... Luck?!

MWWC#8 - LUCK

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I have written this blog post for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #8 (MWWC#8). I am very happy and honored to write my first post in this series.

A group of oenophiles and bloggers have started this contest and this month is part 8 of the series. The tradition has been that, each month a topic is selected by the previous month's winner, voted and winners announced. This month’s topic  - LUCK was chosen by  last month's winner The Sweet Sommelier. To learn more about this contest, or if you like to vote for my post please click here.

What does LUCK have to do with anything?

In my mother tongue (aka Tamil) to be 'lucky' or just luck is referred to as ‘Adhirshtam’ (written and pronounced in Tamil like this).

Trivia alert: Tamil is the language spoken in the southern most state of Tamil Nadu in India (Tamil Nadu means the land of the Tamil speaking people) .

This word Adhirshtam literally translates as ‘something that shows up in one’s life at its own whim’.

That is exactly my thought about luck.

Being raised in a conservative middle class home in Chennai (capital city of Tamil Nadu), the words luck, fate and destiny were used synonymously. In the Indian culture, a lot of meaning is attributed to things that are destined to happen and how one’s luck or fate has a HUGE role to play in that.

Somehow this theory never added up to be anything meaningful for me.

If every action and event in our lives are destined to happen a certain way, why should anyone ever bother to wake up from bed every morning?

I am a staunch believer that we make our own destinies. While I do not disregard everyday miracles, coincidences and to some degree being at the right place at the right time, none of this matter in the absence of hard work, perseverance and discipline.

The story of Bhajji

For those who are new, my blogs are about pairing wine with Indian (street) food.

For this blog post, I have picked one of the most famous, affordable, tasty Indian street foods called Bhajji. Bhajji is commonly sold in many streets and beaches of Chennai. It is unbelievable how many (both young and old) street food vendors sell this fried delicacy on the beaches of Chennai.

Marina beach is the most crowded beach in Chennai and is the 2nd longest in the world. This 2 minute video captures my Chennai and Marina beach remarkably well. 

I have nostalgic memories of eating hot Bhajjis combined with the caressing touch of the gentle sea breeze in Marina beach. Those were the days!

One thing that always stood out for me is, how for every 10 feet on the beach someone is selling this Bhajji. It almost seems like, there are more people selling Bhajjis than consuming them. 

One of the reasons I chose this delicacy for this post is because, when I thought about luck,  the optimistic, hopeful, sweaty faces of the street food vendors of Chennai beaches immediately flashed in my mind’s eye.

Here is why:

I have always marveled the tenacity and hard work of each of these street food vendors. They wake up everyday to make the same Bhajjis that so many of their competitors make and yet come to the Marina with so much hope of making a profit. And then repeat the same cycle the next day. If these people depended on ‘luck’ to take them through the day, they would have to go back home with stale Bhajjis and an empty stomach.

Mulling over all these thoughts I get my ingredients ready to fry the Bhajjis. First, I mix the Bhajji batter. Then, I chop up some onions and potatoes thinly to use as fillings for the Bhajji. Lastly, I dip them in the Bhajji batter and fry them. The aroma of the Bhajjis fills the entire house and also brings back so many childhood memories like it was just yesterday...

The wine pairing with Bhajji

About the wine pairing... when I thought about what wine to pair with the Bhajji, I immediately thought of sparkling wines.

While I have no doubt that a sparkling wine and Bhajji would be delicious, I was wondering why I did not blink an eye when I chose sparkling wine for this dish?

I think the reason is, the thought of Marina beach reminds me of how my father would always take us there for any celebration or milestone in our lives.

He would never admit this, but one of the reasons for going to the beach in Chennai was because it was one of the cheapest ways to celebrate. Yet, there was an aspect of grandeur to it. There was something so special and personal to sit as a family forming a circle on the sandy beach – and calling out to the various vendors when they pass us by to get our taste of the street foods of Chennai. I feel this exact same way while opening a bubbly - it turns every day in to a Friday, every occasion extra special and every sip a reminder of the holidays and festivities.

CONFESSION: One of the very first forms of wine I have consumed and fallen in love with is sparkling wine. There is an aspect of toasting and celebrating that makes a sparkling wine so special for me and I associate it with a lot of joy and happiness. And among the sparkling wines, Gloria Ferrer is one of the early ones I have tasted. While I have had the good fortune of tasting many other brilliant Champagnes and sparkling wines over the years, Gloria Ferrer is still very nostalgic for me. This nostalgia aspect of the wine also seemed like the perfect reason to pair with the Bhajji.

So, I purchased a Blanc de Noirs (meaning wine made with Red grapes only - Pinot Noir in this case) Gloria Ferrer.

gloria.png

TASTING NOTES

I took a nice big bite of the crunchy Bhajji and washed that down with the Gloria. There was a spicy kick to the Bhajji (due to the spices in the batter) which worked nicely with the stone fruit flavors of the bubbly. The fact that Bhajjis are a fried delicacy was an advantage because, the acidity of the wine cut through the oily Bhajjis beautifully.

While the onions and potatoes were fantastic as fillings, this remarkably effervescent sparkling wine would have paired nicely even with hot serrano pepper Bhajjis. I duly noted this for next time.

bhajji_champagne_collage.jpg

THE VERDICT

Just like I imagined, the Bhajjis and sparkling wine were made for each other. While nibbling the Bhajjis and sipping my wine, an article I had read sometime back came to mind...

The article claimed that there were a group of sailors traveling from the occident (west) to the orient (east) and they 'accidentally' observed that some wines they consumed were more 'fizzy' than the others. This effervescence made these wines refreshing and so easy to drink during their long, arduous journey. This phenomenon was later associated with a second fermentation that happened inside the bottle of certain wines due to some residual yeast and sugar.

 Some may call this chance, luck or sheer coincidence. I agree that all of this may be true, but there is no denying the eons of effort put together by so many Champagne houses to perfect the production process of sparkling wine - after the first 'chanced upon' observation.

The various steps involved to make a bottle of sparkling wine never ceases to amaze me:

  • The very many methods of 2nd fermentation: Traditional, Charmat (Tank, Cuve close), Partial, Transfer fermentation methods and etc. to name a few.
  • The methodical process of riddling and disgorging.
  • Perfecting the final touch with the art of dosage.
  • Bottling the wine ever so carefully to retain the effervescence for consumption even after years.

While one sailor may have gotten ‘lucky’ to observe a second fermentation purely by chance, it has taken countless hours of dedication, discipline and passion to produce this beautiful creation called a sparkling wine.

Finally, I cannot think of a better way to wrap up than with the beautiful words of our President which sums it all up so succinctly:

"I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.

---Thomas Jefferson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

+Kavitha

Nebbiolo pairing with Pongal (The Indian Risotto)

THE Story of PONGAL

PONGAL in my mother tongue (Tamil) literally means 'to rise', denoting how the ingredients of this dish 'rise' when boiled and cooked. 

Pongal is a very positive word in Tamil. It also means 'prosperity' and is associated with a lot of optimism. 

In general, for every Tamilian, Pongal can mean 2 things:

  • Pongal is the name of the Tamil harvest festival (that falls in mid-January every year). The fun part of the festival is, when everyone in the family gathers around a brass vessel filled with the Pongal ingredients and wait for it to boil over - and then everyone screams 'Pongalo Pongal!'. The festival of Pongal is a separate blog topic in itself, so I will stop with one last trivis. The Tamil harvest festival occurs during the month of 'Thai' in the Tamil calendar (coincides with the month of January). This month  of 'Thai' is considered very auspicious for new beginnings.
  • And, Pongal is also the name of one of the most healthiest breakfasts in Tamil Nadu. Pongal is the epitome dish of what you would call a 'balanced diet'. It totally makes sense and you would agree with me when you hear the ingredients of this simple but tasty dish. It has 2 parts rice (carbohydrates), 1 part lentils (proteins) and for garnish there is the glorious Indian Ghee or clarified butter (fat). If this is not a balanced diet, I do not know what is?!

 

For me personally, the most fun memories of PONGAL used to be:

  • Back home in my mom's kitchen, each time I used to smell the aromatic ghee (clarified butter) when it is warmed up to garnish the Pongal. Yum...
  • And of course, during the age-old ritual of screaming 'Pongalo-Pongal' when the Pongal is almost ready to boil over during the harvest festival each year.

With all this nostalgia building up, I just had to make Pongal and the side (called Gotsu) my mom always made that accompanied Pongal - like they were made for each other. There are tons of ways of making these dishes, one such recipe can be found here.

If I may say so myself, my Pongal and Gotsu turned out to be pretty freaking good, see below.

pongal_gothsu_collage.jpg

The WINE pairing with Pongal

The wine pairing can be quite tricky for this dish.

This is mainly because the risotto (Pongal) is quite bland by itself. But, the side (Gotsu) with the tangy tamarind sauce and meaty eggplant can be quite palette-invigorating. 

So I concluded that the wine needs to be high on fruit, low to medium with tannins, no oak, minimal earthiness and medium acidity.

Once again, I stop by at Beltramos and make my usual stops at the wine section.

I have to admit that I walked in with a bias towards Northern Italian wines. Precisely, from Piedmont. Even more precisely a Barbera or Dolcetto. But one particular bottle stopped me in my tracks. Nebbiolo?! 

It does fit all my requirements with the tannins, oak and acidity.

But, I will be honest and say that every Nebbiolo I have tasted so far tasted like earth, mud and soil (and I say this with utmost love for this wonderful grape).

So, I continue contemplating, until Gary (my favorite Beltramos staff) stops by and says that the wine I was eyeing pairs beautifully with Italian Risottos (which is comparable to the Indian risotto). Bingo!

And he also reminded me of another major point. While most Nebbiolos fit my description, some (like this one from Gattinara) have the added fruit character because of the hillside vineyards (like this Travaglini's!) and south facing slopes - which automatically translates in to more sunlight and hence more sugar and fruit flavors.

Okay, that sealed the deal for me!

nebbiolo_collage.jpg

Tasting notes

I have just 2 words Ladies & Gentlemen - Killer juice!

Immediately after the first sip, I was hit with the red cherries and licorice flavors.

Then there was a rounded wholesome feel that made this wine very smooth and so easy to drink.

And at the very end, there is definitely forest floor and some earthy flavors. 

What a wine! Well worth every penny.

pongal_nebbiolo_collage.jpg

The verdict

I douzed the Pongal with Gotsu and ate a mouthful. Then dutifully sipped on the wine. 

I am reminded of our President Benjamin Franklin's words: "Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy."

I am happy - elated actually.

BONUS!

Nebbia in Italian means 'fog'. Hence the name Nebbiolo, for the grapes that are the crown jewel of the foggy Piedmont region in Northern Italy.These wines are very special in the sense that they cannot ripen to the fullest because of the fog and minimal sunshine. But, this results in a frizzy acidity which is the trademark of these wines. An easy to drink, refreshing taste that pairs beautifully with Italian pizzas and risottos.

And now I can confidently add Indian risottos too to the many feathers in the Nebbiolo's cap!

 

 

+Kavitha

Beaujolais and Dahi Puri

THE Story of DAHI PURI

Let me first dissect the meaning of this Indian finger food called Dahi Puri.

Dahi in Hindi means Yogurt. Puri is fried Semolina puffs (that can be found in all Indian grocery stores). There is also a thinly fried snack that is sprinkled generously atop these Puris - called Sev (also found in ready to consume packets in all Indian grocery stores).

Here is how I reminisce Dahi Puri anytime I hear about it - I remember it as this mouth-watering Indian street snack that I devour with my fingers and a few seconds after putting it in my mouth... there is a burst of so many flavors that is such a treat to my taste buds - every time!

The more I think about this snack, I am amazed at the complexity of this dish, even though the Bhaiyas (Indian street food vendors) always made it seem like it was SO simple to make and assemble this dish.

I honestly don't know what it is that makes Dahi Puri so finger licking good?

Well, if I think about it, what's not to like in fried Puris filled with a medley of tamarind & cliantro chutneys blended with some yogurt goodness, topped off with a generous amount of Sev and garnished with fresh cilantro?

I am drooling just thinking and writing about it here.

So, one night on my way back from work I am salivating thinking about the Dahi Puri and stop by the store to shop for the ingredients.

I had the chutneys freshly made that past weekend and stored in the refrigerator. So the big chunk of the work was done. All that was remaining was beating up the yogurt blend and assembling the Puris - which I meticulously finished as fast as I could and they looked like below.

sevpuri_collage.jpg

The WINE paired with Dahi Puri

Right after I bought the Dahi Puri ingredients, I was also feverishly thinking about "What wine would pair with these complex mix of spices and yogurt?".

So, I stopped by Beltramos next and started walking around the wine isles. I thoughtfully wandered, savoring the labels of wines from around the world.

Then I see it, as I pass by the French wine section - Beaujolais!

Something about that was very appealing to me. Then I talk to a very friendly staff and he confirms my thoughts describing this Beaujolais villages bottle as a typical, 'light to medium bodied' Gamay but with unusually prevalent dark fruit flavors.

I hear this and think that the flavors of yogurt with tamarind can be quite difficult to pair with wines and can become a hit or a miss. But I have sipped on a few Beaujolais' in the past and I have a hunch that this will be good. So I head back home content with my new and exciting find.

beaujolais.png

Tasting notes

I gobble down a few Puris and take a break only to sip on the Beaujolais.

This wine was PERFECT for this dish. That is it.

Just  like I was told, the red fruits like the cherries', raspberries' profiles were more pronounced than a typical bottle of Beaujolais Gamay. And the yogurt mix contains a little bit of salt and sugar which is said to increase its acidity. This acidity was balanced perfectly with the mild acidity in the wine.

sevpuri_wine_collage.jpg

The verdict

The Dahi Puri was crunchy and gooey. The Beaujolais was smooth and easy to drink with innate red fruit flavors.

What can I say? Is it not moments like these that make life's simple blessings so worth it?

BONUS!

If you look at the wine map of France, Burgundy lies in its eastern central part of France. And Beaujolais is situated south of Burgundy . The most interesting part of Beaujolais that never ceases to amaze me is its soil. The Beaujolais region's soil is mostly limestone and clay, while the Burgundy regions like Cote d'Or just 80 miles north of Beaujolais has crystalline rocks and granite soils. Such variations in the soil profiles within such short distances are unbelievable! The limestone/clay soils of Beaujolais is said to make a world of difference to Gamay grapes. 

There are several wine appellations for Beaujolais wines. But Cru Beaujolais villages are among the highest and there are 10 villages in Beaujolais that fall under this category. So when you see Beaujolais Villages on the label, for the most part, the wine should be pretty good.

Beaujolais is almost 100% planted with Gamay grapes. I personally love the Gamay grapes for one simple reason - they are so multifaceted. Well what would you call a wine that is just right for both dry, hot summers, and are great (if chosen right, with moderate body) to cozy up with on cold, bitter winters? Now, that's what I call a 'cure-for-all seasons' wine!

 

+Kavitha