Bottled poetry or superfluous luxury?

Indian wines

By Kornelia Santoro

“Wine is bottled poetry.” Robert Louis Stevenson, author of such famous works like Treasure Island and the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, exaggerates maybe a bit, when it comes to his appreciation of wine. One wonders how much wine contributed to his works – some people adore the stimulus of wine for creative expression. I prefer to share wine with friends during a dinner party. For me, wine is a part of life, a very enjoyable part that blesses you with a wonderful taste and euphoric feelings. It might be a luxury but a necessary one, by no means superfluous. Luckily,  nowadays you have a wide array of wines to choose from in Goa.

Celebrating with Marquise de Pompadour

This was not always the case in Goa. When I arrived in the Sunshine state for the first time, during the late eighties, real wine of Indian provenance was pretty much unknown. You could get the famous Marquise de Pompadour, a sparkling wine made with the méthode Champenoise – but it was a far cry from the real thing. It had a cork from natural material though. But this cork sometimes did not expand and the Marquise lacked lustre. Sometimes it was completely flat and a real waste of money – a lot of money, because wine was never cheap in India.

Grover and Sula sparked the Indian wine revolution

Nowadays, the situation has changed completely. The passion of the Grover family for wine changed everything. Grover vineyards was the first company to set up a real vineyard in the year 1992 in the Nandi hills around Bangalore. Their Shiraz red wine and their white wine was for years the only wine that we drank in Goa. Then followed Sula in the Nashik valley and now, only in the Nasik valley there are 35 different companies producing wine.

Trust your own taste buds, always!

The result is sometimes very enjoyable, sometimes questionable but always quite costly. Indian vineyards can afford to be pricey because the import duty on foreign wines of 150+ percent makes them very expensive. I guess, that Indian wines and sparkling wines cost around the double what you would have to pay for wine of similar quality in Europe. However: I am not a sommelier. I just like to drink wine. My taste buds might not be trained to appreciate wine and notes of cherry, vanilla and hints of chocolate – expressions used by real connoisseurs. I just know what tastes good in my mouth and what not and you should trust your own taste buds too.

Excellent Sauvignon Blanc from Vallonné

My favourite wines at the moment come from companies that have a strong relation to Goa. One vineyard that I can recommend is Vallonné in Nashik. One of the owners of Vallonné, Karl Coelho, hails from Goa and has a passion for good food and wine. His Sauvignon Blanc is my favourite white wine in India – although sometimes it can be hard to find. His Merlot is fabulous too – a rich, heavy red wine that stands up to any kind of food.

The difficulty of pairing masalas with wine

By the way food: It is very difficult to pair Indian and Goan food with wine. In Europe, the culinary uninitiated can always follow the simple rule: White wine goes with white meat and fish, red wine fits to red meat. Rich Masalas though tend to overpower a delicate white wine. Which wine can accompany a pork vindaloo? In my opinion, only a heavy red wine: A full-bodied red wine can compete better with the spice mixes of Indian cuisine. In this regard, Indians share a dilemma with Chinese people.

Chinese develop their own wines in Yantai

In May I had the pleasure to visit Yantai in China. My latest book Cooking for Happiness received the title ‘Best of the World’ at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. The Chinese government has taken a lot of effort to bring this award from Edouard Cointreau to Yantai. It is supposed to lend glamour to this area bordering the Yellow Sea. The government wants to turn the region into the Chinese Nashik valley. This project startet about the same time as the Indian wine revolution. Today, they focus on developing wines for the Chinese market to avoid importing foreign wines. With this task they face the problem that Chinese – like Indians – enjoy many different dishes during a meal. That makes pairing wine with food a tricky exercise.

The limitless freedom when anything goes

European meals focus on one dish that can be perfectly matched to a kind of wine. Indian gourmets cannot do that. I do not pretend to have a solution for this problem. I can only suggest that European rules of wine pairing do not apply. Anyway, useless rules need to be broken – I believe, Indians are very able rule breakers, if I may say so. This gives you the freedom that anything goes. When I host a dinner party, I am prepared to serve my guests the wine they favour, white or red, with whatever dish they might like to enjoy it.

High beverage bill for dinner parties

That makes it difficult to gauge the quantities of wine you might need for a dinner party and raises our beverage bills for entertaining quite a bit. We usually buy a rather large amount of white and red wine to be prepared: If all our guests prefer red or all prefer white – in any case we will have enough bottles. Luckily, you can store wine for several months so any excessive shopping does not go to waste.

Goan and Maharashtrian wine makers

When it comes to red wine, our favourite brand has been Big Banyan Tree for years. An Italian wine maker is blending different wines from the Nashik valley for Big Banyan Tree to create the different kinds of wines known for their smooth taste. Another company that has improved remarkably in recent years is Fratelli. This Italian word means brothers: In 2006, three pairs of brothers founded this company that is growing wine in the Solapur district south of Pune. Although their first wines did not really impress me, they have become a lot better in recent years. In 2013 Fratelli was the second most distributed wine in India, a stunning success. When it comes to sparkling wines, there is one company that beats every other in India – in my opinion. Chandon India, a daughter of the French Moët & Chandon, has brought Indian sparkling wine to another level. Their rosé sparkling wine is a fruity bubbly to celebrate any occasion and it goes wonderfully with a rich chocolate cake – or the red wine cake, the following recipe of my mother.


Red Wine Cake

Ingredients (for a round cake mould with 26 cm diameter):

300 ml red wine

200 grams dark chocolate

300 grams butter

2 cups sugar

2 cups whole wheat flour

6 eggs

2 tablespoons baking powder

1 tablespoon Vanilla extract

2 tablespoons cacao

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

300 grams white chocolate for covering the cake



Grate the chocolate. This is easiest done with a hand grater and chocolate at room temperature. I would not recommend using a kitchen machine for this job because you would lose quite a bit of chocolate in the equipment. If you use a machine, take some more chocolate to make up for the loss. I am all for gadgets, but 200 grams of chocolate is not that much and easy to grate.

Prepare the cake mould by buttering it generously. I use a silicone cake mould that could do without this step, but I find it easier to release the cake from it when I have spread a bit of butter over it.

When I make cakes, I don’t cream the butter with sugar and then add the eggs one by one, the traditional method. I find it easier and faster to melt the butter. Two minutes in the microwave do the trick. I start by placing the eggs, the sugar and the Vanilla extract into a mixing bowl and whipping them with a hand mixer to a light yellow cream. Then I add the grated chocolate, the melted butter and the wine and stir everything well.

Finally I sieve the flour, the cacao, the cinnamon and the baking powder into the bowl, stir everything quickly and fill it into my prepared mould. The batter is quite runny but that is fine. It delivers a deliciously moist cake.

Bake it in the oven at 190 degrees for about 50 minutes. Check it with a toothpick towards the end of the baking time. The toothpick should come out clean when you insert it in the middle of the cake.

Let the cake cool down. While it is cooling down, prepare the icing. Cut the white chocolate at room temperature into cubes. Place the chocolate into a mixing bowl and melt it. I microwave the chocolate at medium for one minute, and then add another minute. Sometimes it needs an extra minute or even more. Spread the melted chocolate over the cake with the help of a spatula and let it set. The chocolate cover keeps the cake moist for at least a week in the fridge, should the cake last that long. In my home, it doesn’t.

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