Pair­ing wine with In­dian food

There’s a place where peo­ple cu­ri­ous about wine go when they’re look­ing to re­lax and en­joy in­ter­est­ing bot­tles. And that place is the long-stand­ing East In­dia Com­pany. While many turn to beer when eat­ing In­dian food, Bernard Joseph-Le­moyne wants you to keep an open mind and con­sider his wine list. The som­me­lier talks to Dayanti Karunaratne about start­ing out in the busi­ness, de­vel­op­ing his palate, and what to buy if you’re cook­ing up a curry. How did you get into the busi­ness? I moved to Canada from Zam­bia in 2003, and it took me about a year to find this job. I ap­plied ev­ery­where, didn’t get any­thing. In Au­gust 2004, I walked into East In­dia, and my boss, Anish, gave me a job! Af­ter three months in the kitchen I was moved onto the din­ing room floor. All through univer­sity I worked here. One day, Anish pulled me aside and said, “You re­ally seem to en­joy this, and you haven’t spo­ken about any other plans. Why don’t you con­sider go­ing to Al­go­nquin and do­ing the som­me­lier pro­gram?” That is what he and chef Nitin had done. I didn’t think I was go­ing to en­joy study­ing wine that much. (I def­i­nitely ap­pre­ci­ate the fact that other bev­er­ages are taught — I’m a huge beer and whisky guy as well!)

I’m not a huge fan of for­mal univer­sity, but when I got to Al­go­nquin, there was such a prac­ti­cal as­pect to it with the wine tast­ing, the food-and-wine match­ing.

Af­ter Al­go­nquin, I start­ing pur­su­ing the Court of Master Som­me­liers. It’s very much self-study, so the som­me­liers within the com­mu­nity that have gone through it help each other out through things like tast­ing groups. The som­me­liers seem like a very tight-knit com­mu­nity. Is that unique to Ot­tawa? I think it is. In com­par­i­son to larger cities like Toronto or Mon­treal, where there is more of a com­pet­i­tive edge, in Ot­tawa it’s more fra­ter­nal — we lean on each other. What do you look for when choos­ing wine? It’s fun, be­cause no one knows what to ex­pect! I’m very for­tu­nate that the kitchen’s ap­proach is one that’s very un­der­stand­ing of palate. They’re not look­ing to burn your mouth. I look at spice as a tex­tur­iz­ing el­e­ment, and it has to be bal­anced. So I look for that in my wines: bal­ance. Loosely, I’d say not overly tan­nic reds and not overly oaked whites. But mostly just fresh, de­li­cious wine. What would you like peo­ple to know when it comes to pair­ing wine with In­dian food? Keep an open mind. A lot of work goes into both the food and the wine. What’s one of your favourite pair­ings from the East In­dia lineup? We have a puréed eg­g­plant dish that is amaz­ing. With that dish, if I was go­ing to go red, a Pinot Noir by Tan­talus in Bri­tish Columbia. It has this flo­ral­ity to it while keep­ing a very strong fruit pro­file. The dish it­self is tex­tu­rally quite smooth but has tons of flavour. If I was go­ing to go white with the same dish, I have a wine by Hervé Souhaut of France called Ro­maneaux-Destezet. It would match the dish, tex­tu­rally, per­fectly. For those who like the spici­ness of In­dian food, what wines would you sug­gest? For spicier dishes, wine is still def­i­nitely an op­tion. Sparkling wine would be a great choice — some­thing with more ex­tended lees ag­ing, as that adds a bit more struc­ture to the wine. A favourite of mine is Benoit Gau­thier’s Brut Vou­vray, 100 per cent Chenin Blanc from the Loire Val­ley in France; it has a very faint touch of sweet­ness that helps com­bat the heat, while the bub­bles act as a palate cleanser. Other op­tions in­clude rich whites like

Al­sa­tian Gewürz­traminer or Viog­nier from Cal­i­for­nia. For red, Aus­tralian Grenache or Valpo­li­cella Ri­passo. What wine goes with gu­lab ja­mun? I’ve had a lot of fun ex­per­i­ment­ing with this, and the go-to seems to be port. In­dian desserts can be very sweet, so a like pair­ing makes sense. How­ever, I en­joy sweet sherry such as Ce­sar Florido’s Mosca­tel Dorido — it’s sweet but with great acid­ity, keep­ing the wine in bal­ance. A non-for­ti­fied and not-as­s­weet op­tion would be the Cave Spring In­dian Sum­mer Late Har­vest Ries­ling; it’s not as sweet as icewine but still fan­tas­tic and ver­sa­tile with dessert. For gu­lab ja­mun specif­i­cally, Moscato d’Asti is great. Is there a wine­mak­ing in­dus­try in In­dia? There is, and we used to see some of these wines in the LCBO. The most rec­og­nized pro­ducer is Sula in north­west In­dia, pro­duc­ing wines from in­ter­na­tional grape va­ri­eties like Sau­vi­gnon Blanc. Sadly, they are no longer avail­able in On­tario.

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