When Leonardo Ricci was in Indonesia to promote the cause of Lungarotti, he paired the Brezza, a young and luscious combination of Chardonnay, Grechetto and Pinot Grigio from the Umbrian wine producer, with python soup. The match delighted him.
In New Delhi , he didn't have to be adventurous. Brezza and reshmi kebabs at Masala Art, the Indian fine-dining restaurant at Taj Palace , sound like an eminently more agreeable marriage. The long-aging, ample and velvety San Giorgio, which wonderfully balances the qualities of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Cabernet Sauvignon, hit it off with the silken galauti kebab s from Lucknow and the Kashmiri mutton dish, roghan josh .
The full-bodied Rubesco, where the Canaiolo adds character to the generous body of the Sangiovese, went with everything. And kulfi , North India 's favourite ice-cream, made a fine pair with Aurente, an intense wine with power and elegance combining chardonnay and grechetto.
“Wherever we go, we have Lungarotti wines with the local food,” declares Ricci, who is as passionate about cooking as he's about riding his BMW and Honda motorbikes across the Umbrian countryside. “It is my personal challenge to find a Lungarotti wine for every kind of cuisine or dish.” Fortunately for Ricci, who was on his fourth visit to India , after discovering that Bangkok had 300 Italian restaurants ( Delhi maybe has just 20!), he has found “great pairings with Indian food”.
Naresh Uttamchandani of Delhi 's Sovereign Impex clearly has a winner in his portfolio and Lungarotti is already on the wine lists of ITC's luxury hotels and Diva, Delhi 's top Italian restaurant. Taj hotels and Rahul Akerkar's popular Mumbai restaurant, Indigo, were also discussing with Uttamchandani the possibility of listing Lungarotti. Synonymous with Torgiano, the area which has made Umbria renowned for its wine, the company founded by Giorgio Lungarotti in the early 1960 is now managed by daughters Chiara and Teresa, who've expanded their production base into Montefalco. Lungarotti, as a result, now has two DOCG wines in its repertoire – Torgiano Rosso Riserva and Montefalco Sargantino.
Today, Lungarotti is as famous for its Rubesca Riserva Vigna Monticchio 2001 (awarded the prestigious three glasses in Gambero Rosso's Italian Wine Guide 2006) as for its wine histotry museum, which has acquired a formidable reputation since it opened in a 17th-century palazzo in 1974, under the stewardship of Maria Grazia Marchetti, Giorgio's wife and director of the Lungarotti Foundation.
“Wine has to be elegant, perfectly balanced and ready to drink,” Ricci says, explaining Lungarotti's philosophy. “A good wine is respectful of the varietal. And in the Umbrian tradition, our wines combine fruit and body. They marry the freshness of the North with the sun of the South.”
When I complimented Ricci on his brilliant presentation on pairing Lungarotti wines with Chinese cuisine at Wine for Asia 2005, Singapore (see accompanying story), he glowed. “I don't have to be a good speaker,” he said, “because my wines speak for me. There's a Lungarotti for every occasion.”
Ricci is bullish about the Indian market and he finds its fast growth extremely gratifying. “The Indian palate is used to complexity,” he says, “and there's a growing understanding of wine.” Not only that, “Italian wines, powered by reasonable prices and a euro that has stabilised at realistic levels, are riding a wave,” Ricci continues. “They've experienced a phenomenal offtake in the last 15 months.”
Ricci is confident that the Indian market wouldn't be immune to this global trend.
MARRYING ITALIAN FOOD & WINE
Italian cuisine is very different in America . You won't find Spaghetti Bolognese in Italy . The ragu, too, has evolved in an altogether different way. In Italy , we do not drown our pasta in sauces. We add sauces sparingly to pasta. The addition of parmesan helps the sauce stick to the pasta better. The cream of risotto is formed by the starch, not by butter.
If you understand how a nation eats, you'll get to know it better. In the North, the tomatoes are not so sweet, so the people cook them. But in the South, because the tomatoes are sweet, people have pasta with raw tomatoes, mozzarella and extra virgin olive oil.
The most important factor in food and wine pairing is the sauce. The balsamic vinegar in insalata caprese makes it unsuitable for a wine with personality. A tomato-based sauce goes best with red wine; a vegetable sauce with a white.
Neither the food, nor the wine should be allowed to overpower the other. The wine and the sauce must match with each other.