When Anthony Bourdain visited the cities of Mumbai and Kolkata for his former Travel Channel show, "No Reservations", he commented that they were the two cities that most reminded him of his hometown, New York City. "With their dense interweaving of classes and cultures," Bourdain could easily have been describing today's Manhattan, which is being used today by some mayoral candidates as the perfect example of economic disparity and rich vs. poor. But putting aside politics, his description is spot on when it comes to dining on Indian cuisine right here in NYC. Almost every New Yorker, seasoned or green, has a favorite spot in the city when the craving for curry or masala takes hold. Some of us are quite content with takeout from one of the many storefront establishments on Ninth Avenue or Lexington Avenue. Even East 6th Street, once a block that resembled a full time Hindu festival, with its colorful lights and Indian waiters hanging out in doorways beckoning diners inside places with names like "Passage to India", still has a few hold outs, despite the neighborhood's rapid gentrification. New York City also boasts some of the finest high end Indian dining experiences in the world, however, and Tulsi, a Michelin starred restaurant in midtown, helmed by Chef Hemant Mathur, is one of the stars.
The atmosphere of Tulsi is more Taj Mahal chic than the little take-out joints of Hell's Kitchen, and a meal within its cool environs definitely calls for something more than a Kingfisher beer to accompany dishes the Michelin Guide describes as "original, dashing and studied." According to Sam Bhatia, founder of Sufi Wines, and an aficionado of Indian cuisine, he and his family and friends were "never satisfied with the wines we would choose to accompany our dishes; the former never managed to fully complement the rich flavors of the latter." That dilemma has been solved at Tulsi and a few other high end Indian restaurants here in the city that now carry Bhatia's collection of French wines created specifically for Indian cuisine, Mirza Ghlaib. "I spent over 20 years traveling globally, while at Continental Airlines, planning events and launching new destinations. During these travels the question of pairing wine with Indian cuisine always came up," the former airline executive says when discussing his inspiration for founding the label. "As I am passionate about wine and Indian cuisine, the idea of Mirza Ghalib was born. Wine is all about sharing with family and friends."
Mirza Ghalib, named after India's renowned 19th century poet, complements the spicy and complex flavors of Indian cuisine in one of two ways: first, wine's acidity boosts the layers of flavors in a dish while softening its extremes, whether of body, richness, fattiness or spicy heat. Second, wine's fruitiness or sweetness tones down spicy heat, letting the dish's other flavors shine. "Our wine's range is the result of a team of passionate wine lovers led by Frédéric-Jean Hoguet, wine expert and member of the prestigious Académie du vin de Paris." says Bhatia, when asked about the wine's origins. "The wines are made in France, which is of course known for some of the best wines in the world." "The specific region is called Pays d'Oc in the Southern part of the country. We chose this region for the soil, climate and terrain." The Pays d'Oc boasts a rich and natural combination of steep slopes, hilly peaks, vineyards, garrigue vegetation and the sea. The Pays d'Oc territory is embraced by its Mediterranean climate that comfortably enfolds the vines with its dry and windswept soils. As grapes embrace the land from which they are grown, the grape varieties express themselves differently depending on the climate, exposure, relief, and soils. Pays d'Oc's patchwork of wine-growing areas creates an expression of these grape varieties that is unique.
Spicy food eaters are traditionally steered toward Rieslings, and when questioned about what the goal should be when pairing wine to spicy food, Bhatia responds "the goal is using wine to balance the spicy flavors of the food, rather than try to overpower them. Finding the perfect balance between food and wine results in an exemplary culinary experience." Bhatia goes on to list the wines he would pair with various dishes such as Daal Makhani, Chicken Tikka Masala, Kebabs or Southern Indian vegetarian when ordering in an Indian restaurant: "Mirza Ghalib Red Blend. This signature blend brings out the spicy flavors in North/South Indian vegetarian and non-vegetarian cuisine, such as lentils (Daal Makhani), curries (Chicken Tikka Masala), assorted Kebabs and biryanis. The Mirza Ghalib white is a viognier grape that complements primarily fish dishes and lighter veg fare such as Tikkas, Pakoras and Samosas. The Mirza Ghalib Rosé is great with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. To accompany Tandoori dishes (Indian Clay Oven), Tikkas and kebabs. These wines are specially designed to find the perfect balance of tastes with these Indian dishes.
At a recent wine pairing dinner at Tulsi, diners were treated to all three of the label's wines, each paired with the proper dish. Chef Mathur prepared a tasting menu that perfectly combined vegetarian dishes such as Lobiya Masala and Haryali Paneer Ke Sule with non-vegetarian fare like Lamb Piralan and a trio of chicken dishes served with pistachio, homestyle and achari. There were starters such as Crab Cakes with mustard seeds, whole red chiles and ginger and curry leaves and Yam and Green Pea Croquettes. Desert was Indian bread pudding, Shahi Tukra and Apple Ginger Cake. The Mirza Ghalib wines were indeed the perfect complement to Chef Mathur's creations.