Food Pairing: Dinner at Indian Buffet/BYO (and also) An Appeal for Using the Appropriate Stemware
A friend and I dined recently at a local Indian restaurant, excellent for their dinner buffet and also their BYO policy. An endless buffet of delicious food plus no corkage fee? Sounds like a no-brainer.
We had eaten at this buffet before it's a great place to take a small group for a fun and cheap wine dinner, where everybody can get at least a taste of everybody else's wine. The only problem is that every time I go, I eat way too much.
So what to take? I like beer with Indian food, but that wouldn't work this time because it would just be the two of us, and we're both wine nerds anyway. I avoid expensive wines with Indian complexity and austerity can conflict with the food's spiciness (plus, we were just grabbing a bite, right?). Common wine pairings with Indian include white wine with a little sugar to compliment the food's spiciness, and white wine with good acidity to cut through the ghee and other cooking oils. My friend brought an inexpensive Vouvray he had been holding for a while. It was a great choice the sugar in this chenin blanc was present but not overwhelming, and it complimented the food well.
But I was craving red wine. I combed my wine fridge for that perfect bottle soft and fruity and classy but not too refined; carelessly inexpensive without being cheap. I came across a forgotten bottle of 2006 Ponzi Willamette Pinot Noir. I had purchased a few bottles of this on the cheap when they were on sale months earlier, and had opened one bottle since. I remembered it showing plenty of strawberry and cherry fruit and little more, which seemed perfect for the occasion. Nothing special, no big deal.
When I told my friend I was taking the pinot, and he made a point to bring along two Riedel Vinum Burgundy glasses, specifically designed for pinot noir. This seemed like excess, especially as I kept downplaying the wine, until the wine was in the glass. It sang. The fruit I remembered from before was there, but pulled back in the mix, with anise and brush complexities and more, stuff I hadn't realized was there when I tasted the wine at home.
I'm pretty sure the difference was in the glass. At home, I drink most reds out of the Riedel Vinum Bordeaux, a good glass, one that is designed to highlight a wine's fruit and push its austerities back. While good for a cabernet, it can hide the complexities in a more delicate wine, like this pinot noir.
I know this little story isn't conclusive proof; it's just an anecdote about how the same wine from two different bottles tasted differently months apart in different settings and possibly at different temperatures. I'd love to put it to a scientific test, tasting from the two glasses side-by-side. I am now planning to buy a pair of the Vinum Burgundy glasses for my own use at home, so it might be in my future.
All in all, the dinner was great, as usual. The wines went well with the food. The Vouvray was wonderful, and the pinot was a nice surprise, even if it wasn't a perfect match. Like I've said before, I don't think any food has one and only one single, magic bullet, perfectly paired wine. And, like every time I go to an Indian buffet, I ate way too much.