The Wine Society of India has a way with words that makes even summer seem enticing. If you sign up for its annual membership to receive a selection of wines every quarter, and curated offers in between, you’ll know what I mean. Barely had a case of “lovely refreshing whites” been delivered when an e-mail offering “summer favourites” popped into the inbox. With a range that included a “tangy” Sauvignon Blanc from Chile, a “juicy old-vine” Minervois from France, a Semillon with “aromas of plum and raspberry” to another Chilean “fantastically fresh and whistle clean” Sauvignon, or a “zippy” Australian white with “fruit and honeyed lemon notes”, it made summer seem almost Mediterranean with the promise of al fresco wining and dining.
The truth, of course, is that the Indian summer is harsh enough to scald. Even so, the thought of the light, fruity and cool contents of a bottle of summer wine — remember the song? — does hold appeal. Who wants nimbupani when you can have something with alcoholic spirits but with the scent of “herbal mint and rosemary”?
Many of us drink heavier alcoholic spirits even in the heat, but is it time to change? I can’t imagine anything more tempting than a cool, refreshing glass of a reserve, whether from Nashik or Naples, paired with a light meal of lightly grilled prawns on a bed of bell pepper juliennes. Or an entire meal of bruschettas — crisp toast topped with tomatoes, crushed garlic and mint in extra virgin olive oil.
The kitchen is an unwelcome space in the summer so it’s often easier to command the cook to serve up a full-course meal when all the palate needs is something simple and easily digestible. Dal and mutton roganjosh may be Indian staples, but surely there’s reason to match the wines with spicier options than the heavy masala included in most Indian meals.
Salads may seem too healthy, but they can be flavourful and zesty if you have the confidence to build them up with whatever ingredients you can find in the fridge. For me, the only must for a summer salad is feta cheese. Give me feta and I’ll return you a gourmet salad no matter what you may or may not find in the kitchen. Toss together chunks of cucumber, onion, bell pepper, tomato, shredded leaves of lettuce, cabbage, mix with watermelon, orange, pear, apple, add chopped up bits of spring onion, walnut, cashew, roasted peanut and add a dressing of olive oil, mustard, salt, pepper, lemon juice or white vinegar. Mix feta cheese (or parmesan shavings). Bliss. Open that bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, switch on the AC, get your favourite book…get the picture?
Junk the sauces, even if it is pasta, treating it, too, like a salad. Cous-cous, wild rice, quinoa — add steamed vegetables, diced bell peppers, soya sauce and have yourself a meal with a lusty red from the cellars of Spain. But bear in mind that your Merlots and Bordeauxs need cooling, if not quite chilling like the whites, and will benefit from being decanted and allowed to breathe. If you’re having company, pour the contents of your red in a flask a half-hour ahead and place it in a fridge. If you’re serving white wine, keep the bottle in a bed of ice in a wine cooler like you would champagne — chilling in the fridge simply isn’t enough. Besides, there’s something celebratory about taking a bottle of wine out of a cooler — little pleasures that take the sting out of even an Indian summer.
The author is a Delhi-based writer and curator