Recipe: Palak Paneer (Lacto-Vegetarian)
Bottle: 2016 Domaine aux Moines Savennières "Roches aux Moines" (Certified Biodynamic & Organic) (NB: unknown whether animal-based fining agents are used)
As some of you have probably started to notice, I am a big fan of all Asian cuisine, especially Indian cuisine. The spicy, tangy, sometimes pungent flavors of many Indian dishes are so enticingly moreish that I find myself craving them at least once a week. So, when I came across this recipe for Palak Paneer on Pinterest, I immediately began to salivate. Paneer, a fresh Indian cheese made in a process similar to cottage cheese, attains a delightfully squeeky texture when fried, similar to the cheese curds on a good poutine. When combined with the incredibly earthy spinach-based palak sauce, there is a magical richness to the dish that hits all the right spots.
For many, Indian cuisine is somewhat hard to pair with wine, since wine is not traditionally produced in the country and most dishes were not originally designed with foreign wines in mind. You will often hear the go to recommendation of Riesling, due in part to the heat and spice of many dishes, which is a solid and reliable recommendation. With these earthier plates, however, a whole new world of possibilities are available.
My Recommendation - Savennières (Chenin Blanc)
When I began to think about the taste of Palak Paneer, my mind immediately began looking for a congruent pairing - something that would complement without detracting from the flavors of the dish itself. Additionally, I knew that I did not want a wine that was overly sweet, overly oaked, or overly tannic, as these characteristics could easily overwhelm the flavors of the dish and potentially bring out underlying bitter elements. I wrestled back and forth with the various options, but I ultimately landed on Chenin Blanc because of its balance of acid and body with earth-focused aromas and palate-pleasing minerality.
The Chenin Blanc grown in the Savennières region of the Loire Valley, near Anjou, is markedly more complex than its siblings in Vouvray. By way of comparison, a typical Vouvray Chenin Blanc is notably more dry and lacking in body than Chenins from Savennières. This additional complex stems from the cool climate of the Savennières region, as well as the schist soil on which the vines grow. Schist can be loosely described as highly compressed slate, which in turn is more or less compressed shale. These compacted soils are well-draining and mineral rich, and are found in many of the finest white wine growing regions thanks in part to these properties.
So, why Loire over South Africa?
I chose the Loire, and Savennières in particular, for the increased complexity and minerality over South African Chenin, as well as for the lower degree of tropical fruit aromas and the lower alcohol. Increased alcohol would have put too much emphasis on the serrano peppers in the recipe and lead to an unpleasant pairing.
Why this bottle in particular?
Domaine aux Moines is one of several exemplary wineries of the Savennières region, and was recently documented in Pascaline Lepeltier's 2017 book Domaine Aux Moines: A Year at the Domaine. A mother-daughter team now own and operate the vineyard, which is biodynamic and organic certified. Their 9.6 hectares of Chenin Blanc are hand-picked and exceedly complex in flavor. The final product that is the Roches aux Moines Savennières is flinty, mineral, and beautifully acidic with aromas of apple, pear, rubber, petrol, and aniseed. These deep earthy aromas enhance and draw out the herbal and vegetal qualities of the spinach-heavy sauce in the dish. Meanwhile, the acidity helps regulate the oiliness of the ghee and paneer. This pairing was a delight that I will be revisiting again in the very near future.
Other Great Choices
Whites: Dry Riesling, Fiano di Avellino, Pinot Grigio
Rosé: Loire Rosé, Italian Rosato