Idly, dosa and some wine?

Spice Out Dosa in Australia

Shekar from Saravana Bhavan and Mark Arnold from Winetrust Estates are trying to create a wine list for south Indian veg cuisine

It seems that wine has come full circle. While traditionally wine is used with European or English food and to a limited extent with North Indian food (especially non-vegetarian food), wine with South Indian vegetarian food is something that has never been tried before. A plate of idli or a masala dosa with a glass of wine is unheard of!! But it is not impossible to match these humble ‘tiffin’ items with the right wine, giving them a more grandeur status – wine has that effect on all things animate and inanimate!

So with this very novel idea, Shekar from Saravana Bhavan approached Mark Arnold from Winetrust Estates and two of them decided to embark on this new journey together. Saravana Bhavan is well known among all Sydney siders as a restaurant that serves up authentic and tasty South Indian food from the idlis, to dosas galore, uttampams, bondas, vadas, varieties of rice preparations and lip snacking sweet dishes. Situated on Philip Street in Parramatta, Saravana Bhavan is always bustling with diners from different parts of Sydney.

Shekar and Mark together are hoping to take South Indian dining to completely new level. The introduction of wine to the menu is going to not only add that touch of sophistication but open up the menu by widening its reach. While traditional South Indians may be happy with their filter coffee, a glass of wine would be a pleasant available option for the diners who are not just from other parts of India but to non-Indians too. A lazy Sunday afternoon brunch of idli and masala dosa with a nice glass of wine is a heavenly prospect indeed.

Mark Arnold began his study of the great wines of the world at a very early age and now has a career spanning over 35 years. By the age of 14, he had already visited the most important wine growing regions of Europe including those in France, Italy and Germany with his parents who established the Metropolitan Wine & Food Society of Sydney in the 1970s. After working with different establishments for a while, Mark soon moved over to his real passion, the management of winery operations and was dedicated to the growth and wine style development of Richmond Grove, Black Opal, Salisbury Estate and Milburn Park.

He redefined the Virgin Hills winery in Central Victoria with assistance from other renowned winemakers. Mark has worked with over 30 export markets representing Australian wine and the wine industry. He developed his own vineyards and established one of Australia’s finest wines from the Limestone Coast region of Australia, Picarus in 1997. His Ocean Grove and Firebox Ridge Wines are highly acclaimed and recognised for their quality. His company, Winetrust Estates has seen continued growth over the past 19 years since its establishment in 1997. Winetrust Estates is renowned for creating magnificent products for which the company has won many prestigious national and international awards. The company enjoys a presence in several export markets with concentration on the Asian region.

This strange marriage of wine with a vegetarian South Indian cuisine would be the first of its kind in Sydney. And since this marriage is a ‘strange’ one, Mark sat down with Shekar and me to gives an insight into the ‘matchmaking’ process. The staff at Sharavana Bhavan will be well trained by Mark and they will be able to advice the guests on the right wine choices. So let’s start with the most common south Indian dishes…….

  • Idli – A rice and lentil dish that is light and fluffy and steam cooked. The accompaniments with this are different kinds of chutneys. Mark advicesthat the best wine to go with this dish is Picarus Reserve ‘S’ Chardonnay Pinot Gris Brut, which is a Sparkling wine. The wine is of very high quality, has a bubbly texture with a marvellous acidity. The acidity of the wine metabolises the nuttiness, thus cutting through the food and balancing the flavours.
  • Dosa – This dish again has rice and lentils in it, where the thin batter is spread to make thin crispy pancakes. These are stuffed with a potato mixture to make it a masala dosa. Mark recommends a full flavoured white wine like Picarus Riesling or Argon Bay Reserve Cabernet Merlot or Catlin Cove Pinot Noir. According to Mark these wines tantalise the palate, are fruity and well balanced. They have a wonderful structure and are soft in texture, thus complementing the dosa very well.
  • Vada – A glass of the full bodied red wine Picarus Shiraz or Picarus Cabernet Sauvignon will be a perfect accompaniment with this deep fried doughnut shaped lentil dish that is eaten with chutney and/or sambar. Mark says that a glass of the white wine Hearty and SoulMoscato will also go well with it.

This coming together of Shekar and Mark opens a new chapter in wine and Indian food. “My vision is to position the ‘Saravana Bhavan’ brand to the local clientele as I would like to see a multicultural dining fraternity in my restaurants,” says Shekar.

This pioneering effort hopes to blend the traditional with the exotic to create this perfect marriage of sorts between two very unorthodox epicurean constituents. “My bigger vision for Saravana Bhavan is that I would like diners to view it as more than just a South Indian restaurant,” adds Shekar. And he has some very exciting projects up his sleeve. As for Mark, like a true wine connoisseur, he says, “There is a wine for every dish.”

So all the savvy wine drinkers out there who are ready to tickle their palate and embark on an exciting culinary journey with good food and good wine, you know which your next destination is going to be …………


The grape story in Australia

Wines are often labelled with the name of their grape variety, which is said to constitute at least 85 percent of the wine. Matching the right wine with the right food is of utmost importance. Wine connoisseurs often go on about how technical the use of wine can be – from how much should be poured in the glass, to how to savour the aroma before the glass hits the lip for that first sip!!

Australia is a proud owner of many luxurious vineyards producing some of the best wines in the world –be it a Sauvignon Blanc, a Riesling, a Merlot, a Pinot Noir, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Chardonnay or a Shiraz, our wines line the cellars of many famous restaurants and homes around the globe. Evidence shows that the Australian wine industry is the world’s fourth largest exporter of wine and a significant contributor to the Australian economy. Though approximately 750 million litres of wine are sold a year in the international export market, the domestic consumption is just about 40% of production.


P.S. This article is the first of a series of articles that will be published featuring wine with different kinds of South Indian food. If you have any queries about wine and wine selection, please send an email to the editor of the Indian Sun. Mark Arnold is happy to answer your questions and queries.

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