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Curry magic by way of Chile

By Marisa Nadolny

Publication: theday.com

Published October 18. 2011 3:32PM   Updated October 18. 2011 5:13PM

There's great food, and then there's great food that's rendered newly great by culinary alchemy.

Here's what happened: I joined in another online wine tasting last week — this one featuring eight red wines from Chile. (What's more, I did actual tasting-sized tastings and not full glasses, because I'm a professional, people. I can't say the same for my entire tasting party.) The intriguing twist to this tasting was the organizers' suggestion to pair the wines with curry dishes. The other draw was the featured grape, Carmenere, which is allegedly "the signature grape of Chile." I'd never had Carmenere and I love curry/Indian food, so this gal was in from the word go.

Come tasting night, my party of four dined on a smorgasbord of great eats from the great Thali in New Haven. The tasting leaders —winemakers and foodies collected by Wines of Chile—broadcasting from the very cool Ger-Nis Culinary and Herb Center in Brooklyn, dug on curry dishes prepped by chef Palak Patel, a Ger-Nis instructor among other Accomplished Foodie Things.

What I've learned is I'm not a huge fan of Carmenere. Caveat: I'm a fussy red wine drinker; they tend to be too woolly for my weak palate. If I have a red wine, I lean toward simple French and Italian table wines. (I know, I'm boring and I'm stuck in my summertime series of white wine tasting.) The overall tasting note I can offer on Carmenere is that these are big, thick, smoky, spicy reds—some lighter than others, with Concha y Toro's Marques de Casa Concha Carmenere (SRP $20) the most quaffable to me. It's 100 percent Carmenere, and its gorgeous ruby color makes it all the more inviting.

But you know how some reds can taste/smell like Band-aids? (And before you deem me crazy, I've had several oenophiles confirm that indeed I'm not the first to put that term to it. That aroma comes from the yeast Brettanomyces bruxellensis.) Pretty much every wine I tasted that night carried that medicine-y note. One carried the extra wallop of a hint of sharp cheddar cheese (Montes Alpha Carmenere 2008; $24).

BUT, when you eat a few bites of Chicken Tikka Masala and THEN drink your wine, a special magic happens on the palate, which renders Band-aid Wine into complex, mysterious, drinkable reds. We tried the process over and over — try the wine sans curry, try it post-curry — and I remain amazed at what curry spices can do for reds I wouldn't normally drink due to their slap-you-in-the-face red-ness.

Of course, wine-tasting is super subjective, and my fellow tasters had some similar (we all dumped Santa Rita's Medalla Real Gran Reserva Carmenere 2008 ($19.99; also 100 percent Carmenere) and some varying reactions to the wines (my husband liked the Cheddar Wine, which is 90 percent Carmenere and 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon). Some of my fellow bloggers — most definitely more school in wine than I — chastised me for dumping the Santa Rita, claiming it their fave. So, of course, take all this with a grain of cumin.

But I'm left with a renewed curiosity about food and wine; one can get in a rut sometimes, and it's lovely when things you thought you knew take on new dimensions of delight. The next day, when my husband and I went back into the chicken tikka and one of the leftover bottles of wine, we toasted to yet another great meal (both got better with age) and a successful culinary adventure.

Follow me on Twitter: @TheMDesk

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