One of the perils of being a food and wine writer is that you are constantly bombarded, usually at odd hours, with demands for recommendations. One learns to stick one's neck out with the gumption of a gambler, with fingers and toes crossed, knowing very well that what I may love may not necessarily be palatable to the other party. It's truer about wine. In the same way as men relate to the opposite gender—one man's hottie is another man's avoidable—people respond to wine in very different ways. And because each wine is so different, it looks as if Nature had intended grapes to express themselves in myriad ways to tantalise different palates differently. I must admit I've an Italian farmer's attitude to wine. I cannot wait for 15 years for a wine to peak; I have to enjoy it with my friends over a meal as soon as I buy a bottle of one of my favourites. So the wines I insist you have before you die may not have snob value, nor will they figure on the Liv-Ex, the London-based bourse of the finest wines, but you'll want to have them over a leisurely evening with someone you love, with Simon & Garfunkel playing in the background, and the air thick with romantic possibilities. This selection is for those who like their wines uncomplicated, and untouched by claims to fame. Critics may sniff at them but you'll love them.
Félsina Chianti Classico 2006
Have you ever wondered what would be the best match for makke ki roti and sarson ka saag? Here's the one. Ranked #51 in Wine Spectator magazine's Top 100 list for 2008, this elegant, brilliantly ruby red wine from Italy's best-known wine region has distinctively spicy notes that get along as famously with mutton barra as with a pepperoni pizza.
Pio Cesare Barolo 2004
I may have just turned my nose up at wines that have a long life ahead of them, but this one is ready for drinking now, or if you insist, you can set it aside for a very special occasion in 2014, or even 2024. Yes, it's an expensive wine, but you'll have to drink it to figure out why wine lovers are buying it feverishly everywhere. It's best only for a medium-done steak.
Santa Digna Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Torres
It's the kind of wine you'll want when you're lazing around at home, or taking your significant other out for a long and leisurely lunch in the sun. The good news is that this refreshing wine, which balances fruit and acid seamlessly, goes well with vegetarian favourites, such as paneer tikka and kathal biryani. Otherwise, it's best with fish—you must drink it with Amritsari fish tikka. You'll pay me for this gem.
Casillero del Diablo Shiraz 2007 Concha y Toro
Here's a classic affirmation of the fact that it is not necessary for a wine to be expensive to taste good. This lower-end, easy drinking red from Chile's biggest wine-maker offers both great value for money and leave behind a great feeling in your mouth. The tannins are soft and juicy, which make them perfect for mutton seekh kebabs and hearty Punjabi fare, such as rarha mutton.
Chianti Classico DOCG 2003 Ruffino
Here's another red wine—one more from Chianti, but I can't help it— that goes very well with a smorgasbord of good food, from ham pizzas to a pasta with a meaty Bolognaise sauce. And it's kebab-friendly, too. The point to note about this wine is that it doesn't age very well, so go for the younger vintages, which is not the rule you'd follow with robust red wines.
The Footbolt Shiraz 2006 d'Arenberg
Here's a wine that will double the pleasure a Dal Bukhara offers (although in small doses, for it does sit on your stomach indefinitely). This spicy red from McLaren Vale, Australia, is easy on the pocket and has a long finish, mild tannins, and is just what Nature intended for drinking with a New Zealand lamb rack. I'll also recommend it with Norwegian salmon.
Col di Sasso 2005
An affordable wine from the portfolio of the well-known American producer, Castello di Banfi, this Italian red is for those who love the good things of life but don't have a big budget. This ruby red, fresh wine is medium-bodied and easy to drink, and has a reasonable degree of spiciness that makes it perfect for a Parma ham pizza, or the one with mushrooms, green peppers and olives (remember Domino's?).
Sangiovese Rubicone IGT 2005 Umberto Cesari
Here's another red wine—as you can see, I'm tilting towards the Italians, but these don't burn a hole in the pocket and are easily available in retail shops—that you can drink at any time of the day and pair with almost any kind of food. Endowed with a brilliant hue, a fruity character and medium body, it can be paired with seekh kebabs with as much ease as with a foie gras burger.
Dindori Shiraz 2006 Sula Vineyards
Am I being unfair to Indian wines? No, not really. It's just that I don't really think highly of most Indian wines, except this one, for it combines smoothness with lush flavours and silky tannins, making it perfect for an variety of food preparations, from Kolhapuri mutton and Chettinad chicken to pepperoni pizzas and chicken enchiladas. It's what wine lovers call a versatile number.
Viognier Clairette Grover Vineyards (No Vintage Stated)
This light golden-hued, aromatic and slightly sweet (in wine babble, this style is called off-dry) white beauty has been created for the long summer. It's refreshingly gentle, so you can serve the wine to warm up a party, or have it with dal makhni, murgh malai tikka and, better still, tandoori prawns spiked with ajwain. A leisurely lunch accompanied by this wine will rock. M