When a French wine board offered me two bottles of Chablis and the chance to win a holiday to the region, if I could only find a great food pairing from a local takeaway... well, you can imagine that I didn't have to think for very long about my decision.
The two bottles I received were both 2011 wines, from different appelations: Chablis (Laroche) and Petit Chablis (Louis Michel & Fils). All Chablis wines are made from the chardonnay grape, but the bottles don't exactly announce it - possibly due to chardonnay's somewhat mixed reputation, or more likely because they just assume you already know.
I tasted the Petit Chablis first, because the Petit appelation has a reputation for being lighter. The flavour was crisp and bright with lemony notes; dry but very drinkable. It would be perfect for a summer afternoon.
The Laroche Chablis was a much richer, deeper, warmer wine, although still very dry and acidic. The bottle claimed apple and pear, but if I could persuade myself there was any apple, it was of a green, under-ripe variety. I did think there was a hint of honey - not sweetness, but the kind of taste you get with dry mead.
I do tend to have an affinity for lighter wines, and true to form, my personal preference between these two would be for the Petit Chablis, although I enjoyed both. But so much for the wine - what about the food?
If I'm thinking of ordering a takeaway, my thoughts almost invariably turn to Bengal Balti, a small place in Stroud which has a separate vegetarian menu (always an encouraging sign) and a vast range of truly inspired Indian and Bangladeshi dishes. I don't usually drink wine with Indian food, but it's the best takeaway in town, and I'm always up for a challenge. So having sipped both the wines, I examined the menu with an eye for flavours that might complement the drinks.
My first pick was shobji mali, mixed vegetables with honey, cashew nuts, and homemade yoghurt. I thought the honey would go well with the Laroche Chablis, and that the acidity of both wines would cut through a creamy sauce.
My husband voted for shobji jalahle, a vegetable dish described as being flavoured with imported Bangladeshi herbs & spices, chilli, tomato, and orange zest. I readily agreed, because I'd also been looking at a couple of citrus options.
Finally, we also ordered labra, which is my most common order: aubergine, okra, spinach, and lentils, with light spices. I added this to the list not so much because it seemed perfect for Chablis, as because I know it's perfect for Rachel, and the other dishes were things we'd never tried before.
Left to right: labra, shobji jalahle, shobji mali.
Before sitting down to eat, I tasted all three dishes, with both wines. The winning combination was definitely the shobji jalahle accompanied by the Petit Chablis. Either wine helps the slight orange aftertaste of the sauce to really come to the fore, and the brighter, lighter flavour of the Petit was a great contrast to the heat of the strong chilli. But the wine drank well with all three dishes, and I'll certainly be more alert in looking for unexpected food and wine pairings in future.