In the town of Pondicherry in southern India, amidst the districts that lie a few kilometres from the baguettes, cheese and ratatouilles of the town’s French quarter, lay a bottle of Aussie wine – a De Bortoli 2002 Semillon Chardonnay “Willowglen”. This Willowgen had been hibernating in a humble Pondicherry homestead for several years, waiting to be discovered.
The bottle’s label described the Willowglen as a “blend of rich Semillon and full-flavoured Chardonnay .. enhanced with some soft-oak treatment”, promising a treat for the old-fashioned Chardonnay lovers amongst us. As to the source of these varietals, the label merely proclaimed the drop to be a “Wine of Australia”, a rather vague indication at best. Being a De Bortoli however, my guess was that the Semillon was sourced from the Hunter and the Chardonnay from the Yarra. Hmmm … interesting.
As to how the Willowglen had fared through its journey to Pondicherry and its subsequent vigil in the heat, humidity and variations of southern Indian climate was another question altogether. Thankfully, the bottle had been resting in the relatively stable confines of a quiet kitchen fridge for the majority of its time in the tropical town, sheltered from prevailing conditions. The label was tattered and torn however, betraying unspoken trauma in the bottle’s long journey from Australia.
It was lunchtime, and as a gentle rain fell on the cool December air, the anticipation mounted at the prospect of rescuing the mysterious Willowglen from its malaise. We rustled up some glasses and proceeded to uncork the bottle amidst lingering aromas of chilli and spice. A home-cooked sourthern Indian chicken had been prepared and was to accompany the Willowglen, perhaps doing justice to the label’s portrayal of the wine as a “perfect accompaniment to … poultry or Asian cuisine” (although whether Asian cuisine was intended to include spicy Indian curry was another matter).
Glasses filled and swirled, the time finally came to taste .. and ..
Delicious! The Willowglen was bold, strong and full-flavoured, its age conveying a certain richness, accentuated with oak and punctuated with mild bursts of Semillon inspired citrus. As we ate our meal, the drop stood up to the force of the curry, enhancing the robust flavours that the spicy chicken avowed. This wine wasn’t for everyone though – the oak may put off many a punter with a less robust palate – but for those of us who thrive on the boldness of wooded Chardonnay, the wine was a welcome treat!
If the oak and boldness of a Chardonnay isn’t your cup of tea, try a Gerwurtztraminer. This aromatic varietal soothes and refreshes the palate in between spicy mouthfuls of lamb saag or vindaloo. Our current favourite is from Johanneshof Cellars in Marlborough, New Zealand. The citrus notes and passionfruit undertones of this medium-dry wine will make it a memorable complement to your next Indian meal.
Back in Pondicherry as we continued to enjoy the Willowglen and indulged in the fiery goodness of the curry, we took a moment to contemplate the bottle before us – tattered label, golden hue, drops of condensation amid the humid air – this Aussie drop had found itself in unexpected circumstances. The discovery of the Willowglen in this Pondicherry homestead was a surprise, and had lent an air of excitement to what would have otherwise been another ordinary day in the life of the town. The Willowglen had been rescued, released and thoroughly enjoyed!
Here’s to many more discoveries of delicious drops, humble and sophisticated alike, and to circumstances that turn ordinary drinking into unexpected pleasure