India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Wine & Dine
June 10, 2014

Red, White or a Bubbly

Text by Arthy Muthanna Singh. Illustration by Radha Ramachandran

Wined and Dined. And how! Verve travels to Kolkata for The International Vine and Food Experience, curated by acclaimed sommelier Keith W Edgar – her first wine-tasting experience – and comes back having learnt to sip and spit!

Let me confess at the very outset that I am basically a Single Malt girl. Converted instantaneously after consuming barely a dram of Glenfarclas SM whisky at their very premises near the divine River Spey in Scotland. Urrak from Goa, comes a far second. And if I cannot get either of the above two ambrosias, well, then almost anything else would do. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not the every-day-must-have tippler. Let me clarify that since my knowledge of wines, brandies and rums has never really had a chance to be delighted to the point of bursting into poetry or song (directly proportional to how much had been tippled, of course), I’d safely leave the selecting to whomsoever knew better.

That arrangement worked well enough for years. Well-meaning friends, hell-bent on improving me, would sometimes try and educate me, in exasperation – ‘please don’t grab the bowl of the wine glass, stick to holding the stem with your fingers’. Or, ‘not more than one-third of the glass to be filled’, when I’d try and fill up the glass. And when sometimes pushed into a corner to make a commitment, “I prefer red wine to white, any day,” I’d say, very authoritatively, and most times, that worked. And then, out of the blue came a chance to change all that. No more ignoramus me, I thought, as I dived into an exciting wine experience, head first. Off I went to Calcutta (not going to say the new name) and the Taj Bengal for The International Vine and Food Experience, curated by sommelier Keith W Edgar.

Starting with the traditional welcome by K Mohanchandran and Modhurima, I knew I was in for a pamper-fest. There is really something about the Taj experience, I have to admit. Would `warm’ be the right word I’m looking for? Probably! White bougainvillea outside my window, comfy window seat to savour my tea, constant chocolate reinforcements….

The wine’n’food fun started that evening with 27 wine companies vying for our attention. The crème-de-lacrème of Calcutta was there too. I smartly tagged along with an expert and imitated her throughout. While I was not planning to pass off as an expert, I definitely did not want to make a fool of myself. To start with, I would have never known that unless the idea was to go completely blotto by the end of the evening, the right thing to do while tasting wine, was to take a sip, taste it and then spit it out preferably. Spit it out! Or alternatively, pour the balance out into ready receptacles placed all over. And so, until I got into the swing of things, I kept lamenting about all the wasted wine. I was told that 2000 bottles of wine had been brought into the Taj. Wonder how many of those got consumed? And how many were poured or spat away? I wondered why so much was poured out anyway. I guess that was done on the off-chance that someone would like that particular wine and want to consume it all. Or maybe, it was just the done wine thing.

So okay, there I was seated for my very first master class to be conducted by the Titans of the Indian wine industry, notebook and pen in hand, lapping (no pun intended!) it all up. Most of the representatives from the Titan wineries elucidated on three of their wines, which we the ‘students’ got to taste, relish and compare. At the end of that evening’s master class sessions, the one thing I
had concluded about myself was that I had very expensive tastes! Canadian chef Marc Thuet and Taj F&B head, Vinod Pande, had put together international food stalls for all of us to tuck into between classes. Good idea to line the tummies with so much liquid intake. So, Cecilia Oldne from Sula started with ‘It’s better with bubbles’ (keeps Alzheimer’s at bay, she says!) followed by Abhay Kewadkar of Four Seasons Wines, drilling us on the importance of the barrel. So French Oak it is. At Rs 60,000 a barrel! And aging is good. Got it!

We next had Karishma Grover of Grover Wines who presented ‘Aging gracefully’ and Adrian Pinto of Seagram Nine Hills on ‘Adolescent to Adult’. Alessio Secci of Fratelli Wines ended our education for the evening with a session on ‘One grape two colours’; conducting a tasting of their red and white Sangiovese wines. And one of the many highlights of that evening was the acquisition of the autographed cork of the Drappier Champagne bottle from which I had tasted, presented to me by the master himself. Definitely a keeper.

How we got there the next morning for the 11 a.m. master class sessions was a mystery, but there we all were for Michel Drappier’s session on ‘Champagne, Champagne, Champagne’. Smart move on the organisers’ part to start the day with this particular session. There’s nothing like starting a day savouring champagne at a vertical tasting session to literally make one’s day. With the very reassuring nugget about his father who goes through a bottle every single day! The 7th generation owner was also proud to claim that Charles De Gaulle was a loyal customer, and that they had sizes from the smallest at the Quarter to the largest which was the Melchidsedech weighing 52 kg! It really helped that I happened to be seated right next to the curator of this event – Edgar. So, I copied his every move; sniffing, swirling the wine in the wine glass, sipping it, the works….

The morning went by with sessions of Vishal Kadakia presenting varietals from the Saint Clair Family Estate in New Zealand, followed by Edgar’s pretty successful attempt at seducing us towards Canadian Ice Wines – one of them (Kalala Organic Estate Winery) belonging to Karnail Singh Sidhu, originally from Punjab. Intriguing to learn that harvesting of ice wines is done at night at the vineyard itself. And these wines cost 10 times more than any other regular wines because only 10 per cent of the grapes are used to make the wine.

The afternoon session continued after a scrumptious lunch, with Magandeep Singh educating us on aromas and flavours, followed by a session on Beringer Chardonnay of California. Then Sergio Soriano of Faustino Wines took us all to Spain to taste four of their popular wines. Laura ended the master classes with a session on ‘Super, Super Tuscan and bio-dynamics’. All in all, I’d been exposed to 11 master classes over the two days and I was zinging.

We had a mini break to assimilate all the information we’d been delivered, before we got back to the Crystal Room for the four-course dinner, preceded very aptly by Drappier Champagne, where Monsieur Drappier popped a Magnum for all the guests. The sit-down gala dinner with the appropriate wines to accompany each course, had delights like rhubarb salad and ragout of rabbit, to navarin of lamb and five desserts.

And finally, I had to remind myself that wine is all about romance; dates and other life-changing occasions. Which brought to mind something Karishma Grover said during her master class – “Wine is Poetry in a Bottle.” That indeed it is. I am a convert. Single Malt can wait!

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