Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Wine, Woman and Song

Dragging oneself to town on a lazy Sunday morning for a workshop, might seem like a terrible curse to some. But when you’re sitting in a conference hall with pen, paper and four wine glasses in front of you, the injustice is a little tolerable. Actually, make that, very welcome.

It was the Sula Wine Appreciation Workshop and India’s best known female bartender was holding court, seated on a bar stool. “What do you want to know about wine?”, she rasped. And 19 would-be connoisseurs spewed forth their questions:

“I know that there are red wines and white wines. Tell me more.”

“I was once asked, ‘What’s your grape?’. What does that mean and how do I ask such expert questions?”

“All I know is that it bears an expensive price tag. How do I discern?”

For my part, I wanted to graduate beyond Goa Port Wine. I wanted to be able to order French wine with a certain sangfroid and after delicately sipping it, pronounce loftily, ‘Mmm… the finish is dry.’

So there I sat, ears cocked and pen poised as Shatbi differentiated between table wines (red, white and rose), sparkling wines (like champagne) and fortified wines (where alcohol was added during fermentation to give it a sweet taste. Example, port wine.)

What gives each wine its distinctive taste? The grape variety, of course. The ‘cheat sheet’ listed all the major varieties from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer for white wines and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir for red. This exercise of rolling our tongue around slippery French pronunciations primed us for the tasting that followed.

We started with a white wine, Madera. Everyone stared respectfully at the pale liquid being poured.

“Sniff it”,
said Shatbi, plunging her nose deep into the glass. “What do you smell?”

Um… wine, I thought.

But the others seemed to have more perceptive nostrils.



‘Rotten jackfruit’
(Had they been sipping already?!)

“Now, inhale and sip, and swirl it in your mouth”.

I did and the liquid imploded in my mouth. Sluggish tastebuds did the high-five as the heady vapours invaded my mouth and nose. The second sip singed a glowing trail all the way down my throat.

A Chenin Blanc followed. My sensitised nostrils now discerned the aroma of litchis. It also seemed to go down easier than the previous wine. A-ha, I thought, two wines down and I can already tell the difference. Next came a Riesling and a Sauvignon Blanc. And by this time, everyone was in high spirits. People began to detect the aroma of ‘turpentine’, ‘bookstores’ and even ‘new shoes’!

Lunch was accompanied by a sparkling Sula Brut. And post lunch, we went back to work (ha ha!) this time on red wines. Reds, we learned, are more complex and require mature taste buds. Also, one had to learn to bandy words like body, structure and depth.

We started with a Rose (pronounced Ro-say), Sula Blush Zinfandel, a delectable pink wine that was slightly sweet and slightly tart. Sniff, swirl and two swallows later I knew I’d found MY grape!

The Merlot which followed had a pungent aroma, like varnish. And also left an acerbic aftertaste. Cabernet Shiraz was warm and spicy. Full-bodied with a dry finish. I couldn’t remember the last wine we tried, smitten as I was by the Zinfandel.

Armed with information and fortified with wine, J & I tottered out and made our way to Tata Theatre. The Bombay Chamber Orchestra along with musicians from Amsterdam and a Russian pianist were playing Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony and Rachmaninov’s spirited Piano Concerto No. 2. A treat for the already heightened senses! We listened spellbound as wave after wave of exquisite music washed over us, rendering us even more light-headed, if that were possible.

Some Sundays don’t get more di-vine!

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