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No bull, just wine good wine in good company

Sourish Bhattacharyya     July 9, 2009

The company in which you have a bottle of wine makes a difference to its taste. The price isn’t directly proportional to the level of enjoyment you can extract from it.

Years of drinking wine with friends, snobs and bores has convinced me that wine need not be expensive to taste good. Most of the time, underrated wines leave a lasting impression, and much of how people perceive a particular wine depend on the company in which it’s drunk. Most of my women colleagues in office are in love with an unheralded Chilean red, a Cabernet Sauvignon named Tarapaca. It is a great party wine because it costs Rs 600 a bottle, it’s fruit forward and its tannins are silky smooth— in common parlance, you can drink this wine with anything, from dahi kebabs to authentic Chinjabi cuisine, and it delivers a gentle buzz, enough to make your flirtatious asides seem innocuous in a largely female company.

I think I know why Chilean wines are favourites here. Chile’s vineyards are in warmer regions, where the sun shines long enough to help the berries mature faster and develop good sugar levels. In the wine-making process, the sugar converts into alcohol, which explains the higher alcohol levels of Chilean wines, but the sun is also responsible for the better expression of the fruitiness of the berries. The fruitier a wine, the less complicated and better tasting it is. Experts may pounce on me for making this blasphemous assertion, but I insist that my wines be smooth. Not long ago, I had dinner with a delightful couple— he a journalist and she a film script writer from Los Angeles—and the wine we had was a red named Alamos.

It is made with the iconic Argentinean grape, Malbec, and tastes as if it is straight from God. When I checked about its antecedents with the Delhi Wine Club President, Subhash Arora, he said it was a low-end wine priced between Rs 700 and Rs 800 in the retail market. Low-end it must have been, for it was listed for Rs 1,800 on the wine list of the Yellow Brick Road, the coffee shop at The Ambassador Hotel in New Delhi. I bet if a panel of wine snobs were given Alamos at a blind tasting, they would have been smacking their lips in approval. Of course, the wine tasted better also because of the gentle flow of conversation, which went from the strange love lives of the country’s rich and powerful people, to indie films, to the propensity of the denizens of South Delhi to be utterly beastly with their neighbours.

This brings me to my second point. The satisfaction a wine delivers is directly proportional to the company it is drunk in. That’s why I do not envy the job of wine critics, for they have to conduct the ritual of tasting with only winemakers and wine barrels for company. To enjoy a good wine, you need good people and good food. We drank our Alamos with Mutton Roghanjosh, Butter Chicken and a yummy yellow dal. It paired seamlessly with what we had ordered and made our conversation glide. A recent addition to my favourites is a white wine from Chile, a Sauvignon Blanc called Sunrise from the historic Conchay Toro winery, which is best-known for its critically-acclaimed and expensive Cabernet Sauvignon, Don Melchor.

Unlike the Don, which is hard to find and sets people back by upwards of Rs 5,000 in five-star hotels, a sunrise costs Rs 700-800. Its “low-endness” didn’t stop it from being a great accompaniment to a leisurely food tasting I’d been invited to at the about-to-open Zest restaurant in the swish Emporio Mall in Delhi. Maybe the food was so good that we didn’t care for the wine, but I am certain it was the conversation, which was all about the odd but talented potters of Pondicherry. These potters, my hosts said, actively discourage business and fob off anyone who wished to buy more than 10 pieces of their unique creations. They could do with a steady supply of Sunrise.


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