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Reviews Wine & Spirits

Black Dog 18 y.o.: Not A Teenager Anymore

Some time ago, someone told me that I make drinking a snooty affair. Instead, I should concentrate on drinking. Well, I don’t think so. You don’t need to binge to have fun. All you need is the right drink for the right occasion and the right kind of people to share that moment with. There sure is a certain way of enjoying every drink that enhances the experience of the beverage. Drink wine in the right kind of glass and at the right temperature; stick to a pint of beer if you want to have it chilled and just as crisp as it was supposed to be… and don’t water down scotch, it wasn’t made to be drunk that way.

Talking of scotch, how many of us pay attention to a glass of the golden nectar? Or the fact that most of what we drink, which is labeled whisky or scotch, is produced in India, is not scotch. A whisky or scotch by definition is made from grain, not molasses; must be aged in oak barrels for not less than 3 years, preferably 12 years and the aging imparts the coloring, not any external substance. Molasses makes clear rum; add some caramel-based color and flavoring agents to it and you get your average Indian made whisky. And, by the way, it’s not scotch unless it was brewed, distilled and blended in Scotland, everything else is just a whisky.

Okay, so I scared you. Let me make it up. This isn’t the case with all whiskeys in India; only the cheapest you get in the market. As a rule of thumb, expect  whiskeys under INR 1200 for a 750 ml bottle to use the abovementioned, inferior process. Whiskeys between INR 1200 – 2500 will largely be aged blends. The good stuff will mostly fall in the range INR 2500 and upwards.

I’ve had all sorts; the cheap, the expensive, the very expensive and the insanely expensive. Undoubtedly, they deserve the pomp and show associated with them, including the price tags. And through it all, I’ve come up with a personal rule. It can be a Japanese whisky for all I care (yes, they are crazy about the stuff and make some good ones too), but I’m not drinking it unless it is a 12 year old. Of course, like everything that must be Punjabi – the bigger, the better. So, I picked up a bottle of Black Dog 18 year old scotch.

According to Scotch Whisky Association, Scotch whisky evolved from a Scottish drink uisge beatha (Celtic for ‘water of life’). According to the tax rolls of the time, the earliest documented brewing and distillation of Scotch whisky occurred as long ago as 1494. If someone tells you, there’s nothing complex about scotch and all you have to do is chug it; they are so wrong. A good scotch is as complex as a good wine. Everything matters, the color, the aroma, the palate, the texture, the finish – everything.

Unlike wine, you don’t need to let whisky breathe. I do recommend a crystal, clear, heavy, old fashioned glass though. But I digress. So, the bottle was opened and a drink poured into a crystal, clear, heavy, old fashioned glass to let out the bouquet of aromas. The Black Dog 18 year old has a clear, bright, amber color to it. The nose is long with overtones of honeydew, peaches, ripe citrus fruits (which I think reminded me of grapefruit), cloves and toasted oak. The palate is sweet and smooth with undertones of honey, cinnamon, over ripe peaches and a lingering aftertaste of bitter dark chocolate, licorice and crushed bitter-sweet almonds with a long finish. The texture is smooth and viscous with well balanced acidity. You can tell that by holding up the glass at a slight angle and rotating it. The tears on the wall say it all.

It’s not just these features that make a scotch as complex as a wine. Believe it or not, there is a right way of drinking it too. Start with an old fashioned glass; google it if you don’t know what that is. There is no such thing as a 30 ml drink; so, don’t be shy and pour in the scotch. If you have the urge to add water or soda or cramming up the glass with ice, remember, you’re committing murder. Yes, it is that bad. Unless you are at a frat party and believe that the scotch will vanish unless you consume it, take it easy. Add two cubes, if you must and enjoy.

The Black Dog 18 year old is a blended scotch, not a single malt. Which means that the youngest scotch in the blend was aged in oak casks for 18 years. And trust me, at 18, this one is no longer a teenager. Priced at INR 8000 (ex Mumbai), it is definitely one of those things you must have if you appreciate luxury.

When it comes to alcoholic beverages, you can be smart or you can binge. So, be smart, drink smart. And trust me, it’s not a snob affair.

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Columns Wine & Spirits

Aryaa Wines – A Wining Sunday

[singlepic id=3263 w=320 h=240 float=left]It was way back in the day when legally I was not allowed to drink that I actually found myself drawn to wines. I guess that’s why off I went, in search of distant places where I could drink more wine, get to know it better. I visited quite a few wineries across the traditional wine regions of the world, walked across many vineyards producing some of that beautiful stuff. And during one of those walks though the manicured rows of grapevines, the affair went from a dreamy courtship to ‘till death do us apart’.

I missed the vineyards when I moved back to India. But fate had a lot more in store for the lovers. I moved to Mumbai and am much closer to the wine region of India. Although, I’ve always had my doubts about the Indian wine makers and sadly, I’ve been proven right time and again; only rarely does it happen I come across a good wine produced in India. I have tasted cork, sulphur, excessive ammonia, burnt tyre and what have you. Why? Because the distributor and even the wine producer don’t know how to store wines properly.

It’s a case of once bitten, twice shy for me. But keeping all the shyness away for a moment, I do like to go out and taste something new every once in a while, hoping something has changed. And I’m willing to sacrifice a well deserved Sunday for it too. So, I did.

On a rainy Mumbai Sunday morning, I set out with a bunch of people to visit Mercury Winery in Nashik. The three hour drive from Mumbai to Nashik culminated with a view of open fields and neatly trimmed rows of grape vines. The first thing that strikes the eye is the splash of colors; a bright island of colors in the middle of a sea of green. Getting past the colors on the walls and walking inside the winery, I saw for the first time an Indian wine maker was paying attention to the quality of wines and not the cost of production. The vat room, the bottle storage room, the bottling plant, all had independent cooling systems, maintaining the temperature at what it is supposed to be – 18ºC.

Coming to the main event, the wine. A long list of freshly bottled (and some of it still in vats) wines was on the table for the afternoon. Form the quintessential Chenin Blanc to the not so common Muscat, well, a blend of Muscat and Zinfandel, it was the recipe for a fun afternoon. The 2012 Chenin was like a teenager – cloudy, unclear, zesty and hiding away a whole lot of unleashed potential. I wouldn’t hunt for it in a store right now and even if I do find it, it is still too early to buy one. But then, it was just a taste of what future prospects hold.

[singlepic id=3264 w=320 h=240 float=right]Aryaa has been experimenting with the fumé method for some of its vintages. For the uninitiated, fumé is the method of adding oak chips to the wine during fermentation to save on the costs of oak barrels while adding the same oaky flavors and aging potential to the wine. The 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Fumé was well rounded with a hint of vanilla, almonds and apricots complemented by a balanced, smooth palate. Interestingly, Aryaa have decided to position the 2011 Sauvignon Fumé alongside the 2011 Sauvignon regular in pricing and in labeling. The argument – the Indian consumer cannot distinguish between the two and different labeling will invite higher taxes. Valid points, keeping in mind that Aryaa have been working hard to keep the cost of bottling and distribution low to compensate for the higher cost of production and storage. The Sauvignon Fumé is an excellent companion for a Sunday brunch with friends and some Chicken Tagine and rice. I bought a couple of these from the vineyard and paired it with black pepper chicken over the next weekend and it proved to be one hell of a way to unwind.

The next surprise for the day was the Rosé, a 60-40 blend of Zinfandel and Muscat with the Muscat’s typical lychee aromas and flavor dominating ever so slightly on the nose and the palate. What you get with this wine is a nice, baked (primed, not ripe) fruits, mild hints of flower apart from the lychee imparted by the Muscat and bubble gummy notes on the nose to begin with followed by a well structured and smooth finish. Now, Muscat is something that Mercury grows in their own vineyards and plan to come out with a varietal wine in the coming months. And that is something to look forward to. Muscat is one of my favorites when it comes to dessert wines and I’m eager to see what does an Indian winery plan when it comes to a dessert wine. Pair it with some roasted chicken or lamb and you have a winner. I would like to have a spicy fish with this one, but that’s an experiment I will have to do on my own some other time.

You can’t experiment too much with the reds in their youth. You have to get them right. A blend of Shiraz 2007 and 2008 was the first on the table. The light bodied cherry red wine has aromatic spicy notes of anise, cloves and hint of white pepper with well rounded tannins. The 2008-09 blend Shiraz premium was, however, what caught my fancy. The deep ruby red color with aromas of dark chocolate, plums, roasted coffee, black peppers, cloves and cherries with a hint of tobacco. The well rounded, smooth tannins with a longish, good finish would make for a good pair with a juicy medium rare steak or grilled scallops. If a lazy evening lounging in your living room with just a couple of friends is all you crave, pair it with some brie cheese and you have a winner.

But the one I took home was the 2008 Cabernet Shiraz Reserve. In fact, I bought two bottles from the vineyard to take home with me. A far more complex wine than what you can hope to find with ‘Produce of India’ on the label. Swirl and find a long nose of toasted oak with a liberal smattering of over ripe plums, cherries, black currant and dark chocolate with undertones of mint/eucalyptus, white pepper, star anise and black cardamoms. The well rounded, soft tannins make for a medium finish with a hint of leathery notes at the end. An all in beautiful finish for a medium bodied wine fit for accompanying light spicy fare from any corner of the country. I paired this one with mildly spicy roasted potatoes, kebabs and oven roasted prawns.

Talk about a perfect day, meeting with a lot of people and drinking a lot of wine in a winery, that’s what it was. Sunday well spent.

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Reviews Wine & Spirits

Four Seasons Barrique Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

[singlepic id=1727 w=80 h=92 float=left]I’ve had a rather complicated relationship with most Indian wines; never what I expect them to be. If I set my hopes too high, my hopes fall flat on their face and it hurts; too low and sometimes it ends up pretty much like a punch-in-the-face wake up call.

This one, definitely the latter. I hope Mr. Mallya (yes, it’s one of his products) is dancing to Ludacris’ Get Back just like Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder. Yeah, that’s the only reference that comes to mind after tasting the Barrique Reserve. Okay, let’s be honest. It’s not the best thing to happen since sliced bread, but it’s good.

A 90-10 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, the Four Seasons’ Barrique Reserve 2008 is delightful companion for a laid back Sunday afternoon drunk with roasted spicy lamb kababs, seared pears and perhaps some Danish pepper cheese. The deep purple color with an orange/brown hue at the rim cloaks underneath it a deep nose with notes of black currant, cherries, cinnamon, anise, hint of mace, vanilla and limestone. The palate is fruity with undertones of black currant, cherries, cinnamon, black pepper and a hint of vanilla. The finish is between medium to longish with well balanced acidity and smooth, soft tannins which seemed ever so slightly underdeveloped. At 12.5% alcohol content, this beauty in a bottle is fairly dry, although not as much as I would’ve liked it to be. Fairly dry, I say because the acidity makes its presence felt without being too harsh on the palate at any point. The ferrite/limestone long aftertaste could be a turn off for some; worked great for me.

At this point in time, consume it. It’s peaking. Not much left in this one in terms of aging potential. It’s ideal accompaniments would be slow roasted lamb, spicy kababs, beaufort cheese (I had some Danish pepper cheese – awesomeness), spicy Awadhi preparations (because the Barrique Reserve with it’s higher acidity is still something that will complement spices well). I don’t know if I should attribute a sudden craving for some tandoori bakra from Karim’s in old Delhi, but would’ve loved to sample some with this one for some reason. Oh! I loved the seared pears, beautiful companions to the Barrique Reserve.

I’m not a big fan of wines from big corporate houses, but I guess I’m gonna have to open up a bit just like a bottle of good wine.

Priced at Rs.800 ex-Mumbai

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Reviews Wine & Spirits

Rioja Bordón Gran Reserva 2001

[singlepic id=1727 w=80 h=92 float=left]Talk about wine and everyone sits up to take notice. You don’t need to be a professional to appreciate good wine. There will be things that will appeal to you and there will be ones that don’t. I have been tasting wine for a while now and the Rioja Bordón Gran Reserva 2001 is one of my personal favorites so far. I was introduced to this baby at a blind tasting by a friend, a wine extraordinaire and a sommelier. Now, in my opinion, a blind tasting is the best way to be introduced to a wine. You don’t know the name, the grape or the region where it came from, so no predetermined prejudices. But more on that for another day.

Spain’s Rioja region’s red wines are usually a blend of Tempranillo with other grapes from the same region, Tempranillo being the bigger contributor in the blend. Tempranillo, on its own, does not have the acidity to make a great wine, a feature well complemented by blending it with Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano. Tempranillo, at about 60%, contributes the main flavors and aging potential to the Bordón Gran Reserva 2001; Garnacha at nearly 20% adds body and alcohol; Mazuelo adds seasoning flavors and Graciano adds additional aromas.

The Spaniards have a knack for leaving a little bit of rusticity to their wines, quite unlike the French. It shows rather prominently with Riojas, with the slight edge on the tannins and acidity and sometimes a rather liberal hint of minerals. The Bordón Gran Reserva 2001, as the name suggests and per the official classifications, is aged for at least two years in oak barrels and another three years in the bottle. If the wine has not been through that much aging, it cannot be classified as a Gran Reserva. Needless to say, the Gran Reserva is not produced every year.

Talking of the Bordón Gran Reserva 2001, if you find a bottle of this one, consume it immediately as it is at its peak. The maximum you can do is save it up till early to mid 2013. The dark cherry red color bordering on brown with orange hues at the rim is a delight to look at. Twirl the glass a bit and the long nose presents a ripe and well rounded bouquet of vanilla, toasted oak, sweet tobacco, lavender and nutmeg finishing off with remnants of a leathery aroma which is rather typical of a Spanish produce from the North. The smooth, well balanced acidity leaves undertones of black currant, cherries, nutmeg, a hint of coffee, black pepper, olives and honey finishing strong with a dash of rosemary and that trademark hint of rustic tannins at the end that are so pleasant to the senses.

Now, wild lavender is an aroma that only a nose exposed to it previously can discern. Not that it is impossible to make out from a bouquet, but it doesn’t make it’s presence felt easily. I tasted again on two different occasions, well worth the time spent each time. What can I say? I like my wines just like my women; complex and exotic.

Of course, there are things that appeal and those that don’t appeal to your senses. No need to beat yourself down for that. Yes, the experts who make a living at telling you what’s a good wine and what’s not are right about that stuff stored within cellar walls, but that does not translate into what appeals to your senses. So, take that leap of faith and open up another bottle till you find ones that you want to drink often, just like I find mine.

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Wine & Spirits

Wine for Indian Food

Contributed by Michael Auty

Can wine really go with Indian food?

Indian food isn’t usually associated with being well matched to wine. With so many strong, rich spicy flavours, the palate can be easily overwhelmed, hence a lot of people tend to stay away from combining the two.

However, don’t be put off. There is plenty of wine out there to complement your Indian meal perfectly – it’s just a case of knowing what to avoid and why. Most importantly, consider the food’s most prevalent flavour when choosing your wine. While most other cuisines can be fairly flexible in terms of wine matching, Indian food generally isn’t.

Choose a wine with only a few key flavours
Don’t over-stimulate your already over-stimulated taste buds. The plethora of spices utilised by Indian cuisine can often numb the tongue’s taste receptors to the individual and subtle nuances of a fine wine’s flavour, so it’s best to choose a simple wine with fewer key flavours.

Go easy on the alcohol
Go for lower alcohol levels. The active ingredient in hot food is capsaicin (methyl vanillyl nonenamide), a chemical that produces a strong burning sensation in the mouth when it’s consumed. Because capsaicin is soluble in alcohol and not water, the alcohol in your wine will initially help to make the food seem less spicy. Drinking water, therefore, won’t actually get rid of any of the spice, and drinks with higher alcohol content will at first lessen the intensity.

After a few mouthfuls of your spicy food though, your taste buds will have become so sensitive that even a small amount of this chemical will now have a much greater effect than initially, with higher levels of alcohol now acting to accentuate the heat. Certainly stay away from wines of any more than 14% alcohol but the lower, the better.

Try a lighter-bodied tipple
Again, avoid overstimulation. The heavier the wine, the more tannin (a chemical which depletes the saliva in your mouth) it contains. The tannin’s bitterness and hard textures will be brought out by the garam masala, turmeric and mustard seeds, working against the wine’s fruity flavours. This is even worse when a wine contains high levels of methoxypyrazines – those pleasant-odour-giving chemicals present in something like Cabernet Sauvignon, for example.

Oak no!
Oakier wines tending to be more tannin-rich and strong oak treatment can mean that your wine cancels out the spicy nuances in your Indian meal, giving the food an unpleasant, chewy quality. While some will complement your spicy food well, it’s important that you’re aware of the effects of too strong an oaky flavour.

Try something sweeter
Most of the hottest Indian sauces are comprised of a chilli and vinegar base. While vinegar is there to preserve, it’s also there to add an acidic bite, which is just another thing that serves to heavily stimulate the palate. Sugar actually works to cool the spicy heat and calm the vinegar’s acidity, so counteracting the acidity with sugar will help to maintain the same level of spiciness whilst also reducing that uncomfortable fiery sensation. If you’re not usually keen on sweet wines, then don’t worry – because of the intense flavours in Indian food, you won’t even notice.

What kind of wine should you choose?
If you want to go for something that will enhance the spiciness, then go for a more citrusy white wine. Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, Muscadet from the Loire and Torrontes from Argentina are all great examples.

If you prefer a combination of flavours, go for a wine with a slight touch of oak. Malolactic fermentation gives a fuller, rounder texture and a more persistent flavour, so wines that have undergone a certain degree of it are always a good bet. Choose a Californian Rousanne, a Chardonnay from the Adelaide Hills or a basic Bourgogne – they all work well. When choosing a red wine, go for more fruit-focused Cabernet Franc of Chinon or a fuller Pinot Noir from Oregon.

If you’d rather a less flavour-intense Indian meal, go for an Alsace like Gewürztraminer – with ginger, lychee and exotic fruit flavours – or Pinot Gris that will coat the palate with its slight textural oiliness. For creamier dishes, go for Rieslings from either Germany, New Zealand or Alsace – they deliver a light waxy sensation, soon followed by flavours of honey, kerosene and citrus.