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Uncorking the bottle

Sonal Srivastava goes on an informative tour to find that it takes 200 years to become a wine expert.

india Updated: May 05, 2007 14:16 IST
Sonal Srivastava
Sonal Srivastava
Hindustan Times

Did you know that the Chicken Mannchurian you regularly order at your favourite Chinese restaurant has nothing whatsoever to do with China? It is a dish purely invented in India. Or that some of the most expensive tea in the world comes out of Darjeeling?

And how Indian wines have made way to the dining tables of the French. These are just some of the facts that will baffle you about our very own Indian culinary context.

Food connoisseur Vir Sanghvi takes you on a gastronomic journey on the Discovery Travel and Living channel to discover some of the most interesting facts of our varied and often mindboggling cuisine in a food series titled A Matter of Taste.

So when I embarked on this little food excursion bordering on the launch of the food series and a vineyard trip, my only dilemma was 'What in the lord's name am I going to write about wines?'

The media entourage was soon rounded up for a wine tasting and 'nosing' session. We were handed two teeny-weeny bottles to identify the aroma.

A Catch-22 situation or what? After sniffing hard, I squealed, 'It's fruity' hoping that no one would notice even if I was wrong. But thank God for berries. I was saved from further embarrassment. Kapil Grover, director, Grover Vineyards, said that the wine did have a whiff of strawberry. But demystifying wine is not that simple.

Kapil quoted someone who said, "Wine making is easy and only the first 200 years are difficult." He added, "I wish I could live to enjoy the easy part." But understanding wine is getting easier Says Kapil, "80 per cent of our exports today go to France and we sell almost 15,000 cases a year".

There is more to wines than just sniffing. For instance, there is this whole new debate about traditional cork vs the screw cap. What? 'A wine bottle without a cork,' I whined.

The idea of a screw cap replacing the traditional cork may sound good to a pennywise entrepreneur but for me it's like stripping the wine bottle of its romance. And a death knell for the cork opener industry. Though it's a different matter that if the cork gets stuck in the wine bottle (which is most likely to happen with wannabe wine connoisseurs), a hammer or a belan can come in handy.

But just when I thought that I was a lone ranger in saving-the-cork-campaign, a fellow scribe echoed similar sentiments. That's when Kapil explained, "Often wine is stored badly A screw cap can go a long way in securing the wine and the purity of the tipple is assured."

According to him, "Why drink a 'corked' (a cork disease) wine for the sake of romance, when you can have candles, music, lights and other props for a romantic evening along with a good wine." Point taken.

Next morning, we were headed for a tour of the Grover Vineyards nestled in the slopes of the Nandi Hills near Bangalore. A Jurassic Park-like gate led us into the vineyards where different varieties of French grapes are grown. Acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and Clairette grape plantations were a sight for sore eyes.

The fruity scent was heady enough to get us aching for a tipple. I went about photographing all those grapes that found their way into my tummy under different wine labels. And then there was the processing area or the wine factory I had to give my camera a rest. We were led into the room where wine is stored in huge canisters and casks placed atop each other.

The oak barrels are imported from France. Once the tour ended, the real fun began: It was time to drink wine.

No, I confess that despite the very informative tour I could not tell the difference between a La Reserve and a Cabernet Sauvignon. I guess I will just have to wait another two hundred years!

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