So the last time I broached this subject was a good few years ago. The comments poured in heavy requesting for the promised sheet with the duty calculation formula. I diligently sent it around but a few months down it was outdated. I promised a new one shortly but then fell off the map. I resurfaced only to find that people were still requesting an updated duty calculation sheet. Clearly India, or rather, the potential of a virgin Indian wine market has a certain continuing charm. Well, I can tell you one thing, like many a skyline, it looks better from a distance. Read more of this article »
What’s in a word, a lot if you are trying to describe that “tingling sensation” on the tongue which was then followed by that milky thing and then tasted like that fruit which you just can’t put your palate on now. I am sure you have faced that dilemma in other fields too; when you couldn’t quite find the word to describe the situation, or pair of legs for that matter!
Well anatomy we shall handle another day but here are a few wine terms just in case you feel tongue-tied! I have also included some antonyms:
Acidic: Denotes high acid content in a wine, which makes them seem super sour, or tingly on the tongue. When used in a derogatory way, we may term the wine “Tart”. Acid is not a bad term but avoid using it, prefer to say “Racy” or “Crisp”. The opposite would be “Soft” or “Creamy”.
Aged/Evolved: The natural process which affects all aspects of a wine as it is held in barrels or bottles. Primary fruity aromas die and secondary dry fruit aromas and earthy and leathery aromas may evolve. The colour fades too. Any wine showing such signs is an aged wine. Ageing is not always a good thing; sometimes an aged wine may well be a dead wine! The opposite is a “Young” vibrant wine.
Tannic: That natural red wine constituent which gives the wine its astringency. It is the same compound as caffeine and it can be detected as a furry sensation which coats the tongue and inner walls of our mouth. Whites also can have some, mostly if oak-aged. If controlled, it adds a beautiful dimension to any wine. Out of balance, it is like trying to ride a hedgehog, blindfolded, through a sawdust storm with your tongue sticking out.
Finish: The lingering taste which persists once we have spat or swallowed the wine. To me, this is the most important thing in a wine (or any beverage). A pleasant finish, that is, one which is not mouth-jarring, or conversation-interrupting, is the sure-shot way to tell the ones with pedigree from the plebeian!
Robust: A wine which packs a punch, the Thwack! and the Ka-Pow! as last seen in Adam West and Burt Ward films (remember, Batman & Robin?) Normally they taste better with food but people who can do push-ups with their tongue (amongst other things) flaunt such “Jammy’ wines as an ‘evening apero’! They are not much for “Light” or “Soft” wines.
Rounded: A “Balanced” wine, which has all the constituents – attack, acid, tannins, aromas, flavour, finish, house rent allowance – in measured, correct levels. It is not “Over-powering” or “Mono-dimensional”. Rounded wines are more domestic pets and less dominatrix beasts.
Fruity: All wine is from grapes so when we say a wine is fruity it’s actually a tutti-frutti statement! The thing is that un-oaked (or mildly oaked, or young wines) may display a lot more juiciness and fruit flavour and these are termed as Fruity wines.
Oaky/Nutty: Ageing in oak evokes certain nutty, woody notes in a wine – in both whites and reds. This process also softens the acids and the tannins and makes the wine seem more complex and evolved than it chronologically is. Hence the film the “The ‘Nutty’ Professor”! OK, that was a bad one, even for me.
Dry: A wine with very little residual sugar, about less than 10gms/l. Most wines on any wine list are dry – from subtly dry to very dry, from bone dry to “This-won’t-go-down-my-throat-till-I-down-some-water”! Wines with more sugar, which will taste sweet even when sipped alongside kheer, or fruit custard, are called “Sweet” or “Dessert” wines.
Bouquet: The term used to describe the sum of all aromas in a wine. A bouquet can be fruity, floral, toasty… Even Juhu Chowpatty during a low tide has one, albeit a stomach-revoltingly unpleasant one.
Closed: A wine with no aromas. It may be too young (in which case, airing will bring out the aromas), or spoilt, or just plainly a result of bad-winemaking.
Fat/Fleshy/Chewy: Unlike the models of today, this denotes a wine with good body, aka “Full-Bodied” as against the contrary style of “Lean” wines. Yes, you may even add “Anorexic”, I don’t mind.
Heavy/Hot: A wine with high-alcohol which burns as you swallow it, even when at the right service temperature.
Off: A wine gone bad, aka “Corked” or, like your lover, “Tainted”. This is usually cork-induced combined with bad storage.
Hope that helps. Sorry if I went overboard with my silly puns. Oh, you never noticed?! Nevermind…
Being a wine taster can often get very boring. This is because most popular wine regions are trying to make wines to cater to popular taste which means that we professionals have to sit and sip a lot of stuff that tastes fairly similar. The intrinsic identity of the product is subsequently being lost as the wave of consumerism washes away all traces of individuality and characteristic traits.
So when we are not working (i.e. drinking) we try and look for something new to wet out teeth with (i.e. drink some more). This is where new wine regions can be very intriguing and engaging.
Contrary to what the old wine hands may want you to believe, it is not just a European phenomenon. History testifies that wine was made in different parts of the world, the first of which were surely not the current Western European stars of this art today. Sure the modern wine is more international a phenomenon but that doesn’t discount the original efforts. Well, it shouldn’t. Here then is a modest collection of wines from lesser-known yet equally gifted regions.
Moldova: This is a country where winemaking (or at least grape-growing) dates back to 3000 BC! Today the wines are mostly destined for exports and yet so little is known of them. I too haven’t tried too many types but one that I do remember was from Cricova. They are based in the city of the same name and have underground cellars over a 100kms in length. Much like champagne, the stone taken to build the city left these cellars which are used today by the wineries. Try their sparkling red wine; you might find yourselves grappling for words to describe it, in a good way that is.
UK: This is another scant suspect on the winemaking scene but global warming has actually made the sun shine on the British Empire. My initial tastings included mostly sap wine and some cedar wine but of late all that has changed. The southern counties are producing plenty of wines especially sparkling wines and Breaky Bottom remains one of my favourites. Their sparkling brut (based on Seyval Blanc, a light Loire valley grape) isn’t exactly cheap but is a fine wine. Chapel Down is another good reference brand to try.
Bulgaria: Another ancient wine producing region that has only risen to fame in the last few years. The recognised cradle of winemaking, the Thracian Valley was renowned for its wines even in Me. Todoroff is a neat little boutique house which makes some international varietals which aren’t bad but I would suggest trying the Mavrud which is a local wine grape. Not too heavy on tannins and extremely fruity would be the best way to describe this easy-to-drink wine.
Uruguay: Given that its neighbours are so voraciously involved in winemaking, Uruguay couldn’t have been far behind. Not only do they make good wine, they have been smart enough to adopt and re-baptise a grape to create an international image for their tiny industry. The grape of choice here is Tannat, also found in South West France but unfortunately over-shadowed by Bordeaux and its wines, which is only a skip away. A good house would be Juanico. Tannat is a very powerful grape – strong on flavours and tannins, be warned.
Paris: Around the area of Sacre Coeur in Paris, you will see creperies, quaint shops selling oddities, high-end Bohemian boutiques, lots of tourists and then, along Rue du Saules, a tiny vineyard! Le Clos Montmartre makes very little wine (a thousand bottles a year at best) and is normally drunk during a festival in the area of Montmartre. I haven’t tasted it but you can add this to the other million reasons to visit Paris.
China: There has been considerable wine-making in our neighbour and for quite some time, it was not comparable even to our local plonk. But, as with everything else, the Chinese have overtaken us there as well, as also many other winemaking countries. The Dragon seal red (Cabernet Sauvignon) is definitely worth more than a few sips.
Thailand: This little kingdom went wine crazy when their monarch claimed its virtuous properties in not exactly a few words. Chateau des Brumes, named after the mist on the mountains of the region, is a good boutique sized production and the reds (La Prestige and La Fleur) are what I would recommend.
Georgia: Back to Eastern Europe and yet another ex-USSR country now carving its own identity as, amongst other things, a wine-producing nation. History claims that this is one of the first regions of grape cultivation in the world and so extensive is the wine production here that I’d be lying if I said I can remember all the styles they produce. Anakopia is one semi-dry style of white I particularly enjoyed and would recommend as a good introduction to the country’s wines.
Iceland: Cold isn’t what it used to be and Húsavík is proof to that. It is perhaps the northernmost vineyard of the world and shows how determination can overcome an obstacle, as in the case of Omar Gunnarsson, who is the only winemaker in this country. Kvöldsól, as the wine is called, is made from berries (rather than grapes), rhubarb, and a mix of herbs. The resulting brew is very rich in anti-oxidants as are the berries. The taste isn’t too bad (some sourness) but you have to detach yourself from the idea of grape wine before you indulge.
Slovenia: They are so close to Italy that even today some Slovenian vineyards lie across the border in Italian soil as also are, Italian vines are growing on Slovenian soils. Among these ‘borderline’ producers, Vina Sim?i? is very reputed and respected. The Teodor Reserve is a good Bordeaux-style blend and has tremendous ageing potential.
Hungary: This is perhaps the least surprising of countries, given the fairly odd mix above. Hungarian Tokaji has always been famous but equally worthy of repute is their local red blend called ‘Egri Bikaver’ (meaning Bull’s blood) which is primarily based on the Kadarka grape. The folklore perhaps is more heady than the wine itself but history has a way of making things more colourful. Among the many producers, Grof Butler is an established name for red wines whereas leading Tokaji producers would include Royal Tokaji Company and Disznók?.
So much for demystifying wine. But not all things are to be deconstructed, just like the joys of deep-sea diving cannot be gauged by standing on the shores.
I confess that somewhere, I am a Terroirist. A lot of you may choose to agree, or disagree, but a majority may first insist to know what the term very well means in the first place.
Terroir is a funny word. It encapsulates all that goes into a wine. Not just the nature-induced but also the man-brought. Soil and climate are natural, we cannot control them, at best perhaps, harness their degrees of turbulence or calm. What we do with the wine in the cellar, on the other hand, is entirely up to us. We can decide how we handle the wine, how long we age it, if at all, and in what type of oak. All these decisions and many more lie with us and rely on our good sense to make choices based on our experience and intuition to arrive at a wine that will showcase the best of man and nature from that particular year. This then is Terroir, the summation, the Ideal Triangle, with the consumer and his acceptance making up the last vertex in this trilogy.
On the two sides of this Terroir line lie opinions. On one hand are the people who worship this holy union and believe that it cannot be replicated, let alone imitated. They stick by the one constant thought that wine from a certain area and producer(s) will have a unique merit and hence the superiority bestowed upon it, albeit unfair, is not to be doubted, contested, or scoffed. It is to be respected, admired meekly and to be remembered as a humbling sign of our mortal modesty.
Then there is the other school – armed with test tubes and beakers, laboratories filled with enough equipment to start a small cultured civilisation – which believes that there is a reason why man is on top of the food chain. He can survive but more importantly he can rule. He can take charge of the situation and the environment and use it to his best advantage. To replicate a wine style then is small fish to fry, or vine to train, whichever you prefer.
I have found, over time, and post many tastings, that I belong to the former of the two cults. I find that wine has a way of humbling me (even as the alcohol somewhat empowers), it makes me sit and ponder questions of life existence and passing over. It makes me gaze into nothingness and find it meaningful. It elates without exciting and calms without numbing. And it only happens when the wine is an offspring of the combined efforts of man and nature.
But I have to agree that most wines do not belong to such levels of liquid philosophy. The average bottles uncorked every second in the world are not the example to exemplify the principles of the Terroirists. Far from it, they are easy sips which – I agree – could come from anywhere in the world.
Commerce however would disagree. Prices commanded have shown that Terroir is also part marketing and hype, sadly. Super Tuscans are now all the fad but the funny thing is that apart from in their names; I find few that have the local accent. Beefed up Bordeaux-style reds is not my idea of Terroir, no matter what the ticket price of these bottles may suggest. I am not saying that all are the same but I do feel a certain despair when tasting wines from a region which previously made some very Italian wines but today has succumbed to international tastes and churns out some rather drinkable but un-traditional stuff. And this is but a case in point. I can think of so many places and areas where Terroir comes in a distant second to commercial aspirations and marketing gimmickry.
All over the world, vines are creeping in and settling down, irrespective of what the local clime and soil may entail or advises. The good thing here is that such could give rise to new tastes and Terroirs – New Zealand Pinot is a great wine in its own right – but trouble erupts when certain people, instead of respecting this new local Terroir, try and emulate and replicate the older more-known style (Burgundy, in this case). I enjoy both the styles of wines and am happy to not compare them. They both have their own Terroir. Personally I may even have my favourites (particular houses, vintages, islands or villages) but that remains a personal choice and shouldn’t in any way bear down upon or reflect strongly on others’ choice-making abilities.
So I guess I am a Teroririst but without trying to Terro(i)rise anybody. Every place has its uniqueness. It may not always be as aptly suited for a certain grape or wine style but that’s how existence is: unfair (as some would call it) but I would choose the word, varied. Meaning then lies in exploring a lifetime worth of options and choices to see what works best in bringing out the true and purest expression of that uniqueness when left in the hands of mankind.
Appreciating good food and wine is an intrinsic part of being French. To this effect, it almost comes as a surprise that it is only recently the French have instituted a festival around this – Fête de la Gastronomie. This is the first but am sure the trend, once set, will only grow bigger in years to come.
Posted in Gastronomy + Travel
First of all, thank you everyone for the overwhelming response to the previous entry; it wasn’t the number of people who responded that has me beaming but the fact that everyone was polite and said, ‘please’. Mums the world over would be so happy.
Now onwards to the hot topic of the moment…
So a recent article in a newspaper sparked much interest because it divulged that India was considering lowering customs duty to 40%. The EU wants 30% but hey who better at bargaining then the Indians. And yet, in spite of such a promising future, I am not entirely excited. Here’s why.
Importing wine into India sounds like a lucrative business proposition. But if that is really the case, why have some companies shut down and so many others are struggling to stay afloat? Without further ado, here is a step-by-step explanation of the various stages of duties, taxes, and other levies that an importer has to pay in order to get wine into India. India is best regarded as a giant subcontinent, a unified entity wherein each smaller part adheres to the larger central administration but then each state also has its own set of exclusive laws which can be (and most often are) entirely different from the central laws as also from those of other and/or neighbouring states. Three states will be covered in this entry: Delhi, Maharashtra (Mumbai/Bombay), and Karnataka (Bengaluru/Bangalore).
Posted in Wines
I have blogged enough about Austria in general but it’s time for the real stuff, a few wines and the winemakers behind them. These guys sure know what they are they and how to go about achieving it. If nature speaks in mysterious ways, these people are like wind-whisperers, with senses more synced than those Blue people in Avatar! They are the Buddhists in the world of wine, so at one with the multiple elements that constitute wine. And so obvious is this message of “natural symbiotic compliance” that even a single sip of their wines will dawn upon you an idea of their respective philosophies. Ironically, at such levels of quality, the adopted path maybe different but the ultimate message, the final goal, is uncannily yet unsurprisingly similar. Here are excerpts from my interactions with a handful of them. I could drone on but that would only blur the message, and spoil it for you for when you do get to meet them. To make it more fun, I’m awarding them a little Magan’s Two-bit worth of what I made of their wines (do check out the pics gallery in the end for more wines.) This truly was my Test of Taste…
Posted in Wines
Vievinum is a great national wine event to help the professional wine world get to meet Austrian winemakers and also to get to know their wines. Amateurs can have an equal amount of fun indulging in their own chosen way. What makes it most enjoyable is the setting: a 17th century palace for a backdrop can be quite a distraction, but luckily, for the Austrians, it only further lends to the charm of the event, further strengthening the traditions and values that formed this nation.
I have attended three Vievinums and while a lot has remained reliably similar, a lot has changed too. Here are some observations that I am jotting down after my most recent experience.
Posted in Wines
“Everything in nature lives by give and take.” – Goethe
This simple yet deep sentence forms part of the core beliefs of the Respekt group, a collection of winemakers, all Austrian (for now), who wished to depart from the more conventional ways of winemaking and shift focus back to Mother Nature.
I cant resist asking people as to what does it mean to be Biodynamic, and how much ‘more’ is it over Organic? My idea is not to taunt winemakers or to see if they really understand their cosmic cycles but to merely and actually understand if all the hype is actually worth the talk time we are all currently generously allowing it?
I always have a confusion with BioDynamic (BD) producers, for I’ve so far never met a bad BD winemaker. All the people who I know converted to BD style of winemaking were making great wines in the first place. So the chicken-egg question that I always have in my head is, “Are you a good winemaker who also happens to be BD or was it BD that made your wines so good?” Self-fulfilling prophecy? A bit of a ad-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc philosophical dilemma for your morning breakfast!? Moving on…
Posted in Wines
So, today was day one of Vievinum (actually it was preview of a preview but hey, I was there, I clocked time, so it’s a day) and I had a chance to indulge in some an absolutely fantastic tasting. The Austrian Wine Marketing Board (AWMB), has a level of organisation that could make Swiss clocks work hard to mark time. But more than just punctual, they have an uncanny ability to be precise, comprehensive, and yet very efficiently concise. Nothing is left to chance, not even the weather one is often tempted to imagine, and attendees can devote their entire time and attention to one solo task: tasting and learning about the wines of Austria. Read more of this article »
India is an upcoming wine market; not a day goes by without hearing about just how many countries want to export wine to us and how, next to China, we are their only hope of sending their kids to school.
And we too wear these feathers with (false) pride, for in spite of the high taxes that shackle us, we seem to try and indulge in some cocky calisthenics, ignorant to the blinding reality that wine in India is too expensive to be affordable or even a meaningful drink. Furthermore, brace yourselves for this, China is way ahead of us, and the patience of the prestigious people from the world of wines waiting for India to open up as a lucrative market is wearing thin. Add to that the hoard of cheap consultants and agents who hawk their services to these visiting and unsuspecting winemakers and we have something that is worse than vine rot. Read more of this article »
Posted in Wines
I would like to prize myself on having some superpower but, short of the ability to fly or to run through walls, I do reserve a small amount of vanity in reassuringly believing that I can make certain predictions about the future. I may not give the best of soothsayers a run for their money, but when it comes to fields of my work and interest, I would be among the first to show up when they ask for crystal-ball volunteers.
One such prediction was when I had returned to India and tasted the first crop of wines that was coming out of our local wineries. My first reaction was to ask my travel agent about one-way flights to Europe. A certain winemaker had even suggested that, but not too politely if I may add.
What is indeed in a name, for that we call a rose, by any other name would still get a sexual harassment case slapped on us. In short, it’s a dog lick dog world out there and… wait, sorry, wrong testimony.
So, back to wines and labels…
Posted in Wines
Portugal is a country that, to us has connections with Goa. They made some beautiful churches, and supposedly left behind certain traditions, including one around the Port wine. For a history of Port refer to another blog, or just view it somewhere online, but suffice to say that while Port was a wine destined for transport, the Goan Port is only meant to make one journey: to the deepest darkest abysses of a dustbin! To truly understand this country and its wine, nothing short of a visit will suffice. Sure you could attend some tastings, as so did I, but unless one has seen first-hand the slopes and gauged their steepness while trying to climb or descend one, one can never entirely comprehend the scale of difficulty that is involved in making wines here.
Posted in Wines
I love Australia. I love their accent, their sense of humour, their beautiful country, the lovely wines…in fact, the only thing I feel I am not too particularly fond of is that it is worlds away from where I stay. But, that apart, they are one of the most affable lot around. Sure they can get a bit naughty but hey, it’s only cricket…
Coonawarra is a town with a population of 30 people, give or take a few. When we landed there on this remote air strip, we immediately swelled the population by a factor of three! Even with the neighbouring towns, the number of people can’t exceed 5000, (and yet, they had this superb restaurant, Fodder, which I suggest you must try, for the food but also for its very extensive international wine list.) And the defunct railway station is a picture postcard from the last century!
Posted in Wines
Writing about a resort while you are there is a bit rigged: it is bound to be good, even if they spill a whole tray of assorted coloured tidbits on you. Not that this happened; just merely citing for sake of an exaggerated example.
This “rigging” starts at the airport itself which is itself more of a resort. The landing is akin to an
autumn leaf gently floating to the ground to find a resting place among the other leaves, in the shade. Think of it as a touchdown into nature – like a Willy Wonka airline with an Eco-quotient. Read more of this article »
Here is an on-the-go scribble on Bangkok. I have to admit that the city has a way of growing on you. i enjoy it a lot more with each visit. Singapore, one of my favourite haunts, serves up everything exact and precise. You feel safe, almost inoculated. Bangkok, like a well-fed Sardarji,loves to flaunt its underbelly. It thrives on its eclectic mix, the good with the garish, the Egyptian cotton-lined to the remotely dangerous, the lemongrass scented to the Bird’s Eye implanted, the straight with the tut, the ladyboys, the straight cross-dressers, and the much simpler to understand, regular homosexuals. If you wish to enjoy Bangkok, you have to learn to let your sensibilities be a bit more fluid, more accommodating, for Bangkok will push them to the limits, from food to design to orientation, and in the end, it is how you bounce back, more learned or more disgusted, that will shape the experience to come. Read more of this article »
With a name like Magan, my parents had set me up to be the punchline of the most ridiculous joke ever to happen to anyone living or braindead: that lame advert about some vegetable oil (this was before the era of Omega-3s et al) where the tagline went… waitaminute! Why am I even bothering. Suffice to say that, the word Magan always evokes Gagan followed by the “joke”. Going to a restaurant called Gaggan (Praise the Lord for the extra ‘n’) would then be too quirky, even for me. Read more of this article »
Posted in Gastronomy + Travel