Can you tell a variety from a varietal? And do you know when to decant?
Do you know the meaning of “terroir”? And why do some wine producers use screw tops these days; are they as good as corks? All of these questions were posed and answered on Saturday in Cochin.
Along with our friends Brian and Deb, Jamie and I shivered in an Arctic breeze pouring from the over-active a/c in the Ava Lounge at the Dream Hotel. We were there for a wine tasting, and had we known it was going to be so cold would have worn fingerless mittens and socks. But the prospect of free wine and maybe a few nibbles persuaded us to soldier on. Deb turned a linen napkin into an artful neckerchief, but there was nothing she could do about the wind whistling round her legs.
Most of the wine in India is made in Maharashtra, where the climate at 800m mirrors that of the vineyards of Europe. This was how Amit Chavan, emissary and training manager specialising in wine at United Spirits, began his presentation. Promising to be a by-numbers account of how wine is made, I sat back in my chair and prepared to hear everything I already knew. But Amit’s enthusiasm for his special subject was contagious, and the three tables of would-be wine tasters soon joined in with questions and comments.
Amit began a section on the health benefits of wine, working through slides which showed how wine was good for us. I suggested that the only health benefit of wine was that it was less bad for you than whisky or gin, and Jamie proposed that promoting wine as a health-giving drink was probably not the cleverest way to market it. Let’s be honest here, wine contains alcohol, alcohol is poison. How can it be good for you? As adults, we make our choices about drinking beer, wine or spirits, but let’s not kid ourselves that it is good for us. Even wine (despite what the French will tell you) is bad for you. We moved on to the next subject: wine and food. The joy of dining and drinking wine with friends is a new concept in India, and almost non-existent in South India. Amit has his work cut out to bring a whole new way of socialising with food and drink in Kerala, but he’s confident it will happen.
It was a good presentation: interactive, informative and interesting. Amit was engaging, and we learnt some new facts:
- There are 400 varieties of grapes in the world. India has twelve of them.
- “Variety” refers to the grape, e.g. Merlot; “varietal” refers to where the wine from that particular grape was made, e.g. France, South Africa, USA etc.
- Corks have been replaced by screw caps in many vineyards because some believe they are better at keeping wine fresh. Bottles with corks need to be stored on their sides, preferably at an angle so that the cork is covered in wine. Air between cork and liquid will eventually oxidise.
- Decanting? Not always necessary, particularly when it is a light, fresh wine. Decanting full-bodied wines which have deposits that might need to be removed, makes sense. Also, it’s sometimes a good idea to let some air into the wine before drinking it.
- “Terroir” is a term that has no English translation. It is like the fifth element, that “je ne c’est quoi” of viticulture. The fungus that grows in the soil, the insects which crawl through the roots, the strength of the sun and the amount of rainfall all affect the taste of the wine in your glass. Apparently.
Four Seasons Wines make seven varietal wines and two reserves. In Kerala you can buy the Chenin Blanc and the Shiraz only. Which is a shame, because I love white wine, but don’t like Chenin Blanc. Please bring the Sauvignon Blanc to Kerala, Mr Four Seasons!
And while I’m at it, Mr Four Seasons, can I have a word with you about branding? Why that awful font? Why is the label like a cheap 1970s British generic wine? Is that the kind of style the punters go for in the Indian market? If you plan to export, please have a word with Amit. I’m sure he’ll point you in the direction of some much prettier and classier labels.
So, after all the lessons and learning we got down to what we were all there for: the wine. I looked at the Chenin: yellow. I smelt the Chenin: fruit salad. I tasted the Chenin: a godawful mix of sweet, citric, fruit and salt. As I said before, not my favourite. To take away the taste of the wine, I ate a piece of tandoori chicken, which the waiter had dropped on my side plate. I took another sip of wine (come on, it was free). And a miracle happened. The wine was… good. Extraordinary. I tried another piece of chicken and swigged some wine with it. This time it wasn’t just OK, it was delicious!“This chicken is gorgeous,” I said to Jamie.
“It’s fish, isn’t it?” he said.
He was right. The skewered cubes were seerfish, a large, meaty kind of kingfish, a Kerala speciality. Somehow the fish and wine had combined to throw my sensed off balance. Meanwhile the others were all glugging and smiling. This Chenin was getting a big thumbs up.
Next the Shiraz. We all like Shiraz. It looked purply red. It smelt like berries and black pepper. It tasted like good red wine.
“How do we buy a case?” asked Deb.
“Can we buy two?” said Jamie.
The afternoon had been educational and enjoyable. We liked the wine. What more needs to be said?
For more information, contact Four Seasons Wines
Four Seasons Wines on Facebook HERE
With thanks to GingerClaps and to Nevin Thomas for their help.