‘Country roads, take me home, to the place, I belong…. ’continuously played on my mind as we drove through sharp turns and hairpin bends in the region of Priorat, a 2 hour drive; down south from Barcelona. Priorat a wine region is like that buried treasure which was excavated and is now hogging the lime light and rightly so. I was on my first trip this summer only to leave happy high with my teeth stained with the big and bold reds. Not to forget my lunch with Alvaro Palacios at his winery in Gratallops drinking L’Ermita the most expensive wine from Spain and this one the 2014, going at a cool 800-1000 Euros a bottle.
Priorat lies in Tarragona, Southern Catalonia and it is flanked by Mont Sant mountain range in the North, the Figuera and the LLoar peaks in the west, Mollo mountains in the east and the south opens up to river Siurana. The region has a total area of around 17629 hectares of which only 1900 hectares is worked on by 576 grape growers. The terrer (terroir in French) with the highlight of Licorella, an easily breakable slate which forms the top soil is what the regions basks in. One of the only two DoCa s (highest ranked wine region) in Spain, Priorat’s wine making history actively began in the 12th century when the monks of the Carthusian order established their Priory in Scala Dei and ruled over seven villages, giving the region its name. These monks brought the knowledge of viticulture from the time in Provence France. Priorat wine continued to get popular and were exported all across Europe till Phylloxera struck in the 19th century. Vineyards were lost, the rugged terrain was then planted with nut trees, the region got depopulated and poverty beckoned! The good times are here and the region has seen a renaissance in the last 20 years. It being awarded the DoCa in 2006 was a major boost to the sheer quality of wines the terroir can produce.
95% of the wines made in the region are red with Garnacha or Grenache and Carinena or Carignan being the forerunners. Carignan gives wine body, coupled with astringency and high pigmentation and Garnacha is more suitable for fine, aromatic wines which are full bodied, have little colour and which are easily affected by oxygen. It is a popular grape variety for making “vins rancis” and “generosos” or old wines made using the solera method like in Jérez. In the last few years, other varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah have been introduced and have yielded good results. I witnessed it on tasting the Le Tercera 2014 from the house of Alvarez Duran of Porrera.
Priorat is divided into 12 villages and each with a different topography climatic influences and they are recognized by the term ‘Vi de Vila’ (village wines) and the rare ‘Vi de Finca’ (Single vineyard wine). The villages being, Bellmunt, Scaladei, Gratallops, El Lloars, El Morera, Poboleda, Porrera, Torroja, Villela Alta, Villela Baixa, Falset and Molar. Even ‘Torres’ a brand that is synonymous to Spanish wines in India have their winery in El Lloar and their Perpetual 2014 impressed.
Albeit the differences in the meso-climates, one of the few elements that helps the region to ripen the big reds and retain the flavours is the long ripening season caused by the diurnal temperature variance of more than 25 degree Celsius with night temperatures dropping to 12 and the morning racing to 40. The second being the bush-trained viticulture happening on tortuous and rocky terrain based on schist soils with many vineyards going at an incline of 60 degrees and hence the need of terracing. And lastly the low yield which can be as low as 300 Gms a vine is a result of old vines and poor soils thus yielding concentrated fruit and commanding a price.
I really hope to see Priorat wines in India soon, but price could be a deterrent. A certain ray of hope is Torres banking on its brand awareness to create a category. Until then on your next visit to Barcelona, take a day trip to Priorat amidst the ravines, rivers, steep vineyards and a lot of wines. If not for anything else, Spain better retain Catalunya for the mighty Priorat!
15 REDS from Priorat to try -
La Tercera 2014 – Alvarez Duran – Porrera
Finca Dofi 2014 – Alvaro Palacios – Gratallops
Petit Mas Sinen 2013 – Cellar Burgos Porta – Poboleda
1270 a vuit 2009 – Celler Hidalgo Albert – Poboleda
Los Torrents 2012 – Celler Pasanau – La Morera de Montsant
Porrera Vi de Vila 2014 - Celler Vall Llach – Porrera
Font de la Figuera 2014 – Clos Figueras – Gratallops
Clos Galena – Clos Galena – El Molar
Ferrer Bobet 2014 – Ferrer Bobet – Falset
GV5 2010 – Gratavinum – Gratallops
Mas Mallola – Marco Abella – Porrera
Cirerets 2014 – Mas Alta – La Vilella Alta
Doix 2013 – Mas Doix – Poboleda
L’expressio Del Priorat 2016 – Vinitum – Poboleda
Les Brugueres 2014 - La Conreria – Escaladei
Valentine ’s Day is here and it gives another reason for people to manifest their love. In many of the Continental cultures it still signifies the advent of spring however in the modern times Anglo-American culture connects the day to romantic love. And going out with your loved ones on a special day can’t go wrong. Here are some of the places I would prefer all year around for a cozy meal.
Romanos, J W Sahar
One of the most tastefully done restaurants in town, the Romano’s has the charm of a fine-dine with plush banquette seating, wine displays and of course top service whilst the upstairs has a very interactive bar making it a good space for a pre or post dinner tipple. With Chef Zorzoli at the helm, you will see a different/modern side of Italian cooking.
Good Wife, BKC Bandra
This is a high energy cocktail space with crafted food. Tucked in the corporate hub of BKC, the Good Wife is not a space for a quiet fine-dine dinner. Good wife is casual with a great cocktail culture and comforting food with cuisine spanning Asian to Continental, no Indian though. Gastro-pubbing could be the new Valentine thing!
Shizusan, Phoenix Mills
After a round of Valentine shopping at the Phoenix, this Asian Bistro is great sport for some quality sushis, dimsums and other Asian Fare. The wooden décor blends in the experience and the drinks menu with Asia inspired cocktails complement to make the evening gastromantic!
Kode, Kamala Mills
This bar and eatery boasts of a 130 plus whiskies and 30 plus gins on the menu and I would start my evening with the latter and tonic and end with dram of the former. The food is modern presentation and multi-cuisine and you will love it. Beware the music levels go up as the might progresses, for a quieter dinner with conversations, you must be on your dessert course by 9pm.
A restaurant by the beach this one serves European fare with some brilliant sunset-views if you are there in time. They have an open-air and a indoor section, cover charges could apply on busy nights. Food and wine is my call for Estella.
The restaurant emerged in the top few of the Indian f&b scene at some recent awards and their food, drinks and service certainly vouch for it. Food with attention to detail, sustained cocktail (g&t) culture and a robust wine scene are the hallmarks of this place. Be prepared to shell out a lot more.
South of Vindhyas, Orchid Hotel
With the sitar and table playing the background, this restaurant helmed by Chef Bala for the last two decades will enthrall you with its food from the south India. In a traditional Mangalorean home like setting this place is the one you can enjoy your Valentine day with your family with conversations, food and music.
When was it the last time you tipped your dentist or your accountant?? Of course they also offered service but you didn’t seem the need to. Why? Did you feel they are as rich as you or perhaps richer? Did you think they might take offence as they are ‘professionals’? So many questions playing on my mind, I am sure they are playing on yours too now. To make things easy, when did you tip your waiter last?? If you did tip the waiter then why not tip an accountant?
Tipping these days euphemistically called the service charge is my opinion the cause of certain unsaid divide or classification of the society based on profession. Certain professions like in this case waiters or bartenders rely a lot on their tip for their day to day living; they yearn for those at the end of the day or month. This tipping culture in India I feel strips the profession of the self-respect that each profession should carry. Tipping is done more out of sympathy aka charity than it is out of delight considering tipping is applicable only in certain professions and those are not preferred work options for people.
Restaurants may argue about a mandatory service charge as they want their employees to get paid for service, of course I do not deny that but isn’t it their job and aren’t they getting a salary to do it??? Why should a customer pay that extra 10% over host of other taxes?? If the organizations think their associates deserve more; then why not hike up the menu by 10% and distribute amongst staff as sales incentives. You wouldn’t want to leave them to the mercy of the customers, you would want to become that company that cares and respects their employees.
On the flipside, baksheesh raj also affects the levels of service; customers receive it based on their looks, the way they dress, the color of their skin and more and the hotel or restaurant associates are more likely to cling to those who are more likely to tip based on their naïve judgment and this is potentially harmful for the brand. So many restaurants where I feel foreigners get better treatment that their Indian counterparts purely based on an assumption of the former’s propensity to tip.
No job is menial and each job should be perceived with equal respect. Tipping or no there are enough divides and tipping just adds to getting a particular profession that ‘sympathetic’ angle. Pays in hospitality are low and given there is no self-respect too, not many people want to associate with it and if this persists the industry shall struggle to get skilled workforce to join then and this will take the standard of the entire industry down.
If you are an organization that wants to make a difference, then start sales incentives and have a no tipping policy. You will be the change!
As we peer into the Celtic twilight to figure the history of today’s whisky, we realize that it is as cloudy and misty as the Scottish highlands. The modern history of the liquid which goes back 600 years tells us that it all began in Ireland and then travelled to the Isles of Scotland and then the mainland. The word whisky derives from the Irish ‘Uisce beatha’ or Gaelic ‘Uisge Beatha’ both meaning ‘water of life’. This World Whisky Day celebrated every year on the third Saturday of May, here are my five whisky picks you should try if you haven’t already….. Just gives us Indians another reason to drink our favorite dark spirit!
Blender’s Pride - India:
A very popular brand which uses the fashion route for surrogate advertising is a blend of Indian grain spirit and Scotch malt. Considering the molasses and ENA (Extra Neutral Alcohol) whiskies that India is infamous for, this brand does great justice and in fact is good alternative for many blended Scotch whiskies. Do not undermine it considering its measly price of Rs 1150 a bottle, try this whisky blind with your imports and you will know.
Woodford Reserve – USA:
The bottle stands out amongst bourbon whiskies and the liquid doesn’t fail to impress. Aged in barrels made in their own cooperage this elixir shows nuances of prunes and figs with the freshness of orange, it is well rounded but more crisp than luscious.
Wolfburn – Scotland:
This is mainland Scotland’s most northerly distillery and it is built 350m away from the ruins of a 19th century distillery from where it gets It name; making the Wolfburn one of the youngest too. The whisky is aged in ex-Islay cask which gives the dram that smoke and the maritime character is induced by proximity to the sea, a factor often seen in highland malts by the coast.
Paul John Bold – India:
This one is making India proud. This Single Malt from Goa is available in over 20 countries and scores over 94 points in the whisky bible. At 40 ppm peat this smoky whisky is likely to impress those who love their Islay malts. It is a perfect blend for making Penicillin and sours too. It is available in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa, Chandigarh and now Delhi.
Chivas Regal 18 – Scotland:
‘Get me two bottles of Chivas on your way back from your trip abroad’ is a common request I am sure many of us are familiar with. However this is for the 12 year variant, have you ever tried the 18 year old elixir?? A rich liquid reminiscent of orange peels, vanilla, sweet spice and dried stone fruits will surely get you indulging.
Whiskies or any other spirit which has taken that long to age demands our time to be enjoyed and that too very slowly. I say a small shot of aged whisky should go for 30 minutes, sip and bask in the wooded glory for sometime before the next sip. A neat dram of whisky at around 15 degree Celsius is the perfect shot and if you think otherwise then drown it in milk, soda or whatever, you are the paying consumer and you have a choice to have it your way!
In a room full of corporate honchos at the members-only Chambers at the Taj Mahal Hotel, Bruce Cakebread the owner of Cakebread Cellars, Napa Valley showcased his effort; his wines, one after the other as the top brass of the city enjoyed a sit down meal and spoke about their Napa sojourns and of course the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. At another august gathering on the same evening at Yuuka the Japanese restaurant at the St Regis, patrons enjoyed a glimpse of Robert Mondavi wines , the institution in Napa which revolutionized the American wine industry and Mondavi thus got to be known as the Father of American wine. Is this the beginning of the American wine story in India, I thought to myself!
Despite America as a country more recognizable in India than some of the below mentioned its wine failed to find space on shelves and if it did find place on the wine list they moved very slow. Why? In the recent past American wines were represented by Iconic brands like Beringer, Stag’s Leap, Stag’s Leap Wine cellars, Cakebread etc and consumers weren’t ready to pay as much for an American wines as much they were for the French and Italian. It is changing now albeit slowly! Indians are slowly starting to wake up to wines in general and the last six years have been crucial in the overall wine culture growing. I accredit this to the many Indian wineries who have been making superior quality wines every passing year and also the top importers and modern retail who ensure that wines are reaching us in good condition, it wasn’t the case in the last decade. In the 21st century the French and Italian wines ruled followed by an era of inexpensive Australian and then the Chile, South African and the Argentinean wines. Is it time for America?
Kendall Jackson from Sonoma and Chateau St Michelle from Washington state have been trying to take a share of the market but have been able to only scratch the surface; below which rule the Jacob’s Creek and the Two Oceans of the world. As much as we need might of the likes of Bruce Cakebread to tell us about the purity of Napa so do we need the presence of an Export manager of a commercial cos to tell us stories about 50 million bottles a year! People may say that I’m advocating ‘2 buck chucks’ but the point remains that money and taste can’t be equated and an option should be provided at every price point and America has those options. I sipped on a Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Chardonnay paired with the Avocado Tartare and thoughts of my Napa visit enthralled as I viewed the Mumbai skyline from the 38th floor of the St Regis!
P.S: Look up ‘Judgement of Paris’ and you will know what happened in 1976
On November 22, 2013 the Australian trade mark office quashed the European Commission’s appeal to register Prosecco as a GI produce coming from Italy as the members of the Winemaker’s federation of Australia rejoiced. Had it not been the case, I woudn’t have relished a glass of the crisp Prosecco sparkling from King Valley, Australia on a hot Mumbai afternoon.
De Bortoli,Australia’s second largest family owned wine co’s wines were unveiled in Mumbai over a Yum Cha replete with wines and devoid of tea. The afternoon began with the glass of Prosecco (Rs 2650), it gave a refreshing start whilst adding enough fuel for conversations to begin. Prosecco & Oz!! Darren Blood, Export Manager for APAC and emerging markets wasn’t surprised and soon put the prying minds to rest. A refreshing Pinot Grigio from Riverina (Rs 1850) soon followed with some truffled edamame money bags.
De Bortoli wines comes with a bigger portfolio this time, the mouthful Shiraz from Heathcote;the Woodfired (rs 3500) , Riorret the silky single vineyard Yarra valley Pinot Noir (Rs 8000) and for a fascinating end to the afternoon was ‘The Noble One’, a botrytis Semillon (Rs 5950 375 ml) bursting with dried apricots, orange zest and citrus notes with bracing acidity. De Bortoli wines are imported in the country by Prestige wines and spirits popular for their Spanish heavy weight Torres. Hope that De Bortoli wines, family-owned with an Italian legacy resonate with the Indian wine lovers and are able to make a mark too!
After the Andersen series Flipsydee launched Chateau Timberlay, Bordeaux wines from the house of Robert Giraud at a magnifique soiree at the Sofitel Hotel, Mumbai.
In an evening of music, gourmet food, glimpse of cabaret artists from the Lido Paris and art; the wines from Chateau Timberlay flowed to enchant. The venue Hriday was transformed into a beautiful French garden with a majestic replica of Arc de Triomphe in the entrance. Cremant de Bordeaux, Bordeuax Blanc and two variants of the rouge were unveiled. The wines start at Rs 2990. Chateau Timberlay an estate from the 14th century when the French were ruled by the British takes its name from the strong Atlantic winds that would knock down trees enroute ,'lay the timbers' as the Brits put it. Nonethless the Brits were the one spread the Claret word around and this wine is available in over 75 countries. To Claret, Cheers!
Flypsydee one of India's popular wine and spirit importers held the first tasting of the H.C. Andersen’s fairy tales inspired wines from the House of Robert Giraud a popular name in Bordeaux, France.
The series comprises a range of wines from the Languedoc region in Southern France with the labels inspired by Hans Christian Andersen the world famous writer of popular fairy tales such as “The Little Mermaid”, “The Wild Swans”, and “The Chimney Sweeper”. As a tribute to his work, Robert Giraud created 6 varietals and assigned a reputed Danish artist Pia Kryger Lakha to create illustrations for the 6 corresponding labels. From the fairy tales range three wines are now available in India Chardonnay Columbard, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. At the price of Rs 2390 a bottle the reds are quite a steal,Cabernet Sauvignon was our choice!
Ventisquero, the 5th largest family owned wine company in Chile makes a comeback into India with a more affordable under Rs 1500 Clasico range. A cool climate Sauvignon Blanc, Chile’s classic Carmenere and their approachable Cabernet Sauvignon are now available in India and are imported by Aspri spirits.
Vina Ventisquero started in 1998, despite being based in Maipo valley they make wines from grapes grown across the wine growing region as far as the arid Atacama Desert up north and the best part, their source is 1800 hectares of their own vineyards or some they rent. Ventisquero’s first stint in India was with their Grey range didn’t seemingly go well because of prohibitive pricing due to taxation and adding it to it was the perception of premium Chilean wine; which is yet to sink in . Mr Nicolas Kowalski, Area Sales Director –Asia of Vina Ventisquero on his maiden India trip echoed the same thoughts, ‘We are restarting our India story and this time with our Clasico range. Given the taxation and the market readiness we would be exploring Grey and the premium ranges for the duty-free segment. We have more in our portfolio like the Pangea, a collaboration of Felipe Tosso our winemaker and John Duval the ex-Chief of Penfolds . We will unleash them gradually if the market responds well. At the moment our focus is to let people explore a good Chilean wine, the Clasico range”
‘This Father’s Day the perfect gift for your dad is whisky’ would be one of the many ads that might pop on your social pages. I am sure that one’s whisky loving father is happy anytime you get him a bottle of liquid sunshine. Moreover many even would like the same brand over years! So this Father’s day why don’t you help him open his horizons and get him know more about whisky, a different elixir with a different history, the Bourbon. Perhaps this will stay with him longer than that bottle of whisky …
Bourbon whisky was named after the Bourbon, one of the original counties of Kentucky when the latter was still a part of Virginia. The early settlers in the 1700s, the Scots, Northern Irish, the Germans and the Americans from the east (who were used to rye) quickly understood the positives of producing a spirit based out the native-corn considering corn was in plenty and difficult to transport due to bulk. This corn spirit transported in wooden barrels down the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans aged during the voyage and was appreciated at the final destination and began to be called the ‘Bourbon Whisky’. In the 1780s Reverend Elijah Craig; the father of Bourbon whiskey took a step further to char the barrels from inside which today is responsible for the distinctive nose and color of a Bourbon. Now why did he char it has its own line-up of lore. Bourbon is now recognized or believed to be the only ‘native American spirit’ and can be made anywhere in the United States.
Now what does it take to be a Bourbon!
Minimum 51% corn
The Mash bill as they call it is the proportion of grains the distiller uses to make the whisky. To be called Bourbon the whiskey has to contain at least 51% corn. Different distillers would adjust the mash bill based on the nuances they wish to achieve. For example the Woodford Reserve uses 18% Rye in its blend which lends spicier notes to the finished product and in Bulleit it is 28% which make it spicier. The other grain used is Barley and some Bourbon distilleries are tried their hand at malt whiskies too.
Aged in charred new oak barrels
‘Straight’ is the word you need to look for on the label. When it says straight Bourbon it has to age for a minimum of 2 yrs in charred new American oak barrels and it can just go in for a day for it to be called only Bourbon. Bulleit has no age statement but is typically aged between 6-8 yrs and so is Buffalo trace for the same average period. Some distilleries also experiment with different oak influences like the Maker’s Mark 46 which sees French Oak Staves for that French elegance.
Whilst Bourbon can be made anywhere in the USA, 95% of it comes from Kentucky. The iron free water which is rich in calcium and magnesium is most preferred for distillation and that has kept the industry flourishing over the last 200 years. Jack Daniel’s, you finally hear it! JD is a Tennessee whisky which starts its life as Bourbon and then undergoes a process of Maple Charcoal filtration also called the Lincoln County process which finally renders it to be a Tennessee whiskey. To be a Tennessee it has to be made in Tennessee unlike bourbon. So JD is not a Bourbon!
To be termed Bourbon it has to be bottled at more than 40% alcoholic strength and can go into the barrel at no more than 62.5%. This lower strength of alcohol while going into the barrel is to ensuring slow and steady aging than leeching of flavour with a high alcoholic spirit. The Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is bottled at 54-57% ABV (alcohol by volume)
No Caramel, No Colour!
‘Straight bourbon whiskey’ doesn’t allow the use of any additives, just water. When it says only Bourbon then it does allow a small percentage of additives to enhance the liquid.
Now all of the above being a given for bourbons, distilleries try and differentiate themselves with the shape of stills they use, pot stills in addition to a column, the location of the warehouses, years in aging and of course the water source, these contribute to the final elixir in the bottle. I will leave you with a few images from our recent Kentucky visit and some brands to lay hands on your next visit to the USA.
Pappy Van Winkle
Makers Mark 46
Woodford Double Oaked
(The last two also make fantastic Rye whiskies; I will leave them for some other day)
P.S: Use of Whisky or Whiskey is completely at your discretion. Nobody cares as long as the whiskeee is good!