Wine in Manhattan, A Sommelier India tasting

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On Friday evening Sommelier India hosted a wine tasting in New York. The plan was simple – introduce the guests to the world of wine in a simple, fun and yet educational way. Shiv Singh reports. Rather than choosing to do an official vertical or a horizontal tasting, I consulted my local wine retailer and bought five wines from around the world (Napa, Bordeaux, Chianti, Rioja.) bottlestasting1.jpg


Each wine cost roughly $20 and each of these wines were considered to be good ambassadors of their “provenance.”
Given that this was Manhattan, the Napa Valley choice was the most critical. I knew that my Indian friends who would be tasting these wines, drink a lot of Napa Cabernet. I couldn’t just introduce them to another one. There had to be something special about it.
My choice – the Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 from the Yountville winery in Napa Valley. Known as Napa’s first winery, this is the original Mondavi winery owned and managed by the Peter Mondavi family. This is the very same winery that Robert Mondavi left in 1966 when he fought with his father. Needless to say, it didn’t disappoint. Tasting blind, everyone immediately identified this as a young Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa. The group was pleasantly surprised to learn that Charles Krug Winery is arguably as important as Robert Mondavi in the history of wine making in America.
The next wine chosen was a Château Greysac 2003 from the Medoc in Bordeaux. Bottled in the Château itself, this Cru Bourgeois Superieur, I was told, was made in the classic Bordeaux style. I thought it would be perfect for my needs. But here, there was a problem. When decanting the wine an hour before the guests were to arrive, I noticed signs of seepage. The cork was obviously faulty and wine had seeped all the way up the cork. A quick sniff and I could tell that oxidation had occurred. Nevertheless, I chose to include it in the tasting. Most of the group found the nose unusual but were quite happy with the taste. The wine had retained some of the velvet, balance and smoothness that one finds in a Bordeaux wine.
When shopping for the wines, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a Nipozzano Riserva Chianti Rufina 2005 from the Frescobaldi family. Knowing that this wine is available in many hotel restaurants in India, it was an obvious choice to include from Italy. And the wine did not disappoint. With the 2004 ranked 91 points by Wine Spectator, this wine certainly had strong pedigree and it showed. With complex fragrance, dark fruit, spiciness, hints of coffee and a good finish, it was my favorite. Most others at the tasting liked it too.
The fourth wine was an Ondarre Reserva Rioja 2002 from Spain. The tempranillo grape which constituted 75% of the wine was new to most of the guests and they had mixed feelings about it. They liked the strong attack and found it to be full bodied with good oak. But somehow it was overshadowed by the Charles Krug Cabernet.
The final wine was a Punto Final Malbec 2007. The youngest wine of all. Here was another wine with good pedigree. Both the 2006 and the 2004 were rated 90 plus by Wine Enthusiast. During the tasting itself, this wine did very well. There were lots of oos and ahs about it as the group tasted it blind. This was largely because of its rich bouquet and velvety texture. However, strangely enough, this was the only bottle with wine left in it at the end of the evening.
Wine tastings are both easy and fun to organize and to attend. Everything from choosing the wines, to thinking carefully about how much your guests know about wine, to the introductory speech and the order of the wine, counts. There’s no science to this but one thing is for certain, the more tastings you organize, the more you will be able to share the joys of wine drinking with friends and other enthusiasts.
On a side note, as the guests were still learning about wine, a simple tasting sheet was included for each person. The tasting sheet gave guests the criteria with which to describe the wine through a series of questions, which made the tasting easier for them.

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks Shiv – interesting note indeed. As one of the participants, now I know what to buy next!! Here is encouraging all to try out this at one of your homes. All you need is 5 bottles of wine, a pad, and some foil to cover the wines up.
    But hey, all this wine tasting stuff is just good marketing from the wine industry, right? Even the results from a recent study from Wine Economics lends my view some credence (http://www.wine-economics.org/workingpapers/AAWE_WP16.pdf).
    Basically it says the following:
    The writers use a large sample of more than 6,000 US blind tastings. They investigate the relationship between price and subjective appreciation of wines, when the price is unknown to the tasters. Subjective appreciation is measured by overall ratings assigned to wines by individual participants.
    To quote:
    “Our main finding is that, on average, individuals who are unaware of the price do not derive more enjoyment from more expensive wine. In fact, they enjoy more expensive wines slightly less.”
    Here’s a toast to two-buck Chuck!!!

  2. Hi Utsav – I would be the first to agree with you that when starting out, in the World of Wine, CHEAP & CHEERFUL is no bad thing at all.
    However, a friend of mine once said to me – and I do not know where the original quote came from – “You drink the WINE not the PRICE or the LABEL”.
    So, to learn about different Wines really there is no alternative to a Tasting and, naturally, with the International competition being what it is, both wine producers and wine marketers see such samplings as the best way to reach their target audience.
    I once asked Magandeep Singh – one of the better known Sommeliers in India – why it was that Indians were not more adventurous about trying out wines.
    His reply was that Wine, in general in India, is still a special occasion drink and most newbies have their exposure to wine at eestaurants where, obviously, it is a darn sight more expensive than picking up a bottle in retail.
    Keeping Restaurant mark-ups in mind – usually around 400% – the cheapest INTERNATIONAL WINE would cost around Rs.1600/- the bottle. Now, say you are a JW Black drinker, the Restaurant price would be around Rs.300/- the peg of 30ml.So you could knock back 5 shots of your favorite tipple for the cost of a bottle of Wine!! What would YOU rather do?
    This, Magan said, worked against Indians sampling wines, unless it was offered by the glass, when it would be in the Rs.300 – 350 price range. The catch here is that most stand alone restaurants lack systems to preserve open bottles and so shy away from by-the-glass offers.
    The Wines that Shiv picked up, at $20 average, are certainly not budget wines; they would be mid-market range. Now, if one did not do an organised sampling – and the Trade estimates 15 sampling pours per Bottle – there would never be an opportunity to pick and choose one that you liked and would be willing to pay for.
    Diogenes is supposed to have said “What I like to drink most is wine that belongs to others”.
    So thank the Lord for small mercies – and keep up the good work, Shiv!!

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