When a wine tasting event was up for grabs, the first hand up was mine. The more you learn about alcohol, the better drinker you become, I figured. And, having attended a whisky tasting and a champagne tasting in the past, a wine class seemed overdue. What better way to start a conversation than by trying to figure out whether your wine is fruity, acidic, dry or semi-dry?
The Wine Club at the Shangri-La hotel, New Delhi, was launched in late January, and the hour-long meetings (I attended the fifth one) are held once a fortnight.
The aim: to educate members not just about different types of wines, but also about the food that goes best with them. One quick tip is to contrast the food with the wine you are drinking — for example, it is not advisable to have a sweet wine with fruits. The wines are chosen according to a specific genre — the grape or region — and country. Currently, the club has 30 members, 12 of whom were present for this tasting.
The tastings are led by Harshal Shah, sommelier from the wine importers Brindco, and by Andrew W. Steele, general manager of Shangri-La Hotel. This evening, we were tasting Riesling, a wine wine grape. Of the four Rieslings selected, Dr Loosen, Bernkastel, Mosel, 2006, and Leeuwin Estate Art Series, Margaret River, 2005, were from Australia, while Fern Label, Ulrich Langguth and Schlumberger Grand Cru, Saering, 1999, were from Germany.
The accompanying appetizers — consisting of bite-sized chicken puffs, crab and sole fish on crackers, prawn and vegetarian tempuras — were not the best I have had, but provided relief from all the wine consumption.
The good stuff
It was an educative evening. From talking about the history and geography of the wines and discussions in which members were asked for their views on them—Shah and Steele carried off the evening with aplomb. The wines ranged from slightly acidic, very sweet to dry, and the marked differences in taste helped identify them more easily. Once it was pointed out to me, the almost “paraffin-like” smell of the Riesling was unmistakable even to my untrained nose. The wine glasses weren’t removed from the table, so comparing the wines became simpler as I didn’t have to rely on the memory of the last sip.
The Wine Club also gave each member a wine journal to record their experiences. The journal has a detailed list that includes the name of the wine, and its vintage; producer; type; colour and appearance; aroma; and bouquet, along with the photocopy of the label, which can be used for future reference. You also get a Wine Club card, a Wine Club pin, 19% discount on food and wine at the 19 Oriental Avenue restaurant at Shangri-La and a 19% discount on all beverages at the hotel’s Island Bar once you become a member of the club.
The tasters did not explain the basics of how a wine should be tasted. So, a first-timer like me was forced to mimic the sniffing, swirling and gargling without knowing what I was doing. Also, I always believed you were supposed to spit out the wine after tasting it, but no such instructions were issued (better for me, I thought). The event started an hour late because some members did not show up and others cited traffic as the cause of their late arrival. Those of us who came at 7pm sharp stood around making polite conversation (admittedly, the free champagne was an incentive to stick around).
Another grouse: The entire session was conducted standing at the bar. After two hours of standing in the same place and trying desperately to lean on the counter for support, my back was ready to give way (okay, so I should hit the gym more often...). Cherri, who I befriended and who claimed to know her Riesling, said the selection of wines wasn’t the best of the lot.
Each session at the club is reasonably priced at Rs1,000 and included the wines, unlimited snacks and the add-ons mentioned above. To become a member, call the assistant food and beverage manager at the Shangri-La Hotel at 011-41196202. Attending more than one session automatically grants you membership to the club for six months.
For an evening of knowledge, meeting new people and doing something different, spending Rs1,000 is definitely worth it.