One truly enjoyable way of entertaining at home is hosting an evening cocktail party. Barbecues are great fun and perfect for when the sun is up and the pool is beckoning, but there are times when people like to dress up a bit and enjoy an evening of good conversation (this excludes conversations about the weather, which are, according to Oscar Wilde, the last refuge of the unimaginative!), delicious food and of course, good wine. Soirées are a good way of bringing friends together for a fun, relaxing time.
Among the topics of conversation will most certainly be the wine being served, so this is an occasion where you can impress your guests. At the same time, you dont really want to blow your bank balance, particularly in these dicey economic times.
Thankfully, there are wines available in India that are high achievers and are recognised as high quality wines. They arent always expensive and if the wine market is to develop in India, there has to be a move to demonstrating to the everyday wine drinker that good wine is not always expensive: price does not always equal quality.
There are occasions when expensive wine is called for: impressing your CEO at a corporate dinner table, for example. When it comes to friends at home, my feeling is that they turn up more for your company than to raid your cellar, so be sensible in your wine choices. The following guidelines might make this task of selecting wines a bit easier.
Champagne is the ideal aperitif. Its dry, fizzy, cold and so very refreshing. The dryness is the key here. It stimulates that taste buds and because theres no sweetness in the drink, leaves them looking for more flavour. This message is transmitted to the stomach as well, so your appetite is well-primed after a glass or two of bubbly.
The easiest champagne to acquire in India is Moet et Chandons Brut Imperial. This is a very easy-to-drink style —light, fresh and easy. If champagne is a bit out of your budget, then a good Cava (sparkling wine from Spain) is a wonderful alternative. The wine is made in the same method as champagne and is usually dry and refreshing, with sometimes floral notes in the aroma.
Freixenets Cordon Negro (the black bottle) and Codorníu Brut should be available for well under Rs 1,000 a bottle and is perfect to start things off. If youre mixing the fizz into champagne cocktails (sugar cube soaked in Angostura bitters, a dash of brandy and topped with bubbly, garnished with a strawberry) or Kir Royales (bubbly with a dash of crème de cassis liqueur) then Cava is perfect.
As things start to warm up, there will be a call for still wine. White wines generally go well with lighter foods — white meats such as chicken or turkey, pastas and risotto, and seafood, so you may want to design your canapés accordingly. A wine that is drinking wonderfully at the moment is Jean-Luc Colombos Viognier (vee-yon-yay) from southern France.
The wine is called La Violette and has super-inviting aromas of apricots and peaches, mingled with honey, citrus and a general floral perfume. This is sure to be a wine that will have your guests chattering all night and one that they will remember. Its availability varies, but call (011) 2332 2404 to find out where this wine is available.
Villa Maria Private Bin Chardonnay from New Zealand is also exceptional value and can be found countrywide. Both these wines sell for under Rs 1,500 a bottle. Red wines tend to marry slightly richer, meatier dishes, including plates with mushrooms or red meat and even pizza. An all-time favourite is Yalumbas (a top Australian producer) Y series range of wines. The Y series Shiraz Viognier from the Barossa Valley is juicy, succulent, peppery wine that is real structured enough to match even slightly spicy non-vegetarian kebabs.
If youre looking to impress, then a bottle of red Burgundy is sure to make a few heads turn your way. Affordable Burgundy is produced by Maison Albert Bichot, a large family producer. When in doubt, always buy young wine, as you may not know how older vintages have been stored, particularly in India.
Ports and cognacs are great to round off the evening and go well with mature cheeses like aged Cheddars, and can even accompany chocolate. For that special send-off, however, try and hunt down some dessert wine from Sauternes, a small region in Bordeaux that is famous for seductive sweet wines.
The best Sauternes are wonderfully refreshing and have a lustrous golden yellow colour, sometimes with hints of amber. The fresh acidity in these wines makes the perfect accompaniments to some Indian desserts like jalebi and ras malai. Unfortunately, these wines are difficult to find in India and some can be expensive, but, how often do you entertain guests at your place, and wouldnt it be quite cool to have your guests leave with a sweet memory of your party?
As always, make sure there is plenty of drinking water around and remind your guests about the perils of drinking and driving!