The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Swirl, twirl and savour it right

Wine. Whisky. Cigars. Cheese. Each small word opens up a subject of unfathomable depth and infinite scope. Individuals spend a lifetime studying, researching, experimenting, fine-tuning and improving on the ways of making them; sometimes it is a family tradition and several generations devote their lives to doing the same. Simply knowing these subjects well is a deep involvement in itself, an ongoing process as one lives and learns and the subjects themselves grow and develop. And even to just sit back and enjoy a fine whisky, a vintage wine, a smooth cigar or a good cheese, a certain amount of experience and knowledge can do no harm.

Last week saw two interesting ' and uplifting ' events, both held at Roxy, the cocktail lounge at The Park. On Wednesday the 14th, guests were invited to enjoy the pleasures of single malt whisky and cigars. What I thought was a judicious idea was that one single single malt was served the entire evening. The idea was to highlight and introduce to guests one of Scotland's very best, though lesser known, whiskies ' The Glenrothes ' distilled since 1879 in Speyside beside the Burn (a natural, freshwater stream) of Rothes, which flows from the Mannoch Hills into the River Spey, an area of the Scottish Highlands universally acknowledged as the heartland of malt whisky distillation.

The Glenrothes distillery also followed the practice of declaring vintages ' certain years when the whisky was exceptional, an unusual concept in an industry where the usual endeavour is to produce a uniformly same product every year. On Wednesday they served The Glenrothes 1992. The Glenrothes is also a 'top dressing' (a flavour and quality enhancer) of choice for master blenders in Scotland and is at the heart of some of the finest blended whiskies such as Cutty Sark, The Famous Grouse and many other great names. For me, this was a top discovery and has become a favourite.

Cigars to be appreciated that evening were also of one single brand, though of four varieties. They were Don Diego cigars, handmade in the Dominican Republic. There were Coronas Major Tubes, Perlas, Crystal Coronas and Anniversarios. Don Diego cigars are generally considered to be mild to medium bodied in taste and descriptions go like 'This cigar has a creamy flavour with some rough notes. The finish is a bit vegetal', or 'Rustic and pale, this cigar has notes of green wood and sweet grass'. Not a cigar smoking man myself, I was unable to say, but several guests were comparing verbal notes with Eric Piras, ambassador for Don Diego cigars.

Friday the 16th was an evening for wine and cheese aficionados. The welcome drink for each guest was a glass of Brut Veuve du Vernay, a French sparkling wine. During the course of the evening, two other white wines were served ' both still ' one Italian (Michele Chiarlo Gavi) and one from Argentina (Malambo Chardonnay Chenin Bl'nc).

There were five red wines; three Italian (Dogajolo Carpineto, Michele Chiarlo Barbera d' Asti and Col d' Orcia Ginetrone Chianti), one from Chile (Errazuriz Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon) and one from Argentina (Malambo Merlot Bonarda). This selection of Old World and New World wines was done by the man of the moment and master of ceremonies for the evening, Magandeep Singh, who is India's only certified sommelier and has a post-graduate diploma in wine tasting from L' Universite du Vin, Sousse-La-Rousse, France, and is also the author of a book, Wine Wisdom: Buying and Drinking Wine in India.

It is a very handy and well-written book that aims at making the reader comfortable with a subject that can be as bewildering as it can be intimidating. He tries to demystify it, and as the back cover says, he 'takes wine off the snob table and puts it in a handy brown bag for all to relish'. The book is full of nuggets of information and a nice anecdote or two, such as this one:

'I remember when I meekly confessed at a tasting exercise at university that a certain red wine paired wonderfully with my smoked salmon; the French students in my class sighed and nodded with the despair and pity normally reserved for someone who's dealing with things obviously way out of his league. Well, I had the last laugh when the professor chirped his approval of my observation and said that, surprised as he was, he felt the same way!'

Magandeep is a fit, dynamic and fast-talking young man and although there was no formal tasting session conducted that evening ' it was a casual, party atmosphere ' he was always ready to share his expertise, and when he did address a cluster of people around him to share some ideas, he made the point that it is important for each person to be comfortable with his or her choice. It is just as valid as anyone else's.

For myself, though I am far from being knowledgeable on the subject, I felt enriched by the thought that wine, and the enjoyment of it, opens a window into the infinite variety of life itself. Each glass has a distinct personality and tells a tale of its own.

With the culture of wine drinking in this country gaining in strength each day, we can embark on a long and interesting journey and that is why The Park has started a Wine Club for connoisseurs in Calcutta and across the country. They are planning sit-down dinners where food and wines have been carefully paired, tasting sessions and interactions with wine gurus and wine makers and more.

Friday's party was a first step in that direction. The cheeses, and other snacks as well, had been chosen keeping the wine list in mind. Nothing was formally conducted; guests were free to mix and match as they felt like. Among the cheeses there was Gouda, Ementhal, Danish Blue and Smoked Mozzarella and perhaps the absence of any strict pairing allowed people to come to their own conclusions.

Not yet a true convert to the cause of wine drinking, I nevertheless see it as a distinct possibility in time to come.

In the meantime, single malts have a definite edge. Simply neat. Cheers.

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