I was surprised when Pramod Krishna, President of the 'Friends and Single Malt Club’ invited me (and vigorously followed up) to attend a dinner at Hotel Trident in Gurgaon to celebrate their first anniversary of the club as a special invitee. I excused myself as I don’t drink anything but wine and don’t like to embarrass the hosts. Not only did he persist, he even suggested that they would bend the rules just for me and serve wine even in the pre-function area. Though I found it awkward and embarrassing, I did accept his invitation only because it was their anniversary dinner.
There would be no one better than me who understands the importance and sentiments involved in such a dinner since we ourselves were celebrating the 10th anniversary dinner of the Delhi Wine Club which I founded in January 2002 but initially focused on creating the website and dissemination of information on the Net before actually organising the first dinner on 29thJuly at the Spirit Restaurant in Connaught Place, thanks in part to Sourish Bhattacharyya who had in the meantime joined the club as a Vice President.
It was the dinner at Trident and then at Spirit a couple of days later that made my belief stronger that such clubs are a pleasant journey with no particular, stressful goals set up (unless they are commercial clubs in which case money eclipses the passion. But the enthusiasm shown by the Members of the club (initially known as Friends of Single Malt Club) and the seriousness with which they went about conducting the evening-including a tasting of 12,15,18 and 21 year tasting of Glenfiddich by the brand ambassador Anish Trivedi, who has been admittedly drinking various variants, vintages (in single malt the year represents the minimum age of whisky in the bottle, I learnt). There were animated discussions about the aromas, the sweetness or smokiness of the same and which one was preferred by whom.
I was also to learn that whisky as single malt evolved only since 1963. With less than 50 years of the concept, the beverage has done wonders for itself with a growth of over 60% annually in India (some say 100% annually in the last 3 years). It is perhaps the only beverage that resembles wine in that the aromas, flavours and after-taste play an important role. There have been several attempts by the whisky companies and the single malt companies to promote food-malt matching which, to my biased mind, are just non starters- only because the high alcohol seems to be an inhibitor. Like Cognac, it could be a great end to a meal (I would prefer an ice-wine, Vin Santo, Tokaj, Sauternes, TBA or a Pantelleria-even an Amarone is great in the company of friends).
Although at the Delhi Wine Club of which I am still the President, we have strict rules of serving only wine (no cokes, juices, sake or cognacs either), I felt gratified that wine was made available to me, though the Mapu Chardonnay-which I think was Chilean but the server insisted it was from California-would not stand up to the quality of the different-aged Single Malts at the end of the meal I noticed most glasses still had the liquid, which I interpreted as unmatchable with food through my coloured glasses!).
Such enthusiasm needs to be encouraged and not just because it gives the producers a correct feedback from the people who are supposedly connoisseurs or at least are interested and potential customers. It helps the members try something at reasonable prices; the whisky for the evening was sponsored, I gathered. The restaurant also gets business and hopefully better footfalls in future. In short, it is a win-win situation for everyone.
It is in this context that we have done extremely well in Delhi Wine Club (DWC) as a wine lovers’ group. It didn’t dawn on me till later when many members told me that they had regretted several other, important events only because they were sentimental about the event that marked the completion of 10 years and with people clamouring to become members, it must have been a great achievement for the club-the fact that it was also the 198th event meant that we had been quite active. The evening must have been a booster shot just as it would have been for the Friends and Single Malt Club which is a baby compared to the DWC.
Ten years ago when I formed the club I was suggested by some interested people to merge with an existing club which was not very active then, by our standards anyway and the numbers don’t lie. My strong initial reaction was that we should have no less than 100 such thriving clubs in and around Delhi. Imagine the increase in number of wine drinkers, the level of awareness and wine education it would generate and the feedback for the importers/producers and expanding their market. There are several hi-rise complexes in and around Delhi occupied by affluent people with a latent desire for wine (or single malt). They should come forward and form clubs and societies focusing on the beverage of their choice.
Of course, a penchant for good and diversified gourmet food is a must for wine. It is interesting that Delhi Gourmet Club has come up recently through Facebook. My advice to them has been that they should try to include wine with their dinners, teetotalers notwithstanding (I KNOW-I have been one throughout my non-wine drinking life). Others must be encouraged to try wine with their food, at least. Many of the gourmets will happily convert- we may not be able to help the gourmands.
Several years ago when I was studying Italian at the Cultural Center in Delhi (which also took me to Perugia on a scholarship) our course text book used to be Va' dove ti porta il cuore. Written by anItalian novelist, Susanna Tamaro, it was an international bestseller and it became the "Italian book most sold in the 20th century". A highly motivational text book which I advise those folks to read who want to follow their passion, preferably in wine (or single malt) and hopefully celebrate their own anniversaries. In no time your group would also be celebrating the tenth anniversary of something you are passionate about and what gives you a common bond. The English translation of the book is,
Follow your Heart.