Photos By:: Adil Arora
Whilst the dream of most winemakers is to produce award winning wines, the downside is that many of these internationally acclaimed wines ( especially with our duty structures) tend to be skewed towards the upper end of the price spectrum ruling them out as an everyday beverage for the average Indian wine drinker. Over the last ten years, the Delhi Wine Club, under the able stewardship of Subhash Arora, has regularly showcased for its members many of the world’s finest as well as expensive wines from all leading wine producing regions.
So for the February wine dinner of the Club (#4/192) at the Pan Asian Sheraton Saket, Subhash thought of a different theme to run thru the wines selected for the evening – good quality unpretentious wines from the middle of the price spectrum from ‘Down Under’ . More the kind of wines you would likely pick up from your wine store for your normal wine drinking needs. Six wines, spanning the grape spectrum from the wineries of Evans and Tate in the Margret River in Australia and Essenze from the South Island of New Zealand, were selected. Both these wineries are owned by the sixth generation family- owned, McWilliams group, a renowned name in the Australian wine industry with a large number of leading Australian and New Zealand wine brands in its portfolio.
Pan Asian ,which is a large spacious restaurant in itself, has little known private dining room at its farthest end and that is where we gathered to sample two Sauvignon Blancs as an aperitif before the sit down section of the dinner. Normally we just have one wine as an aperitif but Subhash wanted members to be able to compare the Australian Evans & Tate Split River Sauvignon Blanc 2010 with the Essenze Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010 from New Zealand.
Very soon quite a few members were seen with a glass in each hand, twirling before doing a nose and taste test and then holding forth animatedly on the merits of each . A straw voice poll a little later had the Essenze Sauvignon Blanc the hands down winner. This winner was a fine example of the heights to which the Marlborough region has taken the Sauvignon Blanc grape to-and its popularity on the Indian palate. Exuding strong fruity aromas of peach, this exuberant wine had a concentrated yet smooth mouth-feel and long fresh finish. With the likes of Cloudy Bay, the most well-known Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc on the market but priced stratospherically, one hopes that wines like Essenze label will bring a more pocket friendly high quality Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to the Indian wine drinker.
The Evans and Tate Split River was a much more subtle and vegetal Sauvignon Blanc with an understated nose and a higher level of acidity at 3.34 ph level. Whereas the Essenze could be drunk on its own, the Split River needed an accompaniment of food- in this case the salmon and vegetarian sushi to bring out its finer nuances.
After Subhash’s background talk on the wines of the evening, we moved on to perfectly laid tables with individual menus and adequate glassware. The mid-range Evans & Tate Metricup Road Chardonnay 2009 was paired with the Ginger flavoured broth with vegetarian dumplings and quite successfully too. The inclusion of the soup and its tweaking to the final version as served to us was closely monitored by Rishi Raj Singh the F&B Manager to match it with wine and our thanks to him for a delicious soup -it went perfectly with this fresh nosed Chardonnay which had a good balance of fruit, acidity and oak
The next course of the nondescript dim sums saw the only glitch of the evening which saw the Essenze Central Otago Pinot Noir 2010 being served slightly over- chilled which meant I had to let it warm up and have it along with the Evans and Tate Split River Shiraz 2009 and their Metricup Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. However, this gave us a great opportunity to compare the three reds.
The Pinot Noir was typical of its light varietal character though with a medium palate and went well with the outstanding and mouth-watering Chilean Sea Bass tossed in Soya and Garlic, which incidentally was the uncrowned star of the evening, winning everyone’s heart with its crispy, fresh and flavourful texture. The Cabernet Sauvignon was a delight to drink – very easy tannins which meant a smooth fruit forward mouth. All three reds in fact were no nonsense approachable wines very indicative of the value for money business model of both these wineries considering these wines retail for approx. $20 abroad .
Incidentally this was the first time since the inception of the Club ten years ago that a wine dinner was being held during the Navratras- so for those members who were keeping off the meat, Chefs Peter Chou and Lambert had specially provided for them. The assorted stir fried mushrooms in a pepper sauce and the stir fried greens with water chestnuts had most members reaching for seconds. Many thanks Chefs and Rishi Raj!!
One of the spin-offs of having a wine dinner in a 5 star hotel is not only the availability of adequate glassware but also an assurance of a professional level of table service which Suhail Vadgaokar, the Asst F&B Manager and his team made sure of. I have been a visitor to Pan Asian over the years and I noticed they were using their regular table staff which made their service all the more laudable – wine glasses were proffered or refilled promptly and empty plates cleared smoothly.
In keeping with the Ten Year theme for the Club this year and focusing recognition to founder members during the course of the year, we had Dr Jindal proposing the vote of thanks to the Chefs and Staff of the Pan Asian for a delightful evening
During the dinner I was talking to Paras Anand of Mohan Brothers who imports these wines and he was telling me that the wines we had were being priced competitively in the market between Rs 1800 and 2500 a bottle. I definitely will keep an eye out for these wines especially the Essenze Sauvignon Blanc next time I am in a wine store as it will be a reminder of an enjoyable evening with good wines in plenty and great company and a venue worth a repeat visit for another wine club dinner or otherwise.
Arun Batra is a Delhi based food and wine enthusiast and a long time member of the Delhi Wine Club.