Photos By:: Adil Arora
One of the distinguishable features, (I could name many !) of the DWC events has been the format -which has largely revolved around commencing the evening over an aperitif wine and canapés and hot finger foods before sitting down to enjoy a pre-plated 4-5 course meal with some great wines. The aperitif section is vital so as to cater for those whose arrivals have been affected by vagaries of Delhi’s roads so as to ensure “all hands on deck” for the sit down part of the evening –which as any restaurateur will tell you is essential when delivering a multi course pre-plated meal each paired with a wine-especially when the service standards expected by the club are rather high.
Now some of our members have been voicing an opinion that the aperitif section of the evening is too short to enable them to circulate and meet up with other members before getting static at the sit –down part of the evening. Despite closing in on organising nearly 200 wine dinners, our Club President, Subhash Arora is always open to new ideas and constantly looking to introduce some variations to improve the experience for our members.
So for our second meeting of the month (#6/194), Subhash decided to go the whole hog by moving to the other end of the spectrum and have an entirely casual evening – an informal location, no formal sit down pre plated dinner-just pass around tapas to accompany a selection of casual and easy drinking wines –basically a ‘go with the flow’ sort of an evening.
I was quite surprised to receive the e-mail for the evening wherein I noticed the location was the ‘Terrace at the Claridges’. I have visited the Claridges many a time as well as enjoyed a few great wine dinners at Sevilla –the Mediterranean restaurant at the Claridges, including a couple of nice Delhi wine Club dinners but I never knew the existence of the Terrace as a regular food outlet of the hotel. Well after a ride up from the lobby, the Terrace turned out to be just that – a lovely terrace overlooking the front lawn of the hotel with a gorgeous night time view just above the treeline of Lutyens Delhi –the same kind of view you would get if you were less than a kilometre away on the terrace of 10 Janpath sipping some Amarone with you know who.
The Claridges management under the guidance of Ankush Gupta and Utsav Garg had transformed an ordinary terrace into a well-lit area of casual comfortable seating with high tables scattered around for the elbow- leaners. The weather for the month of mid-April was indeed very benevolent and a cool breeze did away for the need of any mechanical cooling. And the finger-licking tapas were brought in the semi-cooked condition in Sevilla, only to be finished at the temporary kitchen-on-the-go on the terrace.
The wines for the evening commenced with an Italian Pralis from the House of Paladin –this bright straw coloured blended wine did the job of a night-watchman in cricket i.e. to play out the first few overs of a new day. The Pralis was followed up by the Paladin Raboso Fiore – a red which had many members looking quizzically at the head on the wine till they realized it was a sparkling and not a still wine! This was a lively though very dry Frizzante which had a marked absence of a rounded mouth feel. Quick on its heels was quite a delightful blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Chardonnay from the iconic Barossa Valley winemaker Henschke whose owners Stephen and Prue Henschke are international wine celebrities because of the cult status of Hill of Grace . This wine apparently made from grapes from Tilly’s Vineyard, had a predominantly citrusy nose, a mouth with hints of melon but was a bit oaky- probably something to do with the French barriques used for maturation.
Two reds followed, the first being a Dolcetto , a northern Italian grape varietal from the Monferrato DOC appellation in the Piedmont region. This varietal which I probably tasted for the first time was a light bodied wine with low acidity but with strong tannins. The last red and definitely the best of the evening was a Nearco from the Montalcino producer Col d’Orcia – a blend of Cabernet , Shiraz and Merlot which combined beautifully to show off some of the best that the Sant’Antimo appellation has to offer. The wine was smooth and satisfying with plenty of fruit and no hard or rough edges.
The pass around snacks supervised by Chef Rajeev was plentiful though the weight watchers amongst us were seen trying to avoid the fried contingent consisting of empanadas, ham croquettes and the mozzarella parcels. One of the drawbacks of only pass around snacks is that not all the snacks will pair with the wine in hand so in fact a quick on the spot decision was taken by Subhash early in the evening to postpone the lamb meatballs till the reds appeared.
The Chili and Parmesan encrusted fish was a hit and paired very well with the whites as did the tortillas. To make sure we all went home with a sweet taste in the mouth, Chef Rajeev presented a range of dessert tarts at the end. Interestingly, the dark chocolate and hazelnut tart paired very well with the flavours of the Nearco.
The credit for organizing the evening in this format goes to Arindam Chakraborty, the creative Food and Beverage Director at the Claridges, who had come up with the concept which the club accepted with a bit of minor tweaking. Weather permitting, it could undoubtedly be a great party sport where any booze may be served unlike our club where neither whisky nor coke is allowed-we live only by the wine for an evening and how!!
So did the new format meet its objectives of providing a casual evening over wine? Sure it did – the setting, the snacks, the wines - all had casual written all over them- it was a welcome change from our tried and tested sit down format and our thanks to Subhash for the same . Ironically though, as the evening progressed, members could be seen taking their weight off their feet and soon with limited seating available, a game of musical chairs began!
But give me a Barolo or Barbaresco , and there is no way I would allow my tired legs to compete with the signals my nose and mouth are sending to my brain- it’s the sit down format for me any day. Maybe for the future we could try out an abridged format - an extended aperitif session (maybe an hour or a little longer ? ) during which two wines instead of one are served and then before the legs start to give out , a shortened sit down 3 course meal with three wines instead of four. Now that’s some food for thought!!
Arun Batra is a Delhi based food and wine enthusiast and a long time member of the Delhi Wine Club.