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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Monday, April 13 2009. 12:33

Blog: Two Sauvignons for a Banquet

I was at a party recently where good quality wine and liquor matched the décor, food and the ambience. Wines were flowing in their usual white, red and the bubbly variants. But Sauvignon was the common denominator both for white and red.

I find Sauvignon Blanc as an aperitif wine at the top of the desirable, uncomplicated choice-dry, crisp, fruity with floral aromas and pleasant taste on the palate-one can drink it by itself or with finger-foods, even with the mutton based shammi kebabs, cheeses (preferably soft and un-seasoned).

Other options available could be un-wooded Chardonnay like Chablis, or Pinot Grigio which the Indian palate has taken to- like the Americans. The Spanish grape Verdejo tastes like Sauvignon and makes a delicious aperitif too. Albariño is yet another Spanish varietal for people who want to be zara hut ke, and don’t mind paying slightly extra. Gavi and Arneis from Piemonte or Soave Classico from Veneto are also light and fruity-so is Vernaccia from San Gimigniano. I even find Semillon Sauvignon from Australia an easy drinking option. I would avoid Chenin Blanc available normally-it is a bit too sweet, though Chenin Chardonnay blends are available more and more. The choice is almost unending.

What surprised me at this party was the presence of the other Sauvignon in the red aperitif wine. Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most tannic wines that can age very well (California Cabs, great Bordeaux or serious Chilean or Australian cabs) where the tannins make it complex. But the younger version is too tannic and almost always astringent. Higher alcohol content is also a variable to watch out for-especially when drinking casually, between dances or the kebabs.

It is unpleasant for the vegetarian palates as well as with spicy hot foods- tannins accentuate the spices and need meat proteins to tame them in the mouth –just like strong tea needs milk  protein to give balance in the mouth. They don’t go well with the Indian food, chicken or fish (mushroom snacks take them well, though). Cabernet Sauvignons make some serious wines but as aperitifs they are not recommended.

So I was surprised at the choice.

Some of the other choices which I also surprise me at some parties where people need desperately to impress their guests are Barolo- or even Barbarescos. Made from Nebbiolo grapes, they make excellent food wines but for banquets and parties- not recommendable.

Similarly Pinot Noir, though less tannic are a tad too elegant to be served with snacks, unless they are village level Burgundies or low end soft well-made New Zealand versions. Elegant Shirazes and Merlots like the Right Bank from Bordeaux would be too expensive without giving the value on the casual palate.

However, Cru Beaujolais, Italian Valpolicella, soft and luscious Merlots or even Chilean Carmenere, slightly spicy Shirazes make good aperitif wines. I find even Dolcetto, several Sangiovese based Tuscan wines where the tannins are soft and juicy as acceptable. But I won’t recommend a Cabernet Sauvignon, or even Rioja (Crianza might be an acceptable option).

Of course, a highly overlooked option is the Rose wines-from Portugal, Spain, France; even India has done well for some of their pinkies. Usually, Shiraz or Zinfandel based Rosé find an immediate acceptance, partly because of the colder temperature of serving and partly because a gentle touch of soft tannins and sometimes a slightly higher level of sweetness (not universal though) finds many younger and novice takers.

Obviously the list is only illustrative and does not aim to give a whole picture. But it definitely gives a choice for white and reds-none of which should have a Cabernet Sauvignon-if one wants to satisfy the majority of palates at a banquet or casual party- birthdays to baraats included.

I would like you to share your views on what should be the preferred varietals for a party where one white and one red wine is to be served.

Subhash Arora


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