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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Wednesday, 08 September 2010 11:25

Monsieur Maharajah du Air-India loves Champagne

The Maharajah of Air India seems to be in love with Champagne and other French wines with the six- wine list in the Business and First Class carrying two Champagnes and apparently only French wines on board with no Indian wines, writes Subhash Arora who recently flew to Germany in one of their newer Boeing 777 aircrafts.

The limited wine list of Business and First Class carries two champagnes- Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin (VCP) from LVMH (owners of Moet and Chandon) and Maxim Brut, a light bodied Champagne with subtle aromas and fruity, biscuity flavour. Both are served politely and properly chilled by the staff. But the glasses used are small and not in flutes, taking away from the pleasure of enjoying the bubbles.

Pierre André Chablis 2008 (AOC Chablis and not the higher quality Premier Cru or the top quality Grand Cru which the Maharajah deserves), slightly oaked and crispy, is a fairly fresh wine (always made from Chardonnay grapes) and a reasonable choice within the basic quality range.

Two red wines are available- Ch. Clarke 2006 (A Cru Bourgeois from the Listrac- Moulis property owned by Edmond de Rothschild group) and the well-structured and perfumed Ch. Prieuré Lichine 20004 Margaux (13%) - both from the Left Bank of Bordeaux (almost 50-50 blend of Cabernet and Merlot with the usual blending grapes)

For Those who love the pink, there is the affordable, high quality Le Rosé de Clarke 2005 made from Merlot and Cabernet Franc, also from Baron Edmond de Rothschild (13.5% alc). It is already slightly tired, though 2005 was a great vintage for Red Bordeaux wines. It has perhaps been lying in their stores awaiting flyers who like pink from Bordeaux- not known for its Rosé.

A senior flight officer informed me that on the long haul flights to the US, Krug (premium Champagne House owned by LVMH) is also served. ‘There was a time when we even used to serve Dom Perignon but that practice got discontinued somewhere along the line,’ says the veteran staffer. When I told him that perhaps the airline should consider using a flute for Champagne and not the same, small glass for all their wines, he agreed, confiding that the wine service used to be of much higher standard earlier when the staff underwent more extensive training on wines, regions, how to serve it etc. It seems Maharaja is leaning towards McWines, though weaning away from DP may be a financially astute decision.

Interestingly, the Economy Class has a decent selection of wines- though there is only one red and one white. The Chardonnay Beaucharme 2008 from Louis Max in Burgundy (the flavour of which was unfortunately off- a clear case of bad storage) is the white wine and. Beaujolais 2008 (both bottles screw-capped ) is the light bodied red wine, adequate even for the Indian food on board. I was happy to note that it was being served at a cool 14-16° C, though 12-14° C would be a better serving temperature.

I could not help noticing that all the wines served in the aircraft were French. The obsession with French wine could be from the legacy of late Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru and his daughter but let us not forget that his great-daughter-in-law is a former Italian and should evoke some thoughts about choosing a blend of counties.

One of the two Champagnes could well be replaced by a mid to high quality white wine which can not only pair well with fish and chicken dishes but would also make vegetarians happy.

No Indian on Air India

But what is incomprehensible is that there are NO Indian wines on Board. We don’t make the best wine in the world- we perhaps make some of the worst. However, the foreign travellers love to try Indian wines- it would be a bonus for the airline that even the premium Indian wines cost much less than those being served in Executive and First Class. They should keep at least one red and one white out of a selection of a dozen wines and rotate them- monthly or bi-monthly.

I remember I had been invited by South African Airways a couple of years ago for tasting wines for their 2009 on-board selection. We tasted over 350 wines to short-list a bouquet out of which the airline was obliged to purchase. All wines except Champagne are South African aboard the aircrafts of South African Airways which curiously serves alcohol only after noon in domestic flights.

It is time Air India revamped their wine list for Business and First Class-at least rotate the portfolio often (but before that they must buy some decent flutes and proper wine glasses).  It is also important that the Indian Grape Processing Board starts lobbying at the proper levels to have the airline carry at least some Indian wines on Board.

Subhash Arora

Tag: Champagne, French


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