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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Wednesday, 12 May 2010 16:10

Himachal Wine Tasting – A la Wildflower Hall

Wine tastings are passé at the Oberoi Hotel owned Wildflower hall in Shimla where the new GM team of Storm and Rob Mason have started tasting of fruit wines made in Himachal, as a part of the activities to cut the ice among the guests and making the stay more informal and pleasant experience, writes Subhash Arora who attended one such tasting during his recent stay at the hotel.

Twice a week, the quiet and formal looking bar gets full and buzzing in the evening  with new hotel guests trying to grab the bar stools or seats at the bar. Its wine tasting time and the two young GMs are hosting it and conducting it from behind the bar- with one difference. The wines are neither ‘Indian’ nor ‘imported’, but in fact fruit wines made from the fruits grown in the state of Himachal Pradesh. They include, strawberry, cherry, peach, apple, kiwi, plum, rhododendron

‘Please take your seats and glasses’, starts Storm, the beautiful half of the team, without much ado. ‘Welcome to the tasting of fruit wines made in Himachal. Today we shall taste eight wines (all from the same company). You simply need to smell and taste and tell the fruit,’ says Storm. Unlike grape wine, fruit wines leave the flavour of the fruit they are made of. Wines made from grapes of course, always taste and remind one of a range of fruits, vegetables, flowers and what-have-you (Moscato excepted!)

Wifred D’Souza, the F & B Manager and the Restaurant Manager- Nitin, have already opened the bottles and kept them covered with a brown bag so we don’t know what is inside-actually even the Masons don’t know what is inside. All the participants have to make a guess- there are no prizes for guessing right-you are welcome to brag to your friends. No castration either for being fruits off. This is fun time and a fun activity to keep you occupied and meet the other guests so next time when you see them in the hotel property, you might take the conversation to the next level.

‘What do you smell?’ Asks an earnest Storm. ‘Sulphur?!’ my wife mutters and I agree. Well, every one offers their expert opinion. It does not matter what the answer is –some are right while the most are not and we go through the gamut of all known fruits of Himachal.

One thing that is common to all the tastings is the whiff of sulphur in the foreground that masks the real aromas of the fruit in the background. Explains D’Souza who is not from Himachal but can pass off as one, in the Himachali official attire (every one in the food service department dresses alike-only their Himachali caps give away their ranks, if you have gone through some orientation, ‘actually, after we keep the bottle open for a while the pungent smell goes, ‘ he says. Perhaps- but in the real world, that is one of the biggest faults in wine where an overdose of Sulphur is used to keep the wine from spoiling. And not many would be willing to risk their uninsured noses taking a beating.

But the end result is, perhaps as the masons desired. They get to know every one personally- jokes are on the house. The guests can also discuss and debate as much as they want - hopefully they would still order some decent wine inside the restaurant- many of these wines are rather well-priced.

Click For Large ViewThe Storms find the formula very successful. They should know! Working in various parts of Africa as ‘innkeepers’ of several Safari Game parks, they know it is important to keep the guests occupied in pleasurable activities and their experience has taught them to be hands-on. Being 24/7 comes with the territory and when they smile, it seems to be genuine- or else they have trained themselves to win the hearts of all guests. They also encourage informality and casual behaviour. ‘People come here for relaxation,’ says Rob. This property has some fantastic hardware in terms of facilities in the hotel. They make sure everyone feels at home and is treated like a king or a queen.

The only hope is that they stop being parochial and switch over to a wider canvas - tasting Indian or even imported wines by charging guests some money. The wines are otherwise priced at around Rs.180-200 a bottle in the retail market. Mercifully, they are not on the wine list of the hotel.

Subhash Arora


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