Category Archives: Navhind

Prahlad’s guide to attending a wine festival on Navhind!

Navhind Times

Sommelier Prahlad Sukhtankar gives you expert advice on attending the Grape Escapade Wine Festival this weekend!

Here are a few pointers to be remembered:

  1. Arrive Early, so you will know who to approach first.
  2. Always wear comfortable shoes.
  3. Wear dark clothing to avoid/hide wine spills.
  4. Eat before the wine tasting.  Flavors of food can affect the taste of wine. Avoid cheeses, sausages and heavy food.
  5. Pay attention to detail.
  6. Interact and network. Get to know the story of each wine by meeting wine makers, tasters, sommeliers etc.
  7. And lastly, do not forget to have a designated driver at the festival. Drink responsibly!

 

Let Champagne be the occasion By Prahlad Sukhtankar (Navhind)

So a thought crossed my mind; could it be that the reason for the overwhelming popularity of Diwali and Christmas over other festivities in Goa is because neither of these occasions is packaged with prescribed religious abstinence pertaining to food or wine? Perhaps so, although there may be few that follow a vegetarian diet on Diwali day, but by far it is less stringently followed than say Lent before Easter or Shravan before Ganesh Chaturthi.

The festive season is upon us. No sooner than Diwali fever subsides, Christmas and New Year will emerge. So, why not merge the festival of lights with sparkles this year…and what better way to do it than to pop open a bottle of champagne? Or so I thought, but then it occurred to me that champagne need not be the drink of celebrations only.

Back in the day, champagne was widely consumed by common people, but then producers chandonwanted to create a desirable image for their brand so many of them sought to associate it with monarchs and the nobility. As a result, champagne became ‘special’. The Romanovs were especially keen on it, not to mention other European royalty. The reason so many champagne houses have German names is that at that time the ermans were far better linguists than French and more successful at conquering local export markets. Even to this day, most French champagne houses have German names like Krug, Bollinger, Louis Roederer and so on.

British aristocracies were especially keen on the drink as well and before long it had established itself as their drink of choice. Therefore, those further down the social scale who wished to show themselves to be on the way up, or who had something to celebrate, began to turn to champagne as the liquid means of doing so. We can all see the point of this, and we have all done it, but I am never sure that these are the best circumstances in which to embark upon this drink.

Champagne’s unmatched status as the wine of celebrations has kept it confined to only special occasions. It has been pigeonholed, which is a mistake because it is so diverse and can go well with so many types of food, especially Indian. It also comes in various sugar concentrations, which means there is something for every palate from dry to sweet.

Brut, the most common style of champagne (means raw or untreated in French) indicates that the Champagne is dry, that it contains little or no added sweetness. Paradoxically, ‘extra dry’ champagne is sweeter than brut, and ‘sec’, which means dry, is sweeter than extra dry. A champagne drier than brut might be called ‘brut nature’ or in some cases ‘Brut Sauvage’

Yes, champagnes’ labelling can be confusing but an easy way to remember is if you like the sweet local port wine, stick to labels with sec, demi-sec and doux (doux being the sweetest of them). To me, the best time to drink champagne is not when it is a special occasion, rather when we are thirsty. It is great on a nice sunny afternoon with fried prawns, grilled fish on a light salad or a ‘sec’ with chicken xacuti.

Although it is true that champagnes and sparkling wines need to be served chilled, it is also important to remember that the more a wine is chilled, the more muted their aromas and flavours get. It is imperative that they are served at the precise temperature so one can enjoy them for their character. There are many articles that will tell you that it should be served between 7 to 10 degrees Celcius, but I strongly recommend you figure out your own temperature. I personally, prefer mine a couple degrees warmer.

So, let us not wait for the right occasion for champagne, rather let champagne be the occasion and I promise you will enjoy it!

How to enjoy wines? By Prahlad Sukhtankar (Navhind)

Many articles have covered this topic on paper and online media. Many of these articles talk about the subject of wine as though it were some sort of rocket science. Some even go as far as setting the right ‘conditions’ for drinking wine, such as ensuring the room is not crowded so you can concentrate on wine, or making sure no one around is wearing perfume or carrying a pet whose odor can cloud your assessment of aroma and so on.

It is understandable if a slight error in tasting a wine could set off a time bomb but we are talking of some sipping and tasting here. Articles like these among many others have created an air of disillusioned sophistication – even a bit of snobbery to the subject.
Once, when I had just finished enjoying a glass of red wine, a friend of mine came along withwine glass 2 another bottle of a different red wine. As I was about to pour it in the same glass, he looked alarmed and said, “Aren’t you going to rinse and dry your glass before pouring a new wine?” My simple answer was “No.” I am not going to get up in the middle of enjoying something, wash, rinse, dry and pour because, to me the pleasure of continuing to enjoy wine in the same glass outweighs the negligible and subtle changes in flavor by a large margin.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that you can drink wine out of a tea cup, neither am I implying that the above ‘scientific’ style of tasting isn’t important. In fact, if you are negotiating purchasing a vineyard in Southern Italy, or tasting a bottle of Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2005, which you traded for your Hyundai, you better well have created these ‘conditions’.
The point to remember is that, these ‘conditions’ for drinking wine may be ideal for it, but ideally wine is never consumed for pleasure in such ‘conditions’. To truly appreciate wine, you have to be in the right company, among friends and family, with your pet if you have one, you have to be surrounded by an ambiance that you feel relaxed in – it may or may not have the right number of people in it. I for one have always enjoyed a wine better and am willing to pay more for it when I am in right company and with loved ones.
Having said that, there are small things one can do to enhance the experience of enjoying a wine such as investing in nice glassware. Good stemware with a broad tummy compared to the mouth is always preferred because, putting it simply, wine smells better in such glasses. Store your wines in a cool, dark place in the house so light and temperature changes don’t spoil it before you are ready to open it.
Drink wines at right temperatures. Most guidelines recommend 17 degrees to 21 degrees Celsius for red wines, and 7 degrees to 14 degrees Celsius for whites, 12 to 17 for rose wines and even cooler 5 to 10 for sparkling wines, although I prefer my champagnes a little warmer, around 10 to 12 degrees or so, especially if it is a vintage champagne – the slight warmth helps bring to surface some of the subtle aromas and flavors which are otherwise hidden in the cold.
Visit your local fruit, flower and vegetable market and smell the various fresh produce of our land. This will help you relate to the aromas in wine and enrich your skill and level of understanding. Don’t be discouraged by vendors who may try to shoo you away when you ask if you can smell wet wool and grass because you want to relate to what a classic Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc grape smells like. He may pity you and offer you some fruit to get rid of you. Either way, you’ll have taken something home with you. Until then, do try some Sauvignon Blanc with goat cheese and let me know what you think about this pairing. The zippy acidity in the wine matches the tangy acidity in the cheese. Yes, goat cheese is acidic! The combination of the two is fresh and invigorating. This classic pairing is also a regional one – France’s Loire valley is famous for both Chevre and Sauvignon Blanc based wine ‘Sancerre’.

Understanding Acids in Wine by Prahlad Sukhtankar (Navhind)

“I don’t drink wines because they are too acidic…They give me heartburn”, said the man as Wine rack 1he continued digging into chicken tikka masala while sipping on neat Single Malt Scotch – a pairing that could baffle scientists around the globe had the world been overly food centric. Thankfully it isn’t, but that still doesn’t make the above pairing acceptable, especially if one is abstaining from wines to evade acidity. It is no surprise that drinking alcohol before a meal rather than with it is still a common practice in our culture and I am starting to believe that building an appetite may have little to do with it instead of having to deal with unfortunate food-drink pairings.
When spicy food is paired with a high alcohol beverage such as Scotch, the alcohol in the drink will accentuate the perception of spice in the food making it taste, and feel spicier on the palate than it actually is. For someone claiming to keep away from wines to elude acidity, this pairing is sure to disappoint, but pair the tikka with an off-dry low acid Gewurztraminer-based wine from Alsace for example, and it would help take the edge off the spice in the tikka and contribute to a better dining experience. So also, Scotch can be paired with a number of dishes – my favorite is a crispy-nutty besan cake with a 12-year-old Highland Single Malt.
The point I am trying to make is that foods and drinks of all sorts have varied levels of acidity in them, yet for some reason, many associate wines with acidity as if it were the only culprit. Acidity in wines is often misconstrued as being something toxic or undesirable. On the contrary, acid is an essential element for a well structured wine or even food in general. Take the Goan ‘pez’ (a light, bland rice soup, similar to Chinese ‘konji’) for example, which is often savoured with a side of pickle. The pickle provides a much needed acid component that helps refresh the palate after each bite, preparing the diner for the next morsel. There are many such examples – ‘ambadyachi karam’ with curry-rice; tamarind in fish-based curries, lemon sorbet between multiple dinner courses and vinegar in several Goan dishes. All of these provide acid in the form of fresh and crisp, zesty and tangy flavors to elevate a dish from the monotonous one-dimensional flavour profiles.
Sensing acidity in wines couldn’t be simpler – take a sip of wine, swirl it in your mouth and swallow. Now wait for a few seconds. Does your mouth salivate? If yes, that is acid working its magic. For those of you who do not have wine handy, try recalling the time you bit into raw mangoes, aamla, tamarind, tomatoes or even oranges, lemon and limes. Right after the first bite, your tongue salivates – hence the expression, mouth watering. Now that is an acid reaction, and it is important because it helps cleanse the palate, or refresh it, in preparation for the next fresh bite. Different wines made from different grapes have varied levels of acidity just like the fruits and vegetables mentioned above. Try biting into the above fruits as a quick exercise and note down which fruit is more acidic. The more acidic a fruit is, the more your mouth will water and vice versa.
It is a common myth that all dry wines are acidic. Actually, the term dry has nothing to do with acid. Dry is a measure of sugar in a wine. A wine without any traces of perceptible sweetness on the palate is referred to as dry as opposed to sweet. Off-dry would be slightly sweet and so on. Riesling and Chenin Blanc grapes are a great example of sweet wines with high acidity. It may take a while before one realises that these are high acid grapes because of the sweetness, but if one were to look closely and follow the guidelines of acid-sensing, it is not hard to appreciate how beautifully balanced some of the best Rieslings or Chenins can be.
High acid wine is not necessarily a bad thing so long as the acid is in balance with fruit, tannins, body, and alcohol, which form the other structural elements in a wine. We will talk about these elements in future articles. As years pass, acid in a wine starts to deteriorate and mellow down. Hence it is important that a wine have high acid to begin with, so it may live for many years; otherwise, it will taste flat after a few years. Yes, every wine has a life term no matter what the seller tells you!
Some commonly found high acid white wine grapes include Albarino, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling and Chenin Blanc. Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Sangiovese are some examples of high acid red wine grapes. Furthermore, grapes grown in cooler climates have higher acidity than the same grapes grown in warmer climates.
High acid wines pair well with a variety of foods, especially acidic foods, because the acid in the wine decreases the perception of acid in the food making it more appetizing. Acidic wines also pair well with fatty/oily foods because they help cut through some of the richness in fatty foods. For example, a Portuguese Vino Verde wine, which is made from Alvarinho (or Albarino in Spain) grapes is great with fried Goan prawns. The acid in the wine cuts through the oil in the fried prawns while refreshing the palate with each bite. Sangiovese wine with tomato-based pasta is another example but works a little differently. Here, the acid in the tomato compliments the acid in the grape to make a harmonious dining experience.
So the next time you are at a restaurant, test your knowledge of acids in wines by pairing different types of foods with wines of varied acid levels and see how different grape varietal characters work with different foods. The more you train your palate to understand the structural components of wines, the more you will enjoy and start loving food and wine culture. I am sure it won’t be long before we see people drinking wine, Scotch and other liquors with food as opposed to before a meal because now you will have something to look forward to – an enjoyable food-drink pairing.