Wining n dining right

Updated: Sep 19 2003, 05:30am hrs
Wine drinking in India is mostly restricted to society dos and exclusive gourmet circles, probably because wine is fundamentally an alien taste for the Indian palate. Those whove never tried wine are afraid of seeming ignorant. They dont quite know what flavour to expect and often are unaware of the terms. Not surprising, considering that those who write on the subject assume that the reader already knows. But let no one tell you that you cannot learn to appreciate good wine, especially if you choose to begin with our home produce.

Its certainly an acquired taste, and only consistent drinking will educate your taste buds to the new flavour. Wine is mainly classified as table or still wines, sparkling wines, dessert or fortified wines and aperitif or flavoured wines. To the table or sweet wines belong most wines, the whites, reds, roses; the simple everyday ones and the more complex and great vintages. Wines that are carbonated either by natural secondary fermentation or by artificial carbonation are sparkling wines. Champagne and other bubblies belong here. Dessert wines are spiked wines, wines to which alcohol is added to stop fermentation, mostly to retain some of the sweetness in the wine. Sherry, port and madeira are classic examples. Flavoured wines such as vermouth and lillet are spiked too, but are also aromatised with herbs and other flavourings.

Sweet wines have a fruity, faintly acidic and alcoholic taste which is sweet. The absolute opposite of sweet is dry no trace of sweetness at all, just the tart and sort of parching flavour, a hint of acidity and the dry taste of alcohol. With the addition of a degree of sweetness, you have a medium dry, medium sweet or sweet. The sweet wines are easy on the palate, the medium will follow soon enough, but the dry take some getting used to!

Of course, this range of adjectives applies normally only to white and sparkling wines or to sherry. Red wines are universally accepted as being almost always dry. The descriptions here are young, soft, round, tannic, full bodied, old etc. Should you decide to drink a dry wine for the first time, try not to be alone. Find a friend who knows wine and invite him/her over. If you cant, get a bunch of your friends together, then have a group tasting session. My friends and I start with wine coolers, dry white wine to which I add fruit juices and other flavourings in varying proportions. Then over a period of time, reduce the juice and increase the wine. This graduation gives you time to develop your senses until you can drink the wine on its own. In fact, French kids are introduced to wine at an early age by spiking their water with a tiny splash of wine. Soon enough, its wine with a splash of water and then, onwards ho!

Ideally, buy wine a week or so before you want to use it. It will taste better when given a chance to rest. If the bottle has a cork (not the plastic variety), keep it on its side. The wine will then keep the cork moist, which in turn will keep the bottle airtight. When a corked bottle is stored upright, the cork dries up, shrinks, letting air into the bottle and, along with it, bacteria. The cork gets mouldy and your wine is corked as musty as the cork. Screw-top bottles and those with plastic tops can be stored standing. Again, store the bottles in the coolest part of your house. If the storage is short term (a week, max), the fridge is perfect both for reds and whites. Otherwise, a cool cupboard or better still, even under the bed!

Next fortnight, Shatbhi discusses how to drink wine right and its food accompaniments