I come from a long line of tea drinkers. Wine on the other hand was rare, strictly for the grown-ups, seasonally brought out around Christmas. Perhaps that’s what made it more luxurious and decadent in my mind.
I was in college when I first tasted it.
My roommate thought that the dark red, sweet, Port wine, sent by her parents from Goa for the Sisters, would be more appreciated by her friends. That day, our tiny room became a hotspot. Soon there were five of us giggling and in high spirits. Adrenaline coursed through our bodies as we sipped from our tumblers. It was chaotic as we kept expecting the nuns to swoop into the room any second and break up our party.
“We do not remember days, we remember moments.”Cesare Pavese
It was a heady feeling. We got away with it. As for that wine, it was unanimously declared as the nectar of the gods.
Years rolled by and no other wine tasted like that one. I also discovered that not all were sweet. My fondness over time waned.
Then I visited the Sula Vineyards in Nashik, Maharashtra.
One word- exhilarating!
Too many novels and movies had painted a vineyard as a place of soft sunshine bouncing off the green vines, bunches of delicious grapes ready to be plucked.
This was an adventure I had been gearing for all my life. Except in my reality, the sun blazed with all its might that day. It was a relief to sign up for a tour and wine tasting session, right away.
Our young, bespectacled guide was friendly and bore a striking resemblance to Uday Chopra, the actor. Like little lambs, we followed him everywhere. Surrounded by huge shiny vats, we boned up on how wine was made.
I was amazed to hear of ice wines from Germany for the first time. They have been on my wish list ever since then. I was also a tad heartbroken to find that the Goan port wine I put on a pedestal, did not rate high in the hierarchy of great wines.
As for the tasting session, it was a revelation.
There were six varieties to savour. Lesson also included how to hold a flute, swirl, sniff and sip.
Sauvignon blanc, Cabernet Merlot, Chenin blanc, Late harvest, Brut, Rosé all seemed so exotic. The lessons have faded. All I remember feeling very wise at the end of it.
In the words of Tyrion Lannister, “I drink and I know things.”
It came in handy when I found myself in an actual wine country, Italy.
Sightseeing, eating by the roadside cafes and sipping wine. I was living the dream.
Mami and I especially signed up for a walking tour of Tuscany with a lunch in a vineyard.
“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
A grape would probably say the same!
I remember the sun was hot in Italy too. Rows of vines stretched straight into the green horizon. We quickly scrambled out of the bus and into the dining area. Two wines to drink with our lunch, followed by a short tour of the farmhouse.
We later picked a bottle of wine we liked the most during lunch; perhaps two choices made it easier to choose. Smart thinking!
So this wasn’t was the place for tuitions in wine appreciation.
It was back to Florence and to make the most of my time there.
Firenze had already charmed me. I had bought ceramics, magnets but a bottle of wine was a daunting prospect. Honestly speaking, I had no idea what I wanted.
“In order to succeed, we must first believe that we can.” – Nikos Kazantzakis
So Mami took the lead and marched us to this shop she had seen during our explorations. A girl in a black apron minded the store. Also, she looked Indian. It felt strangely comforting and bolstered our confidence.
Seher turned out to be an Iranian instead. Turned out, she had been to India sometime back on a Vipassana Meditation Camp. I was zapped. Who knew Vipassana had such a global appeal!
Anyway, we completely threw ourselves at her mercy. She was going to help us pick the most suitable wine to take home.
Now when I look back, it was a surreal experience. Wine tasting different kinds surrounded by rows of bottles of oils, blocks of meat, cheese, packets of herbs and wine again was an incredible experience.
She did a splendid job.
We got our wines.
Then we had to ask the question that had been vexing us ever since we had landed in the country.
“What is that orange drink that everyone seems to be drinking in this city?”
“Ah! Is it the Aperol Spritz? I can fix it for you”, said Seher. “Why don’t you wait for it next door?”
Next door happened to be a trattoria done up in the aqua colours of the sea. We sat at a tiny white table and watched the crowd go by.
It was incredible. Then Cesario waltzed in with our order.
“Hi! I’m Cesario. Like the Caesar salad”, the jolly giant said when he handed our drinks with a flourish. Yes, he had us utterly charmed in no time.
Aperol Spritz. The colour of summer days and glorious sunsets and sunshine smiles.
“To me, food is as much about the moment, the occasion, the location and the company as it is about the taste.”
– Heston Blumenthal
The friendly Iranian, the Italian charmer and the ebullient Indians all converged for that evening in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Now that was a memorable day!
My wine appreciation journey continues. I still haven’t got the hang of the notes or the flavours.
As James Purefoy said, “Does it give you pleasure?’ That’s all that matters. And you can get as much pleasure out of an 8-pound bottle of wine as you can out of a 200-pound bottle of wine,”
That’s my Marie Kondo mantra, “Does this spark joy?”