Wine tasting in the lap of Himalayas? It probably doesn’t get fresher than that! I started the Year 2014 on a work cum pleasure trip to the sleepy hamlet of Bhatelia, a couple of kilometers ahead from Mukteshwar in Nanital district of Uttarakhand. That the area had received fresh snowfall just a day prior to our landing was a divine blessing as it enabled me to chill the wines in natural snow- and needless to mention, it worked magnificently to enhance the excitement of wine lovers!
Background of the Event
It was in Apr 2013 that Haru Mehra, owner of Frehindi Education Pvt Ltd– a well known French language training institute in Delhi, discussed with me, the idea of having a wine session in the Himalayas during his Institute’s Frehindi Village Séjour . Haru has been conducting these excursions since the last two years where the focus is to facilitate cultural exchange between Indian and French/Francophonic people. To this effect, Bhatelia has been developed by him as Frehindi village, with excellent facilities for ethnic living, interaction with village folks, visit to heritage sites and what’s more, adventure activities. This year, the highlights of the engagement were Yoga by an American expert, French cuisine by a French teacher from Morocco and of course the Wine session by yours truly.
Coming to the wine session that happened on the day two of our three day stay, we decided to have it back to back with the cuisine session to be conducted by Imane Ibnoussina (a French language professor at Frehindi from Morocco). The aim was to give a live feel of the food and wine pairing to the well heeled audience, all of whom had some link to the French context. Imane’s session started with text book perfect Crêpes and Croissants prepared right in front of the audience. As the sun started descending on the horizon, I uncorked the first of wines, a Sparkling Brut from California, followed by a French White, two Indian Reds and finally a French Red. The wines were:
André Brut (USA)
A refreshing sparkling with intense bubbles and an off dry palate with fruity/floral flavours.
Food Pairing: Croissants and salted potato wafers.
Béatrice Defresne Chardonnay 2011, IGP Vaucluse (France)
A well balanced Chardonnay from the Rhône valley (towards south of France) having aromas of citrus fruits, peaches and apricots. The palate was crisp and dry with a medium finish.
Food Pairing: Croissants and cheddar cheese.
Sula Cabernet Shiraz 2006 (India)
A medium bodied red with red fruit aromas and a mouth filling palate of red fruits and spice.
Food Pairing: Crêpes with spicy cottage cheese filling
Grover Cabernet Shiraz 2011 (India)
A complex red with black and red fruits aromas/palate with a distinct feel of spice.
Food Pairing: Crêpes with spicy cottage cheese filling.
Béatrice Defresne AOP Côtes du Rhône 2011(France)
A red from the same producer as the French white above, Côtes du Rhône reds are mainly the blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre grape varietals. The deep ruby wine had an intense nose of red cherries, black currant and spice. On the palate, it was medium bodied with a distinctly juicy and spicy feel, a firm structure and a long finish.
Food Pairing: Pan fried Chicken Tikka in highland style.
Unique aspects of the session
Given that the event was conducted in an unconventional setting there were some off beat experiences. In a nutshell, these were:
- A super attentive audience that was in a mood to leisurely appreciate the drinks with none,whatsoever, nag of mundane daily commitments (commuting back home, next day office etc).
- A diverse audience of different age profiles, nationalities and professions with even teenagers keenly joining-in just to acquire some knowledge on wines, even if it implied them not sampling the wines due to minimum age constraints. (To tell you a secret, I allowed them at least one wine with expicit permission of their guardians).
- Participative fervor with several volunteers uncorking/ serving wines and showing around snacks in the decided sequence.
The wine session was followed by dancing bonhomie with a local Kumaoni troupe doing highland songs with ethnic music and some enterprising group members fetching a Jack Daniels to pair with pakoras (fried Indian snacks) as also with the prevalent excitement. Our discussion but naturally switched rails to Bourbon, Rye and beyond.
The indomitable Indian spirit was famously at work.