Posted by: cochinblogger | December 17, 2012

Two Hours with Four Seasons

My first memories of drinking wine are from the idyllic days of my school vacations spent in my grandfather’s house in a village in Kerala. He used to make it in barrels and serve it in spades when his scattered sons and daughters gathered at the ancestral home with their families during summer. I later learned that the adults switched to spirits after the initial round of wine, but for us kids, it was a thrill to sample the wine. Suddenly, we felt grown up, nursing our own drinks in the company of the adults nursing theirs.The wine used to be fairly strong sometimes, and our glassfuls were carefully measured out accordingly.

Wine and Kerala are made for each other. Many varieties of home-made wine are available here, made from an astonishing range of ingredients. For example, I recently got two bottles of ginger wine and gooseberry wine from an exhibition. Surely with such splendid vegetable and fruity raw material, these wines must work wonders for one’s health; they certainly have a tonic effect on me. The large Christian community here has a long-standing relationship with wine, from the sacramental wine of the communion rite to the wine served at wedding receptions. Kerala also has the highest per capita alcohol consumption in India. Another wine-friendly factor in Kerala is the burgeoning tourism industry. So, Kerala should be a promising market for a branded wine.

Four Seasons, a leading Indian wine producer, evidently thinks so, because it organized a wine-drinking and wine-training session recently in Cochin at a luxury hotel. The invitees were a select group of bloggers from Cochin and a group of Westerners who have been in Cochin for some months. The session began with a presentation by Mr. Amit Chavan, Training Manager, UB. This was wine education at a basic level, but then, we were mostly tyros, so we found it instructive. So, we learned, for example, that there are still/sparkling/fortified wines, white/rose/red wines, and dry/medium/sweet wines. We were to taste the still variety of wines.

One of the slides was about an interesting-sounding term that instantly rang a bell: terroir, which means the taste imparted to the wine by the characteristics of the soil in which the grape vines grow. Merriam-Webster offers this graphic definition: “taste of the earth.” As Amit dug deeper into his presentation like a vine root in search of water and minerals, I suddenly realized why the term was familiar. It’s the title of a stunning short story I’d read long ago — and it revolves around wine. I’ll save this terroir memory, this short story, for the end of this post as a tasty morsel for you.

A little more now about the wine drinkers gathered there. We were arranged around three tables. At one table sat four Westerners, at another sat a clutch of young bloggers, and the table at the rear served as the wine station for myself and the two female bloggers in the company. Amit, the high priest of wine, moved around nimbly, sharing his wisdom with all three tables.

Then came the moment we had been waiting for: the wine was poured into our glasses. We began by sniffing the white wine. Now, I was apprehensive about drinking white wine as I am used to red wine, and my sole encounter with a bottle of white wine on a flight had resulted in a traumatized palate. But I was pleasantly surprised by the taste of this wine. A selection of hors d’oeuvres were served that matched the wine. It was not long before the bottle of red wine (Shiraz) was also uncorked, and a collective mellowness suffused the assembly.

One of the slides was on the health benefits of wine. A lady present sounded a skeptical note when she observed that wine contained alcohol, which is injurious to health. I pointed out that wine and food are inseparable. Another guest took this up, explaining that alcohol on an empty stomach is converted to sugar and that is why food should be eaten whenever alcohol is drunk. Amit quickly put up a slide that showed the recommended maximum daily intake of wine (which I’ve successfully forgotten), adding that one should not drink too much. Someone asked what would happen if one drank too much. This raised a laugh, which turned into guffaws when Amit replied, “Then you might find yourself falling in love with the person you are drinking with!” (The question of what happens when wine is drunk in excess reminded me of Lot and his daughters and the role wine played in preserving their family line; this is from the book of Genesis in the Bible.)

The ice was now broken, and I playfully asked Amit if there is a recommended speed for drinking wine. He smiled and replied, “Slowly.” I didn’t let him off the hook but followed up with another rhetorical question: “Can ‘slowly’ be quantified in terms of the recommended number of sips per minute?”

Now I felt tongue-loose enough to share with my table mates the short story “Terroir” that I mentioned earlier. It was a smash hit, and all the credit goes to the story’s plot, none to my story-telling abilities. You can read the story yourself at the end of this post, but let me serve you an appetizer here. The setting is a room in the house of a vintner who has created a unique wine and invited a famous wine critic to sample it. So the two, vintner and wine critic, sit across a table, the wine critic sips the wine, and the two talk about the newly created wine. The critic is intrigued by the wine: “It does have something unexpected to its bouquet and taste.” The vintner says that the wine was grown near his house on North American soil, not in Europe.

The wine critic frowns; it’s a mystery. He comments: “So there must be something unusual about the terroir. This wine has the richness of a fine European vintage, something from a soil that has been cherished for centuries solely for the production of wine grapes.” The vintner now takes over the conversation, telling his visitor about his research into wine making, his investigations, and his search for the solution to a question that nobody has been able to answer: “Tell me, Gustave, do you know the difference between a European wine soil and a wine soil anywhere else in the world?” The wine critic replies, “The difference has been debated for as long as there have been vintners.” The vintner now explains that he has unlocked this wine mystery, the key observation being that Europe is more densely populated than North America.

Why should population density make a difference? I’ve think given you enough of a foretaste of this exciting wine-based shorty story. You can read it in the author’s own words at the end of this post and find out the diabolical answer yourself.

Now, the party entered the endgame. Blog addresses were exchanged and group pics taken. I went over to the table at which the Westerners were sitting to say hello to them. They were from England, Canada, and New Zealand, staying in boats berthed in the Kochi Marina. Theirs were the first boats to make use of this recently opened marina, the first in India. They were boat people who spent all their time sailing all over the world and would be proceeding next to the Maldives to service their boats; Kerala, apparently, had facilities for repairing fishing boats but none for their kind of boat, the reason having something to do with the shape of the boat’s bottom. And, yes, they were bloggers too. I invited Amit to join us, and lost no time in springing the Terroir short story on them. Needless to say, it went down as smoothly as the Shiraz had down our throats. Then followed more exchanges of blog addresses, more group pics, and I had to leave.

In the restroom, as I opened my fly and let fly, I pondered the golden stream and noted its resemblance to the white wine we had drunk. It was hard to miss the analogy: the red wine flowing in our arteries sustains our living bodies, and the white wine we pour out in celebration is the body’s champagne cup running over. I sniffed as I zipped up my fly and wondered: Does this kidney liquor have its own terroir, its own individual signature imprinted on it by the body’s internal kidney works? I knew then that the wine lessons had sunk deep roots in my psyche — too deep for comfort, perhaps.

At the door of the restroom, I turned around to face Amit, and the wine inside me spoke: “Every successful wine session ends here, in the restroom.” He laughed.

“If one drinks too much wine, one falls in love with the person drinking with you,” the wine master had said. I must’ve drunk too much, much too much, because by the end of the evening, I found myself in love with Amit, my fellow bloggers, the marina boat people, the hotel, Four Seasons, and the auto driver who took me home — not necessarily in that order.

Thank you, Ginger Claps, for arranging the event and inviting me.

Postscript: Here is the short story I promised — Terroir by Geoff Hart

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Responses

  1. Truly a magical way that you narrated the entire event. Thanks for helping me recollect about Amits speech on wine..

    • Thank you, Tomz.

  2. Great post!
    You’ve made us all quite envious…

  3. Hilarious, and captures the afternoon perfectly. You may read our efforts here:

    http://www.lizcleere.com/2012/12/a-syrah-is-just-a-shiraz-except-when-its-a-petite-sirah/

    and here:

    http://www.followtheboat.com/2012/12/18/can-i-have-a-case-please-wine-tasting-in-cochin/

    Very nice to meet you and hope to bump into you again some time soon.

  4. Great post! Loved reading it, and hearing the “terroir” story again.
    My story on the same subject is here: http://www.lizcleere.com/2012/12/a-syrah-is-just-a-shiraz-except-when-its-a-petite-sirah/
    I hope we can stay in touch. Liz

  5. Loved the post. And the story of “terroir”. I missed it that day.

  6. nicely naratted….. amazing story at the end.. 🙂 … hope we can have such events some time soon….


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