Of Wine,Women and Sommeliers – Arka Bhattacharya

photo1“I am having a medium-rare steak with the sides of mac and cheese and corn, can you a red as well as a white wine to go with this?”

“For the red I think a pinot noir, grand cru from the Vosne Romanee region, La Tache , Cote d’Or, burgundy, vintage 1994 and for white a 2009 Riesling from Mosel, Bernkasteler Doctor, Would pair perfectly with the steak and the sides.”

“Fine, sounds great, I take the Burgundy!”

“Great choice Sir.”

“1994 you say, was that a good year?”

“one of the best years in that decade, Sir!”

“Excellent! I’ll have that!”

The sommelier nods his head with a smile and sets the table with two burgundy bowls before heading off into the cellar to look for the 94’ La Tache. He locates it, and heads back to the table to present the bottle. The guest looks at it quickly but closely. A $350 bottle, does need a closer inspection. He nods in approval. The sommelier returns to the side station, only a few feet away from the table. Pulls out a decanter from the rack underneath. Cuts the foil, uncorks the bottle, and pours a taste to look for flaws. Flawless! He had no doubt that it was truly a great wine. He decants the bottle and returns to the table. Pours a taste for the host, who approves, then he pours for the companion and leaves the decanter and bottle at the table.

10 minutes. It was a busy night. No table should be left wondering.

A part of an evening from a sommelier’s point of view from a busy downtown restaurant in San Francisco.

A sommelier isn’t exactly a wine taster or a snob who tells people what to drink. A sommelier is simply a wine steward. He knows what different wines should taste like. He has a pretty good knowledge too, about the wines of the world. He has impeccable skills when it comes to wine service. But an overtly proud sommelier with a very snob and cocky attitude is the worst thing that can happen to a restaurant.

The concept of food and wine isn’t a luxurious thing, else the villagers from France wouldn’t be able to afford a single drop since the 17th century. Marketing them towards the rich as a commodity of luxury is another. But some from the left banks of Bordeaux do deserve a round of applause. Turning a tank of hot, fermenting smelly grape juice into a beautiful, delicate red liquid with flavours of tart red cherries, hints of smoke and the decadent nose of a cold forest morning, takes something other than just knowledge. It’s more a legacy of intricate craftsmanship; it’s  not a very simple form of lifestyle – its a celebration of life itself.

Unfortunately in India wine is seen more as “ladies drink” than a potential beverage. To be a man one must chug 2-3 servings of whisky, before dinner, eat like a hog and then drink some more and eventually pass out. Whether one wakes up with a hangover is a matter of private affair; should one choose to reveal it. Drinking hard liquor on an empty stomach creates an immense pressure on the liver and an over indulgence of gastric juices, as there is no heavy/solid food to digest that paramount level of alcohol. Let’s not forget our weather. An average yearly temperature of 25-35 degrees, it does make a rather difficult task to drink strong spirits on a regular basis. Although this weather dilemma is overridden by the adoption of air conditioners in the “study” (also a place to smoke and drink). But the main intention behind drinking is “will this get me tipsy”? if your answer is NO then it is a waste of money. If it is MAYBE then still is a waste of money (what if I am sober after drinking this? Freaking nightmare!) But if your answer is YES (judged solely on the basis of the alcohol/volume maker) then go for it. The night is yours, if you can remember it.

Would the introduction of wines and cocktails help in this situation? Maybe, probably. Cocktails are made with the principle that acid, flavour and low percentage of alcohol be served together as an aperitif for dinner. If one remembers correctly “cocktail dinners” are generally held before the actual dinner! It helps in getting people legitimately comfortable and ordering the appetizers.

A normal dinner would be champagnes/proseccos or sparkling wines or fino sherry or cocktails along with appetizers. The main course is accompanied by a red or a white wine or saké. The deserts have their own pairing with sweet wines or amontillados or ports or Madeiras. Then finally comes the part where one chooses a single malt whisky, or a Cognac or an Armagnac or Absinthe, or coffee, after dinner drinks.

This helps in one way that every food is digested properly. Lighter alcohols before dinner and as it progresses so does the alcohol strength. Finally the hard spirits are drunk on a fairly full stomach.

Sincere apologies to people who think that I am telling them how drink their whisky or rum. I am not. . . well not completely. I am just telling you that if you change the order then it is a little comfortable.

You can follow Arka Bhattacharaya, Kolkata’s only professional Sommeleir in Twitter: https://twitter.com/arka789b