Last night, I was at JW Marriott Bangalore’s Food & Wine Appreciation dinner. In their Italian restaurant Alba, their very nice, white gauze white draped PDR was the venue for our rather fun table of 10. I say fun, because at the head of the table was Craig Wedge, Aussie brand director, FineWinesnMore and Fratelli Wines who has made India his home, and learned to embrace it, bad traffic, government taxes et al. As experience has taught me, there’s never a dull moment with Craig at the helm. Forget all your genteel sipping, swirling and nibbling. Here, there’s jokes, arguments, hilarity and not a small amount of leg pulling. Tonight, Craig was in good form.
First off, he announced that we were not getting to see the bottles of the 2 white and 2 red wines he was pouring with the 4 courses. We needed to guess the grapes, the region and -ahem – the vintage. “We tend to pre-judge the wines once we see the bottles and labels. The idea is that there should be a good wine in your glass which you can enjoy with your food. The rest is not important,” he said. All four wines were within the Rs 2500 retail price bracket, he added, and would be served from decanters.
Having started with a rather delicious Prosecco (yes, in its bottle!), we sat down to seared scallop, roasted pumpkin puree, fennel, truffle oil with a mystery white wine. Nice balance, no dominant fruit notes but a pleasant acidity. Enjoyable, and very more-ish. Lots of guesses came in, but Craig just grinned mysteriously with each, and the efficient service staff just smiled and stayed mum. Lovely pairing, is what I have to say. (Turned out if was Il Casone Pinot Grigio, and its neat acidity and minerality gave a more mature turn from the quintessential light crispness of a very young Pinot Grigio.) White wine #2 came with the grilled shrimps, arugula, gorgonzola, pomegranate dressing. A whiff of off-dry, nice acidity and a blend? Hmm, this was not as easy as wine school teaches you. The snappy guesses started again. (Turned out it was the Fratelli Vitae Tre, a blend of Chenin Blanc, Gewürztraminer and Müller-Thurgau by India’s Fratelli Wines.)
Onto the mains, served with two reds together. There’s connection between them, Craig cryptically told us. The main course featured a delicious herb crusted lamb loin, potato mash, asparagus, baby carrots, pan jus. One could tell red #2 was a blend, and #1 was a rather nice if somewhat more venerable single varietal wine. Ta-dah! It emerged that the first was a Chianti Classico, Casa Sol, made by Piero Masi, Fratelli’s well-respected winemaker as part of his own Italian portfolio and currently imported to India. Red #2 turned out to the Fratelli Sette 2011, also by Masi, hence the “connection” Craig mentioned – this vintage (dominated by Sangiovese) I hadn’t tried earlier, and continue to remain rather partial to the 2009 and the 2010. Sette is made with the best grapes of each specific vintage.
Having confounded everyone with his wine conjuring tricks and deliberately misleading hints, we all gave up on the serious part and concentrated on dessert: vanilla pannacotta, raspberry coulis, macaroon, pistachios, tuile, berry marmalade. General manager Parul Thakur and her team led the guests out onto the terrace where limoncello and grappa were being served along with coffee and tea. A stellar showing by JW Marriott, GM Parul Thakur, F&B director Surjan Singh Jolly and the very wine literate Saanjna Subiah.
What a fun evening, said someone. I totally agree. Good food, wine and service aside, what it did also show us was that preconceptions about labels can sometimes take away from the enjoyment, mystery and the romance of drinking wine.
Bring on the fun elements, I say!