The Wine World in my Eye!

Whats the first thing we think about when we talk about wine? Is the taste, type or the region? Well I think of France though I shall talk about others as well! I know I have a great connection to this country since I studied, ventured and worked for a little bit amongst the Alps. But even then, France is one country predominantly known for its wine! But tell you honestly, Italy is the biggest producer of this majestic drink!

Wines around the World

Let me explain why France is so closely associated with wine. It is because, it is the first country which protected its reputed wines with tight regulations. And since French invented them, we should turn our attention first to France. Fortunately, I had a chance to study them to a small extent. In my two years, I knew that France had vineyards in regions like Bordeaux, Loire, Beaujolais, etc. I tasted many wines and learnt a little from my experience and the techniques of finding out how good the wine is. Pairing it foods came in a bit later. Some of the popular regions in France that I had a chance to visit and taste one of the best wines in the world were from the region Bordeaux, Alsace and Rhône.

Bordeaux

Wineries in Bordeaux

Upstream the Garonne river provides the damp climate suitable for botrytis. A little later I shall explain what this word means but for now Bordeaux sweet wines are the most celebrated wines of its kind. Because of the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean, this region experiences humid misty mornings during the arrival of autumn relieved by the late sunshine during the day. This gentle process of dampening and drying is ideal for this wine. This is how my knowledge of Bordeaux Sweet wine began. My friend scrapped out 3 bottles of wine from his basement. I was impressed by his mini cellar since I didn’t know how important and valuable wines are for the French! He preserved his precious preserves! He made me taste all 3. They looked different though they tasted quite the same. I was confused, I thought they all were from the same family of sweet white wines but couldn’t identify anything. Then came the surprise! He told me that those bottles were 15, 11 and 7 years old! He gave me a small tip on these wines. He said they last for 20-30 years and the very top ones are virtually indestructible! They turn rich yellow to burnished orange and then distinguished deep brown..all still edible! I could only say one thing – ripe and rich was the wine from these 3 bottles as we drank under the deep blue skies with  Gruyere and goat cheese fondue!

Alsace

Enjoying the Wines of Alsace

A place of great history and a constant tug-of-war between France and Germany, has left this region culturally distinct. It is a unique blend of both the cultures and grape varieties. They produce medium or very dry wines. Though I am not such a fan of dry wines, I didn’t want to miss a chance to taste one. After I did, I thought they had a deep colour and a fine aroma with rumbustious alcohol content. Just a glass did make me a bit tipsy! But, right after that I was fed a rosé, which had pastel pink colour and I loved it. It is one of the most famous wines in Alsace called the Pinot Noir! Since I lived in this part of the country, this wine was in abundance! I was happy to know that I liked something from here as well!

Rhône

Grape picking and choosing the best ones!
Honestly, they all looked the same to me! 🙂

North and south Rhône are known for their spicy, rich reds and intriguing whites! I had never tasted spiced wines before. Infact I didn’t even know something like that exists since India never had a big wine culture back then. In Grenoble, the city in the Alps, and the wonderful place I lived in, had a cozy pub which served wines only. I guess they had about 100 different varieties. A bunch of us who practically had no knowledge of wines ended up here and got a bit greedy in tasting everything that we thought sounded cool! Fortunately, the bartender realized our sense of nonsense and started recommending what was different and which could suit our taste buds. Since I was the obvious and the only Indian around, he asked me if I wanted to taste something spicy! I was just happy with the word spicy and asked him to bring it on! As always, I was asked to smell and then sip. It smelled a bit heavy but slowly after a few swirls a musky grape smell arose from the glass. Then came a subtle taste of wine. It made me reminiscent of India, my land, my home!

United Stated of America

Wines from the rest of the world seem to attract me after my experience in France. The next place I ventured was the Unites States of America. And of course that is the Napa Valley in California. I realized that people here were very enthusiastic and were so willing to encourage people to drink wines and also went out of their way to help understand this drink. California is the epicenter of the US for wines. Vineyards spread from north to south along the cool hillside on the side of the ocean. Again a new wine was introduced to me, the Zinfandel! I was surprised that my knowledge of wines didn’t take to me this one, so what was this? A red-purple wine, high in alcohol, with heavy fruit concentration  was this wine! It had sub categories in this like the blush which tasted like a little sour raspberry punch, then a flavour strangely herbal and what not! Despite the fact I liked it, I thought it was made for style and fanciness!

In the Napa Valley – California

Cincinnati

Meier Wines – known for 45 types of cherries

The Meier Wines is a little winery in the heart of Cincinnati. A very cozy place with the best sherries and port wines. They had so many varieties that I couldn’t really count them on my fingers. They had 33 Cream Sherry, 11 Pale Dry Cocktail Sherry, Ruby Red Port, 22 Golden cherry and the list goes on. All these wines are unique to this place. This winery sprouted in the early 19th century and is still going strong. is best known for its 44 Cream Sherry and produces over 45 kinds of wines and a premium line of sparkling non-alcoholic grape juices. The uniqueness of this Cream Sherry comes from its ageing process – it is aged in whiskey barrels and this subtle taste of whiskey makes this sherry interesting. The other interesting fact, especially for people staying in USA, is that Meier Wines ships their product to your doorstep.  The only memento we carried back with us were its simple wine glasses.

Canada

Ice Wine from Canada

During one of our trips to Canada, to the beautiful city of Toronto, we had a chance to taste a very interesting variety of wine called Ice wine. Chilly as it was outside, we rushed into a local winery to warm ourselves. We hadn’t come across anything like an ice wine before. Even though it was ice cold, it did soothe us from the windy chill of the city. This wine was sweet tasting which is made from grapes that are frozen while still on the vines. The grapes are usually picked very early in the day, around sunrise, to ensure the grapes are in frozen condition. These wines are very crisp and refreshing, as if they have trapped the freshness from the morning air when the grapes were picked.

Barrels for picking the early morning grapes needed for Ice Wine

Switzerland

The Wine Cellar

Apart from its natural beauty, Switzerland does have a wine culture. Somehow, they have vineyards long its border with France, Germany & Italy. It is believed by the rest of Europe that Swiss wines are very expensive. Since I lived on the borders of France, I got a chance to visit the city of Geneva quite often. Sometimes it became a backpackers trip, sometimes a clubbing trip and once with Bipin. Since I went there so often and since I was picking up so much about wines, I decided to spend a bit on a bottle of Merlot red. Infact I am not too fond of Merlot but nevertheless I wanted to own one. This was the cheapest and it permitted my students budget. I was told that this came from a region called Ticino which was almost Italian. When I went back to Grenoble, I decided to open it with some friends. I had quite made up my mind that I would not like it, but to my surprise, it was different and had a very pleasing after taste. It was light and grassy with a tinge of the oak barrel taste.

Turkey

Mulled Wine of Turkey

Turkey produces a lot of wines despite being its Islamic population. I was quite surprised! I was also told that it is one of the first countries to produce wine. Anyway the one wine I had in Istanbul was a mulled wine which tasted delicious even when it was warm. On one of our last days in Turkey, we decided to have a nice dinner in a cozy cafe or a restaurant. I think we picked the prettiest cafe restaurant on the Taksim Square of Istanbul. Since it was a bit chilly, I decided to taste the warm mulled wine. I had never heard of this before! Apparently, this wine is made by heating and mixing wines, liquors and spices and is traditionally had on holidays. I was excited to taste this one and also surprised to be served in a coffee mug! The chilly weather, cozy cafe, my loved one and warm cup of wine. It was bliss!

Along with the the usual wines and blends, Turkey has a vast choice of fruit wines. Apple, Pineapple, Pomegranate, Apricot, to name a few. These are quite interesting especially to people new to wines since these are sweet and fruity. We did get a bottle back – one of the locally produced Pomegranate Wines, made an interesting after dinner dessert wine.

India

A pretty display barrel

Yes yes India! 🙂 Wine is an emerging culture in my country! A glass of wine hardly was heard of 10 years ago! Now, it is considered as a sophisticated drink and rates higher than other alcohols . People here still don’t have complete knowledge of wines but generally prefer white wines since they are a bit sweeter. Now and then, we go for a lot of wine fests which happen often during the month of November and December. So, wine and cheese marks the end of every year!

During one of the wine fests, I gathered some information that I didn’t quite believe. As soon as I came back, I looked through google and was astonished to know that wine was a part of India during the Harappan civilization. It was called Somarasa and was consumed during religious festivals. It sounds very strange indeed because generally Indians do not consume alcohol on the day of a religious festival.

The lush greens of the Sula Winery

Then, a  few years back we visited the Sula vineyard in Nasik, north of my city of Pune. A beautiful lush greens, neatly aligned grape vines looked gorgeous! The whole ambiance of the place was pretty. I think Sula wines did bring a small revolution among Indians and introduced the wine culture. From my knowledge it seemed like they made good wines. None of the wines were hazy and didn’t have floating particles in them. The swirl gave a a crisp aroma which made me believe that wine has begun its journey in India.

I agree that I don’t have a far-fetched knowledge of wines but these were some of my experiences and memories of this mystique drink. I think once you pick out the flavour and store them in your memory, you can enjoy it better. Also, I believe that if you like it, just sip it!

PS: Botrytis are infected grapes by strain of fungus. Damp conditions are needed for its growth. 🙂

For a cool wine quiz, click on to http://www.lively-wood.blogspot.in/2009/07/all-about-wine.html

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Masquerade Carnival of Venice – Italy

Venice, a city that everybody dreams of visiting! Venice – A City of water, A City of Bridges and A City of Lights…..I think that is what I would call it!! A city which flows with the rhythm of the tide that changes every 6 hours. Since I lived in France, I’d intended to visit Venice at least once and first time I vacationed here was in the winters of February 2002, as a student with a real low budget!

The Gondolas

The Gondolas

Before starting from Grenoble, we’d heard stories about the Venetian carnival that was going to happen around the time we would be in Venice. None of us had an idea about the magnitude and extravagance of this carnival. When we arrived in Venice early morning, the atmosphere was celebratory and saw a lot of preparation going on at the Piazza San Marco. The subject seemed to be on everybody’s lips.

The jam-packed Piazza San Marco

The jam-packed Piazza San Marco

The carnival began at 4pm on February 02, 2002. The tradition of the carnival began by masked artists who, with drums and torches, ignited the Carnival in the city. It was still day light when it all started and we couldn’t wait till it got a bit darker to see the flooding lights in the Piazza San Marco. It was very chilly but the hustle-bustle in the city didn’t make us realize the piercing wind. After the masquerade parade which traditionally opened the Carnival, a first toast was made to the reborn Carnival in the hall of the elegant Caffé Quadri. This apparently is the first meeting-point for everybody in costume. That’s when someone told us that the carnival dates back to 1162 AD to celebrate its victory though the celebration gradually grew and 1268 AD which dates the first document mentioning the use of masks. I was quite amazed with its aged history.

Daniel, Estela & myself, strolling through the streets & alleys

Daniel, Estela & myself, strolling through the streets & alleys

The drapes, costumes and masks looked classy and baffling at the same time almost scary, with the empty eyes, as if the people are mere ghosts. There were people dressed in icy 18th century noblewomen or boogeyman masks and long capes, etc. Inspired by all the costumes, we decided to by ourselves some cheap masks made of papier-mâché and some hats. Since the ones made by artists were way beyond our budget, we decided to buy ones that were sold by some street vendors and try to be a part of the affair. After actually wearing it, we realized how difficult it was to keep it on for so long.

Mask display

Mask display

As we moved through the crowd observing and enjoying the ambience and of the carnival, entertainment filled every square, road and alley and there are numerous masked parties and balls. We saw a lot of street plays, some acrobats done very elegantly by the locals with their fancy attire. The one thing I saw for the very first time in my life was an opera in a small opera house. Though I didn’t understand much of the technicalities, I quite enjoyed its intense dramatisation and denotation. At the centre of the piazza we also saw the masquerade ball. It was so unbelievable; it felt like being in the 18th century and actually witnessing the olden times. The couples just swayed so easy with their heavy costumes, some with and without masks. The whole setting was just so full of life and vigour, something I can never forget in my life.
All this made the time fly so fast.

Some of us again!

Some of us again!

It was almost midnight before we realised how late it was and how much time we’d actually spent walking around the place. The life in the city, at that point seemed unending and didn’t look as though the night was going to conclude the celebrations. In fact the deeper we got into the night, the more boisterous, animated and lively it got. I loved being a part of it, I realised how lucky I was to witness it all!

Bail Pola – Festival of the Bullocks

Decorated bull on our way to Varasgaon

Decorated bull on our way to Varasgaon

Till recently, I had not heard of this festival called Bail Pola. When I came to know what the festival is about and why it is celebrated, I realised how ignorant and unaware I was! I was on my way to our farm at Varasgaon about 40kms from Pune. A beautiful, untouched and secluded hamlet in the hills of Sahayadri Mountains where time just flies looking at the serene landscape. Most of the people in this area are famers and celebrate a lot of local festivals. I will write about this place a little later but for now, I want to tell you more about this small celebration amongst farmers called Bail Pola.

Local Farmer with his Bullock

Local Farmer with his Bullock

The naughty one who refused to pose for us!

The naughty one who refused to pose for us!

Now “bail” in Marathi means a bull and this festival is celebrated to thank the animal for all the works it is made to do on the farms. It is celebrated in the month of Shravan on a new moon day, a month that has all its days auspicious according to the Hindu religion. Though farmers use mechanical equipments for farming, in many remote places of India bullocks are still used. This is the very festive occasion for the farmers to pay their respect towards their bullocks. My curiosity sparked when I noticed a lot of farmers walking their bulls so smeared with colours, draped with colourful shawls and so lavishly decorated with frills and flowers, balloons that we waited to ask what was actually going on. A local farmer explained that they were heading towards a nearby village to flaunt his robust bull where many others would participate. The village was also supposed to have a fair and some procession to celebrate this festival. He also said that they spent the entire morning to wash the bull and paint them with turmeric and decorate them. Since I am an animal lover, I was so thrilled to see these people rejoicing over an animal that was such an important part of their lives.

Another local farmer with his decorated Bullock

The one that posed!

The one that posed!

Just the very same day, we, volunteers of Blue Cross Society, Pune (animal welfare organisation) met to discuss our next agenda. My cousin, Kanchan who is also one of the volunteers, narrated a repulsive spectacle that she saw on her way to the meeting. She saw the same thing that I did, the bulls being decorated and painted but along with that, she saw something spiteful done to the bulls on the day that is celebrated for them. She passed through some area in the city where there was a bullock race which is solely entertaining for the people but unquestionably not for the animal. To add to the ordeal of the bulls, people burst fire-crackers almost a foot away from them, causing trauma and panic to the animal. She said that the animals were scared and tetchy which aggravated their masters. After she’s finished, I thought why amuse ourselves with something for an animal when it causes more trauma and suffering to it and to top it all, on its account! The same day that started with so much curiosity, fun and love for the animal, ended up with sympathy and helplessness. We being volunteers of an animal welfare organisation couldn’t do much but we certainly decided amongst ourselves that not only should we spread awareness towards cruelty done to animals but we should also inculcate these values in the younger generation to help us stop these practices.