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A Taste of France (# 6/158)

The French Ambassador hosted an evening of French wines at his residence writes Arun BATRA

Whilst most of the big names among the leading wines of the world have a presence on the retail shelves and on fine dining restaurant wine lists , the intricacies of and the logistical hurdles presented by the Indian bureaucracy have made it virtually impossible for the small to medium wine producer to single-handedly break into to a market which is once again showing signs of recovery.

So it was a pragmatic decision of the French Trade Commission in India to do a road show showcasing the products of some of the smaller and to the most wine drinkers, unknown names from the French wine world. And from the point of view of the Delhi Wine Club ,an even more pragmatic one as through the efforts of the President , Subhash Arora, we were able to jointly host the Delhi leg of  “Rendezvous 2010” and offer our members an exclusive taste of France absolutely free of cost!

And so it was on a hot summer evening that we assembled on the finely manicured lawns of the residence of the French Ambassador Mr Jerome Bonnafont in Luytens Chanakyapuri for our 6th event of the year. Rather than formalize the wine tasting process, a market place setting was chosen so as to maximize the interaction of the wine producers representatives with the guests . As Ambassador Bonnafont said “we also want the producers to understand the Indian consumer and their palate”.

There were a total of ten wine producers /distributors who had made the trip across to India hoping that their wines samples would also make it to the tasting for the evening . Thanks to the efforts of Jean-Philippe Thiney of the French Trade Commission, all was well - the wine was custom cleared and cooling as we arrived . A battery of mist fans so thoughtfully provided, brought some welcome relief after a scorching day and set the tempo for the evening!
Given the duty multipliers, producers are given no option but to skew their offering in favour of their cheaper wines in order to retail at prices which give then a fair chance with the consumer. I did taste over 20 wines that evening so what I am going to do is to give you my take on the wines that I liked so if you see these wines on the shelves in future then just blindly go for them:

  • The Champagne Brut Vintage 2004 from Louise Brison with a 50% Chardonnay base was fruity, smooth and very drinkable – a great start to the evening

  • From the Chateau La Brie stall , their Cotes de Bergerac Rouge 2005 was just outstanding

  • The wine merchants Rivoyre and Varenne Cie tantalised the palate with their Chateau Laures Entre Deux Mers 2009 .The Entre Deux Mers means literally "between two seas" and is so called because the area is sandwiched between the tidal waters of the Rivers Doogne and Garonne. With hints of peach and apple on the nose, this white wine has a thirst quenching freshness about it.

  • The 2007 La Coterie Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Vignobles La Coterie was a Grenache and Syrah blend with a good balance of sugar and tannins which gave it smoothness and a wonderfully mellow aftertaste.

I was extremely intrigued by the write up for the Natural Wine Exports in the promotional brochure which described their wines as being “elaborated from organic and bio dynamic grapes” – but unfortunately the wines did not live up to the expectations created by probably an over enthusiastic copywriter!!

Food for the evening came from Romola Bacchan’s Manre – good quality finger food ,in particular the crumbed prawns and the falafel, and what’s better in sufficient quantities to ensure that we didn’t need to think about dinner when we reached home .

To round off the evening I stopped by at the stall of Armagnac De Montal and was persuaded to try a flight of their Armagnac’s – the XO , the VSOP and the simply awesome 1965. Armagnac is a distilled grape brandy produced in Gascony just south of Bordeaux. Unlike Cognac, which is double distilled, Armagnac producers retain a lot more of the soil characteristics by limiting the grapes to a single distillation so the result is a more fuller flavoured and aromatic brandy. Very much a post prandial quaff though suited more for colder weather.

A last look around at the great setting for a wine evening and what struck me was the fact that the evening was actually turned out to be an exclusive wine tasting for the Delhi Wine Club –kudos to Subhash Arora for leveraging the brand equity of our club for our own benefit. And whilst I am in the back slapping mood, may I also raise a glass to the timekeeping of  our members who by 6.45pm were all there in full strength –remember it was a Monday evening !!

From the a wine enthusiasts point of view it was a enjoyable evening –many thanks to Jeremy Bonnafant and his team for taking the initiative to promote wines from smaller French wineries. We now look forward to him and his government increasing and  maintaining sustained pressure on the Indian government to reform its ridiculous structure of duties and taxes on wines . Lets wish him “bonne chance” – after all, if the efforts of the EC succeed, then it will be a win-win situation for both international wine producers as well as Indian wine drinkers.

Arun Batra is a Delhi based  food and wine enthusiast and a long time member of the Delhi Wine Club.



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