Tag Archives: High on Wines

Alpamanta : Biodynamic Wines from Mendoza, Argentina

Someone once said that “pleasure can only be derived from personal discovery”. I couldn’t agree more. It is one thing to see pictures of a beautiful wine region and vineyards situated in the most picturesque locales, but another to actually visit them and see the beauty for yourself.

It was this desire for discovery which took me all the way to South America, and more specifically, to a wine region that is currently hot on the international wine scene, Mendoza Argentina. And I couldn’t have chosen a more adventurous way of getting there. A spectacular drive from Santiago, Chile across the Andes mountains to Mendoza, Argentina’s largest and most important wine region.

The vineyard that I chose to visit was Alpamanta, meaning “Love of Earth” in the local native language; a single vineyard estate making exceptional wines from 100% organic and biodynamic vineyard. It is located at an altitude of 950m (3117ft) above sea level, in a picture postcard setting against the backdrop of snow capped Andes mountain, in Ugarteche, Luján de Cujo, 38 kms south of Mendoza city.

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Alpamanta, Certified Organic & Biodynamic Vineyard in Ugarteche, Lujan de Cujo, Mendoza, Argentina. All photographs used in this blog post are mine.

I was curious to see how “biodynamics”, an extreme form of “organic viticulture” and the next big trend in grape growing, actually worked. Was it really possible to attune farming to the spiritual forces of the cosmos in general and to lunar rhythms in particular. And all those stories about the use of cow horn manure and other “homeopathic preparations” (involving dandelion, camomile etc) used to dynamize the vineyard; was it just some irrational cult and unscientific mumbo-jumbo, or did it really work.

The visit was a revelation and added tremendously to my knowledge of Biodynamics, a wine-making practice where the vineyard is considered a self-sufficient living organism, co-existing with flora and fauna in a complimentary way.

Incidentally, it was way back in the 1920’s, that this concept started with an Austrian philosopher named Rudolph Steiner, who was against the use of chemicals in agriculture. The aim was to restore harmony between humans and the universe and keep human intervention to a minimum. However, it is only in recent years that people are taking this holistic agricultural practice seriously, as the harmful effects of chemicals are becoming apparent.

While a lot of vineyards across the world are hopping on to the sustainable wagon and converting to biodynamics including high-end wine producers like Peter Sisseck of Dominio de Pingus in Spain, Lalou Bize-Leroy of Domaine Leroy in Burgundy, Michel Chapoutier in Hermitage, DeLoach Vineyards in Sonoma County; the founder of Alpamanta, an Austrian of noble descent, Andrej Razumovsky and his partners Andre Hoffman and Jéréme Delecourt, established this boutique winery in 2005, in a virgin previously untouched site, as an organic and biodynamic project right from the start.

Which in essence means that the 35 hectares of Alpamanta estate has not been exposed to any chemicals in the form of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, commercial yeast or any other artificial ingredients. They practice soil and bug friendly cultivation using home made compost, treating the soil as a living organism.  All activities, including  cellar work, are carried on following a biodynamic calendar. There are root days (for pruning), leaf days (for watering), flower days (leaving the vineyard alone) and fruit days (for harvesting).

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With Ignacio Ciancio, Commercial Manager Alpamanta, who took care of my visit.

Setting foot inside the vineyard, the first thing I noticed was an organic herb garden. I was told by Ignacio Ciancio, Commercial Manager Alpamanta Estate, that these herbs were used in a making a “compost preparation” which vitalizes the soil and makes the vines disease resistant. He then pointed to the ground which was teeming with ants. These ants were present on every inch of the vineyard walkways. Ignacio mentioned that all biodynamic vineyards will have colonies of ants and this is the first thing one should look for, if any vineyard makes claims to being biodynamic.

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Herb Garden and Compost Pit at Alpamanta Estate, Mendoza Argentina. Ignacio Ciancio holding some compost to show the earthworms.

I saw sheep, horses and hens roaming freely around the property. This is done to allow them to pick off damaging worms and greens and also generate manure.

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Poultry is transported to different parts of the property in a mobile hen-house . Chicken eat “cutworm’ while sheep help in weed control.

All vines are covered by a mesh to protect them against hail.IMG_3477

One of the most fascinating areas of the estate was the cellar which stored barrels full of “biodynamic preparations” used for infusing the manure with vitalizing forces to promote vine growth and prevent diseases. These are administered only on specific days in accordance with the biodynamic calendar, based on the phases of moon and its relationship with the 12 constellations. In other words, these are effective only during certain earthly and celestial rhythms.

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Ignacio showing the various “biodynamic preparations” and explaining their usage.

The certified organic Alpamanta wines were a bigger revelation. Available in four varietal lines Natal (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, and Malbec, all unoaked, fruity and fresh ), Estate (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Chardonnay, aged in French oak for 10 months) Reserva or Terroir (Malbec, aged in new French barrels for 18 months) and Breva (unfiltered). All wines are made using ambient yeast, very little sulphites and with minimum manipulation, right from harvest to bottling. The packaging too is eco-friendly.

IMG_6096Very elegant, complex, layered and well-balanced, they tasted nothing like the other “organic” wines, I had been previously exposed to. Some of those had left me underwhelmed, while these were simply outstanding. Which just goes to show that better farming practices result in better wines and “going green” is not just a marketing gimmick. If you want to change your perception about organic wines, look for Alpamanta. And if you happen to find yourself in Mendoza, do visit this biodynamic vineyard.

It was a fascinating and educative visit for which I am grateful to the owner Andrej Razumovsky and to my friend Georgina Fernandez Desrefano, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Argentina, India, who introduced me to Andrej and co-ordinated my programme. A big thank you to Ignacio Ciancio, who showed me around Alpamanta and other parts of Mendoza, like the breathtakingly beautiful Uco Valley.

Though I liked most of Alpamanta wines, my favorite surprisingly, was not Malbec, but the Estate Cabernet Franc.

By : Lavina Kharkwal

Alpamanta is one of the seven certified biodynamic wineries in Argentina. They can be contacted at turismo@alpamnta.comIMG_3562

K3 Alfresco at JW Marriott New Delhi Aerocity : A Perfect Winter Rendezvous

Some of my fondest memories of winter are centred around food. Sitting around a bonfire eating peanuts and gajjak in Jammu during Lohri; driving for masala tea and hot pakoras to a road side tea stall in Rajpur from our house in Dehradun; plucking fresh spinach and mustard from our kitchen garden in Kaka Nagar, New Delhi, cooking it over an open fire and eating it along with home-made “makki rotis”.

Countless nostalgic food moments like these, associated with places where I have lived. Somehow I feel less guilty about over-eating at this time of the year. The weight gain that invariably happens, gets camouflaged by layers of clothing, which is a blessing.

During winters, the urge for a barbecue usually takes me to a nearby “dhaba”, or to Old Delhi, where you can stand around numerous roadside makeshift charcoal grills, and devour delicious kebabs and skewered meats.

But there are times, when I really yearn for a nice juicy lamb chop, paired with a robust red wine or some top quality grilled fish. For this, however, I head to a fine dining restaurant, preferably having outdoor seating, as this kind of food is best enjoyed when it is fresh off the grill, and cooked right in front of you.

When I read that K3, the all-day dining at JW Marriott, Aerocity New Delhi, had added an outdoor extension called K3 Alfresco serving barbecues and grilled dishes, it seemed like the perfect solution for my yearnings and I decided to check it out.

Luckily Delhi has had an unusually mild winter this year. So the thought of sitting outdoors did not seen very daunting.

K3, with its elaborate menu and popular Sunday brunches has already established its reputation as one of the best fine dining destinations in Delhi -NCR. I was not disappointed with the new addition, K3 Alfresco, either.

K3 Alfresco at JW Marriott New Delhi Aerocity
K3 Alfresco at JW Marriott New Delhi Aerocity

The menu at K3 Alfresco is limited since it is predominantly about grills. Prawns, Scallops, Goat Cheese Tart and something called Provolone Brulee are offered as the appetizers. For the mains the choice is wider and the several options include Lobster, Fish (Sea Bass, Black Cod, John Dory), New Zealand Lamb Chops, Pork Chops & Chicken Breast. Vegetarians can choose between Charred Polenta and Wild Mushroom & Asparagus Gougère.

There is a wide variety of sauces to go with the mains, Béarnaise, Caper Beurre Blanc, Red Wine Jus, Pepper, Mushroom etc. Plenty of interesting sides too.

I ordered Grilled Jumbo Prawns, Goat Cheese Tart (absolutely delicious and must try) among the appetisers and Sea Bass & New Zealand Lamb Chops from the mains. The wine I chose with the seafood was Dr Loosen 2013 Riesling and with the lamb chops it was Frescobaldi Pater Sangiovese, both by the glass. The deal here is that if you order one main dish ( Rs 1500-3500) from the grill; the soup, sides and a pre-plated dessert come free of cost.

Grilled Sea Bass; Grilled Prawns; New Zealand Lamb Chops, Goat Cheese Tart, Dr Loosen Riesling, Dessert Platter with Creme Brulee & Valrhona Chocolate Mousse.
Grilled Sea Bass; Grilled Prawns; New Zealand Lamb Chops, Goat Cheese Tart, Dr Loosen Riesling, Dessert Platter with Creme Brulee & Valrhona Chocolate Mousse. All food pics are mine except the Sea Bass

Now Sea Bass is a delicate fish which requires minimal cooking. Executive Chef Vivek Bhatt and Executive Sous Chef Ishika Konar had respected that. The fish presented to me was white, soft, flakey and just melted in the mouth.

The Prawns were a wee bit over but Chef Ishika nailed the lamb chops. I had asked them to be done medium and this is how I got them, succulent with the juices intact. The cooking techniques of the chefs was spot on. They understood the ingredients and respected them.

Chef Ishika Konar, Executive Sous Chef, JW Marriott New Delhi Aerocity. She specialises in Mediterranean, German, & Mexican Cuisine and her forte is western hot kitchen & garde manger.
Chef Ishika Konar, Executive Sous Chef, JW Marriott New Delhi Aerocity. She specialises in Mediterranean, German, & Mexican Cuisine and her forte is western hot kitchen & garde manger.

One reason why I like going to K3 is the well thought out wine list and some great offers by the glass. Plus there is Director Beverages, Ankur Chawla, one of India’s best sommeliers, whose advice can always be sought, when in doubt about which wine to pair with your meal.

K3 Alfresco is a dinner only, season bound offer (during winters till mid-Feb). I loved the romantic ambience. It seems like a perfect place to take your date on a cold winter evening.

In case you need additional heating, there are enough tower heaters which don’t let you feel the chill, even though you are seated in the open.

So if you are looking for a special evening to try out some delicious grills, you know where to head to.

By : Lavina Kharkwal

Clos Rougeard : Drinking a Loire Valley Legend in Hong Kong.

Le Quinze Vins in Wan Chai Hong Kong looked like any other wine bar from outside, till I entered and saw an entire wall lined up with vintages from hallowed French estates. The kind that you bow down and pay homage to.

Le Quinze Vins, a French Wine Bar in Wan Chai Hong Kong
Le Quinze Vins, a French Wine Bar in Wan Chai Hong Kong

This is where I was meeting Gordon Rodrigues, a Hong Kong based banker, wine aficionado and an avid wine collector, on a recent visit to Hong Kong.

Gordon was a facebook friend whom I had known for over a year. This was the first time we were meeting in person.

The world of wine has connected me with some wonderful people across the world. There is always someone in every city willing to share a glass or a bottle and talk about their wine journey. Cultural barriers are transcended, views aired and often an everlasting friendship is formed over wine.

Gordon Rodrigues, a Hong Kong based banker who introduced me to a cult wine from Loire Valley.
Gordon Rodrigues, a Hong Kong based banker who introduced me to a legendary wine estate from Loire Valley.

What Gordon had chosen for me that evening, was a Clos Rougeard “Brézé 2008”, a single vineyard Chenin Blanc from the legendary wine estate, Clos Rougeard, in Saumur region of Loire Valley, France.

Clos Rougeard Saumur Blanc Breze 2008
Clos Rougeard Saumur Blanc Breze 2008

This was the first time I was trying out wine from this revered, though somewhat low profile estate, famous for its “cult” Cabernet Franc.

To say that Clos Rougeard is to Loire what Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) is to Burgundy, will not be an exaggeration.

The estate produces three red wines Le Bourg, Les Poyeux and Le Clos, all from 100% Cabernet Franc, under the appellation label Saumur Champigny.

According to some, it is the finest expression of Cabernet Franc in the world and some vintages of Le Bourg, the leading cuvée of Clos Rougeard, fetch a higher price than Bordeaux classified growths such as Cos d’Estournel and Palmer.

Ever since the death of Charly Foucault, the eighth generation co-owner of Cos Rougeard, in December last year, the price of these wines has shot up even more.

Since production is limited to only 2500 cases a year, the wines get sold out very quickly and are hard to find.

Latest reports suggest that Clos Rougeard has been sold to Martin Bouygues and his brother Olivier, owners of Chateau Montrose in Bordeaux.

Clos Rougeard wines are truly artisanal in every sense and pioneers of organic viticulture (wines produced sans pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilisers) in the region.

The brothers Charly & Nady Foucault continued their father’s tradition of keeping vinification chemical free and made wines the way they should be made, with minimal oenological intervention. Wines are produced from low-yields, using wild natural yeasts and bottled without filtration.

More and more vintners are now turning towards organic viticulture, but Clos Rouegard has always been making wines in this manner without a drop of chemicals.

Saumur Blanc “Brézé” is a rare white wine made from 100% Chenin Blanc from hundred year old vines grown in just a one hectare plot. Brézé is acknowledged as the best terroir in Saumur appellation for Chenin Blanc, a celebrated white grape of Loire Valley.

Clos Rougeard Saumur Blanc Breze 2008
Clos Rougeard Saumur Blanc Breze 2008

High in acidity and potentially long living, this is a white wine that can be aged for a long time. It is a “collector’s item” like the Cabernet Francs from Clos Rougeard and you are unlikely to find it on the wine list of restaurants, even in France.

Long and slow élevage (18-24 months) in cold Tuffeau cellars (local limestone of the Loire Valley) helps in adding complexity. 50% of the wine is aged in new barrique. This gives the wine great depth, length and richness.

Light gold in appearance with a dry sherry like nutty oxidative intensity, this precise, deeply perfumed and elegant Chenin Blanc with superb freshness and lively acidity, completely enveloped my senses. The wine expressed the complexity of the soil, such was its purity.

Reminding me slightly of a Hermitage Blanc, but with more richness, denser minerality and deeper concentration, the Clos Rougeard Saumur Brézé 2008 is one wine I will not forget in a hurry.

With Gordon Rodrigues at Le Quinze Vins in Wan Chai Hong Kong enjoying a cult Chenin Blanc from Loire Valley
With Gordon Rodrigues at Le Quinze Vins in Wan Chai Hong Kong enjoying a rare Chenin Blanc from Loire Valley

By : Lavina Kharkwal

 

Sikkim Diaries : Some Useful Travel Tips

My first blog post of the year and it is not about wine. That’s because Sikkim, a nature lover’s paradise, where I spent a fair amount of time in the month of December, is so much on my mind.

In any case, I have been wanting to write on travel for a long time. Since I am always on the move, it makes sense to share my travel experiences in India and across the world, with my readers.

What better way to begin with than write about this picturesque mountainous state Sikkim, situated in the North-East of India.

Photographs of the majestic Kangchenjunga (28,169ft), the third highest mountain in the world which lies partly in Sikkim India and partly in Nepal, have been enticing me since many years. But for some reasons Sikkim never figured on my travel itinerary, till my husband got posted there recently, as the Post Master General of the state.

Now was my opportunity to see this part of India. So I booked myself on an Air India flight from New Delhi to Bagdogra, the nearest airport to the capital of Sikkim, Gangtok and set out to explore this second smallest state, which become part of India as late as 15th May 1975.

Usually before setting foot in a new place, I try and  find out everything there is to know through the internet. But none of the websites on Sikkim gave me information which I am sharing through this article.

Breathtaking view of the Kanchenjunga Range from Raj Bhawan Road, Gangtok, Sikkim. All photographs in this blog taken by me.
Breathtaking view of the Kanchenjunga Range from Raj Bhawan Road, Gangtok, Sikkim. All photographs in this blog post taken by me.

The two and a half hour flight from Delhi glides along the mighty Himalayan range and on a clear day, you can get a glimpse of most ranges, including Mount Everest. Be sure to book a window seat (RowA) on the left side of the plane while flying towards the east. Internet search of the peaks prior to flying out will help you in identifying them from air. This will make your air plane ride quite interesting.

View of Mount Everest from 36,000 ft, high up in the sky. Picture is hazy as it is taken from the aircraft window.
View of Mount Everest from 36,000 ft, high up in the sky. Picture is hazy as it is taken from the aircraft window.

Though the distance from Bagdogra airport to Gangtok is just 125 kms, it takes four and a half hours or more to reach, due to perpetual traffic jams on NH31A and the hilly terrain. Since travel time is much more than what the distance suggests, plan ahead accordingly. This holds true for travel throughout Sikkim .

However, it is a beautiful up-hill and down-hill drive along the emerald green Teesta river and it is best to switch off from the traffic conditions, look out of the car window and enjoy the serene views. Water does have a calming effect on the senses.

Most of the four hour drive from Bagdogra airport to Gangtok is along the Teesta river.
Most of the four hour drive from Bagdogra airport to Gangtok is along the Teesta river.

There are two travel options from Bagdogra to Gangtok. Either a pre-paid private taxi from the airport or a shared taxi-jeep depending on your budget. But be prepared for some rash driving by the cabbies, which might cause a panic attack, if you are not used to traveling on hilly roads.

The entire North-East gets pitch dark by 5.30 pm during winters. In case you are traveling at this time of the year, choose your hotel wisely. If it is near MG Road, which is the throbbing heart of Gangtok and has some semblance of a night life, you may find things to do in the evening.

Otherwise, opt for a hotel which offers some activities and a meal plan (preferably dinner), so that you don’t have to go hunting for food at night. Most of the town wears a deserted look after 7.30 pm in winters.

However, the biggest advantage of visiting Sikkim during winters is the clear view of the mighty Kanchenjunga range on most days.

During summers visibility is not the best. Plus you will have to jostle for space with raucous hordes of tourists who will be arriving from all parts of India.

Monsoon (June-mid September) is not advisable either due to frequent landslides which cause road blocks and hamper travel. Plus no views.

Ideally the best time to visit Sikkim is end February to April, if you love snow. Most of the mountain lakes are frozen at this time and April end is the season for flowers. October to December is best for the views, though you will not find any snow, except on the distant peaks.

If you have limited time, I would say two days is enough for Gangtok, for local sight-seeing. You can look up any Sikkim tourism website and pick out the spots. Local taxis are the best option here. They operate on a point system (1 point = one tourist spot) and not by meter.

I would recommend walking if any of the tourist spots are within a few kilometres of your hotel or place of stay.

Not to be missed are Enchey and Rumtek Monateries, Tsuklakhang Royal Chapel, Hanuman Tok Temple (for the best view of the Kanchenjunga). You can avoid the much hyped Tashi View Point (8 kms from Gangtok town) as the nearby Ganesh Tok temple has better views.

Clockwise from top left Rumtek, Tsuklakhang Royal Chapel & Enchey Monastery
Clockwise from top left Rumtek, Tsuklakhang Royal Chapel & Enchey Monastery

The most important thing to remember is that the best time to view the magnificent Himalayan ranges is early morning between 6 am-10.30 am. So plan your day accordingly.

Other than the picturesque views, what strikes you most in Gangtok, is the lack of incessant honking (horns are illegal within the city limits) and the cleanliness. There is a hefty fine of Rs 5000 for littering. This is a pleasant change from most Indian cities and I really wish it could be replicated in the rest of India too.

The people of Sikkim, a mix of India Gorkhas (Nepalese), Lepcha and Bhutias are very friendly, helpful and courteous. Since majority follow Buddhism, they are gentle by nature and non-aggressive. Another delightful change from North India.

Practically everyone who visits Gangtok makes a day trip to India’s Border Post with China, Nathu La, a mountain pass connecting Sikkim with China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. Situated at an altitude of 14,216 ft and just 55 kms from Gangtok, Nathu La forms part of the ancient Silk Road and is one of the three open trading border posts between India and China.

A dampener for foreign nationals is that only Indians are allowed to go till Nathu La and that too after applying for an Inner Line Permit. In fact, most places in Sikkim fall under restricted area requiring a permit to visit. So check before hand if the place you intend to visit requires a special permit or not and carry enough passport size photographs and photostat copies of your Aadhar or Election Card.

Nathu La is closed for all tourists on Mondays and Tuesdays. So keep that in mind too.

Nathu La India's border post with China's Tibet Autonomous Region and Baba Mandir
Nathu La India’s border post with China’s Tibet Autonomous Region and Baba Mandir

Tsomgo or Changu Lake (40 kms from Gangtok at an altitude of 12,700 feet) which is on the way to Nathu La is however open to all tourists, Indian and foreign. But you need a separate Permit for this, other than the one for Nathu La, though both fall on the same route.

Tsomgo or Changu Lake in East Sikkim on the way to Nathu La and Baba Mandir.
Tsomgo or Changu Lake in East Sikkim on the way to Nathu La and Baba Mandir.

It is a spectacular drive on dizzying mountain roads. However, since you will be climbing from 5200 ft to 14,000, in just a matter of two hours without acclimatization, you are bound to suffer from high altitude sickness, like I did. Symptoms are a blinding headache and nausea and the only cure is slow descent and adequate rest.

Drive from Gangtok to Nathu La
Drive from Gangtok to Nathu La

One place which should be a must on your itinerary if you are traveling to Sikkim is Pelling (7,200ft) in West Sikkim. Though just 115 kms away from Gangtok, it takes more than fours hours to reach as the road is non-existent. It is practically a dirt track.

But then again, switch off from the horrendous road conditions, concentrate on the beautiful poinsettias and numerous waterfalls along the way and take in the magnificent views. If only Sikkim had better roads was my constant lament throughout my travels.

Do stop at the picturesque tourist town, Ravangla in South Sikkim, about 65 kms from Gangtok, on the way to Pelling and visit Tathagata Tsal or Buddha Park as it is known as.

Buddha Park at Ravangla, a small tourist town situated at an elevation of 7000ft in South Sikkim. It lies between Pelling and Gangtok (65 kms from Gangtok)
Buddha Park at Ravangla, a small tourist town situated at an elevation of 7000ft in South Sikkim. It lies between Pelling and Gangtok (65 kms from Gangtok)

In my opinion, the best place to stay in Pelling, is the  beautiful heritage resort, Elgin Mount Pandim, which is within walking distance of Pemayangstse Monastery and about 8kms from Pelling town. You get spectacular views of Kanchenjunga range from here, provided the mountain wants to reveal itself to you. Most times it is shrouded in clouds.

The Elgin Mount Pandim, Pemayangtse, Pelling
The Elgin Mount Pandim, Pemayangtse, Pelling

Must see place situated very close to Pelling is Rabdenste Ruins, the second capital of the Chogyals (temporal and religious rulers of Sikkim from 1642-1975).

Rabdentse Ruins, on the south east side of Pemayangtse Monastery. Rabdentse was the second capital of of the former kingdom of Sikkim from 1670 to 1814.
Rabdentse Ruins, on the south east side of Pemayangtse Monastery. Rabdentse was the second capital of of the former kingdom of Sikkim from 1670 to 1814.

If you don’t have much time, avoid going to Yuksom (40 kms from Pelling), the starting point for Dzongri and Goecha La Treks to Kanchenjunga Base Camp. There is nothing much to this town except Norbugang, the coronation site of Phuntsog Namgyal, the first Chogyal of Sikkim. Yuksom was the first capital of Sikkim established in 1642 AD.

Yuksom in West Sikkim
Yuksom in West Sikkim which literally means the “meeting place of the three learned monks”. It is the starting points of treks going to Kanchenjunga Base Camp.

I was also disappointed by the much revered Khecheopalri Lake (34 kms to the northwest of Pelling) as the scenery was not inspiring. So unless you have a religious bent of mind, save some precious hours and spend more time in Pelling. The drive to and from Pelling to Khecheopalri takes nearly two hours on narrow hilly roads.

Khecheopalri Lake, sacred to both Buddhists & Hindus, located 34 kms to the northwest of Pelling town and at a distance of 147 kms west of Gangtok
Khecheopalri Lake, sacred to both Buddhists & Hindus, located 34 kms to the northwest of Pelling town and at a distance of 147 kms west of Gangtok

My staple diet during my stay in Sikkim was local Tibetan dishes momos and thukpa which you find everywhere, from roadside stalls to restaurants. I also tried Nepali cuisine at Thakali on MG Road Gangtok, which has many good restaurants and bars.

Thukpa, Momos, Shaphaley and Thakali Thali (Nepalese cuisine)
Thukpa, Momos, Shaphaley and Thakali Thali (Nepalese cuisine)

Sikkim is an organic state and most local produce like fruits and vegetables is sold along the highways. You must try the fruits especially oranges and kiwis.

Also don’t forget to carry back some Dalle Chili Pickle and Chilli Paste with you. Though not as potent as Bhut Jolokia (ghost pepper), world’s hottest chilli, it does pack quite a punch.

Oranges, Dalle Khursani (round chilli) & Vegetables, all grown organically, available along highways throughout Sikkim
Oranges, Dalle Khursani (round chilli), Vegetables & Lentils, all grown organically, available along highways throughout Sikkim

Meanwhile, I am still in a Sikkim state of mind and dream of exploring other parts of this beautiful heavenly state. Would love to see Yumthang Valley, Lachung, Lachen & Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim,  if I get a chance to visit again.

By: Lavina Kharkwal

All photos posted here are clicked by me except the ones in which I am there.

On a Sangiovese Trail with Fratelli Wines

Talk about a Sangiovese Trail and the mind immediately takes you to the beautiful Tuscan countryside and its lush wines, Chianti, Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Super Tuscans. This is only natural as Sangiovese is a grape, so firmly rooted in the Central Italian landscape, that it is difficult to picture it in any other scenario.

So imagine someone taking this fussy little fella outside its natural environment, planting it far far away in a remote village in rural Maharashtra, India and producing not one, not two, but five different styles featuring this temperamental Italian superstar, Sangiovese, which literally means “Blood of Jove” referring to the Roman god Jupiter.

Had anyone told me this five years ago, I would have probably scoffed in disbelief and asked them what they were smoking. But this was before Fratelli Wines and Piero Masi happened to India.

It took a maverick Italian winemaker, Piero Masi, from Tavarnelle di Pesa, a small town in Chianti Florence, creator of the famous “Chianti Classico Casa Sola”, someone with a deep cultural connect with Tuscany and enough experience with this Italian varietal, to hero the Sangiovese in his wines at Fratelli Vineyards in Akluj Maharastra.

After months of extensive research Fratelli’s Chief Winemaker, Masi, chose a clone of Sangiovese, most suited to the mineral and limestone rich arid Akluj soil, nurturing and tending it, till it took roots and began yielding good quality fruit. He managed to tame the asperity of this highly acidic light coloured grape and produce wines with a distinct character.

A winemaker’s expertise lies in how well he can use one grape to show its many different expressions and this is what Piero Masi has done with the Sangiovese in Akluj.

However it takes a couple of vintages even for the best in the business to make good wine and now Fratelli Vineyards can proudly display what it has achieved with the Sangiovese, by showcasing it in a manner like it did at a recent seven course “Modern Indian Dinner” held at Pluck, Pullman New Delhi Aerocity, where five styles of Sangiovese were paired with some excellent dishes.

Magandeep Singh, India’s most well known sommelier, wine educator and host of countless television shows on wine and spirits along with Craig Wedge, Brand Director Fratelli Wines, explained the story behind each of the labels.

The trail began with Fratelli Vineyards Sangiovese Bianco. This crisp refreshing white wine with a smokey mineral thread running through is made from 100% Sangiovese which is a red grape. A technique which requires great expertise indeed.

Next was Fratelli Vineyards newest label Fratelli Vineyards M/S Red Sangiovese, a blend of 60% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Franc and 20% Syrah. M stands for Piero Masi while S is for Steven Spurrier, a man whose exploits relating to Judgement of Paris have been well documented in the film Bottle Shock.

A couple of months back when I had tasted M/S Red, I found it had a few rough edges. But now the oak and the fruits seem better integrated and the tannins felt smoother. Fruit showed well and the wine had a spicy lingering finish.

Third was Fratelli Vineyards Classico Sangiovese, a simple straightforward crowd-pleaser with a nice juicy vibrancy. This wine is a great introduction to Sangiovese for those who are not familiar with this grape. Since there is no oak used, the fruit shines in all its glory.

Fratelli Vineyards Vitae Sangiovese was next. This is a single vineyard wine and comes from Plot C in Garwar. Keeping up with growing trend world-wide towards single vineyard bottlings, Fratelli has come up with another first in India. Their endeavour is to make a Burgundy style Pinot Noir from low yields, low extraction and use of new french oak.

Some of the greatest wines of the world like Burgundy grand crus and premier crus come from single vineyards and the most revered name is Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

The last wine of the evening was Fratelli Vineyard’s flagship Sette, a wine which hardly needs an introduction. A blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and tiny bit of Cabernet Franc, fashioned after Super Tuscans, this wine created a benchmark, by showing the world that India was capable of producing age worthy premium quality wines. The 2012 vintage of Sette is their best yet as it the most balanced.

Sangiovese Trail by Fratelli Vineyards at Pluck & Pling, Pullman New Delhi Aerocity
Sangiovese Trail by Fratelli Vineyards at Pluck & Pling, Pullman New Delhi Aerocity

All the wines at the Sangiovese Trail were paired with dishes made with a lot of creativity, keeping in mind the flavor profile of each wine. Tristan Beau de Lomenie, the suave French General Manager of Pullman New Delhi Aerocity is a wine lover and a proponent of “Farm to Table “concept. A lot of ingredients which went into the meal that evening at Pluck came from his hotel in-house farm.

Meanwhile the House of Fratelli India is ready to come out with more firsts. I will not be surprised if we have a Brunello style 100% Sangiovese from them in the near future.

By: Lavina Kharkwal

Sangiovese Trial by Fratelli Wines. In the photographs Craig Wedge Brand Director Fratelli Wines, Reva Singh Editor Sommelier India, Isabel & Tristan Beau de Lomenie, Chefs of Pullman New Delhi Aerocity.
Sangiovese Trial by Fratelli Wines. In the photographs Craig Wedge Brand Director Fratelli Wines, Reva Singh Editor Sommelier India, Magandeep Singh, Isabel & Tristan Beau de Lomenie, Chefs of Pullman New Delhi Aerocity.

Read more on Fratelli Wines here

https://highonwines.com/2015/06/02/fratelli-wines-making-a-splash-in-india-abroad/