In a previous column I explained how gracefully Indians have been climbing the social staircase, exhibiting particular elegance when it comes to drinking alcohol. And as in other walks of life, the woman has begun to walk side-by-side with her man on the alcoholic alley, imbibing the stuff with equal relish. With alcohol inside her, she can no longer be relied upon to drive the happy husband home after a boisterous party. She may sportingly agree to a coin toss to decide who wins the right to drink and be driven (but if she loses the toss, she may simply order a taxi and close the argument).
But while both sexes may sip whisky shoulder-to-shoulder, dispensing drinks is still the man’s domain. Showing kindness and grace, the woman allows her man freedom to choose the liquor-stocking furniture; arrange it in a strategic location; buy all the accompanying dispensing equipment – wine-openers, corkscrews, ice-picks, soda-makers and cocktail mixers; ensure their maintenance; select the right array of glasses to serve beer, whisky, wine and juice; keep them all immaculately polished; stock sufficient quantities of liquor to meet the needs of a wide variety of thirsty guests, including the unplanned ones (“My cousins were in town and were dying to meet you”); ensure availability of ice and soda; and finally, serve each drink precisely as ordered. The woman looks on with benign indulgence as we do all this fun stuff.
A few weeks ago, I observed the suave aplomb of the male host as he offered his guest, a portly banker, a drink.
“Name your poison.” He said it grandly but the statement’s splendour was slightly diluted by the fact that he had employed it on his three previous guests.
“What do you have?” asked the banker.
“No, what do you want?”
“Sure. What kind?”
“I normally drink single malt, but any old scotch is fine.”
“No, no, I have single malt.”
“You do?” The guest appeared surprised. “That’s great. With soda, please.”
The host then delivered a magnificent blow: “Which single malt? Glenfiddich? Or Laphroaig? Or would you like to try some Bunnahabhain? It’s something light I picked up in Scotland this summer. From the island of Islay: have you heard of it?”
“Of course,” said the banker, recovering quickly and countering with his own joust, “Not just heard of it – I was there for a holiday this summer. Beautiful place. Yes, Bunnahabhain will be fine, thank you, and while you’re pouring it, let me tell you some of the peculiarities of this particular whisky that I picked up during my trip.”
During the next half hour, I learnt a lot about single malt whisky, and, on my next trip, acquired a bottle in Duty Free.
The affectionate bond between the Indian and his single malt is perhaps understandable since he grew up drinking rough versions of whisky in his youth. But where did his love of wine spring from? Having grown up knowing little about wine beyond its spelling, he has come a long way in a short time, gaining intricate knowledge about vineries, purchasing wine coolers and apparently developing a deep fondness for the beverage.
“Have you been to Napa Valley?” a friend asked me.
“That’s near Kathmandu, right?” I groped my memory for a Nepal trip during college.
“No, it’s in Cah-lee-for-nee-yah,” he said elucidating each syllable, “In USA. That’s the United States of America,” he explained. “Napa Valley is known for its wine. That’s W… I… N… E.” he spelled for me. Then he told me how American grapes were different, due to weather, soil and growing conditions, from French ones.
I enrolled for a wine appreciation course (and met many Indians there).
But a course is the cheap route to wine education. The right method is to go on a holiday dedicated to wine exploration and, of course, come back to talk about it.
“I was in Chile on a holiday this summer,” you say, “You must try the Carménère wine I brought back. It has a much better tang to it – and a sweeter aftertaste – than the same wine from Bordeaux. That’s in France.”
Your friends will nod sagely as they swill the wine in their mouths, while furiously planning their wine holiday, perhaps to Germany.
Paddy Rangappa is a freelance writer based in Singapore. Read more on his blog: http://theflip-side.blogspot.com