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My family affair with port wine

Sunday, 27 November 2011 - 8:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
I drink and enjoy it like the highly fermented grape juice that it is.

If I had a new RBI minted Re1 coin for every shocked expression I get on telling people I do not drink, I would probably be able to buy enough cans of Kingfisher to bail out poor Vijay Mallya.

I did not realise it before, but being Goan and refraining from imbibing intoxicating liquor is akin to, well, being Goan and not liking Akon songs. I do like Akon, nasal twang and all.

What I keep telling the alcohol-loving people in Mumbai is that there are a lot of Goans, some friends of mine, who do not drink.

In addition, let me clarify that drinking is not a family routine, at least not in my family. The only family routine of ours linked to drinking is watching my dad enjoy a neat peg of feni, while simultaneously shooing away the screeching family cat. She, owing to a broken feni bottle not cleaned on time, developed a taste for the spirit, and is forever hoping to get more. Take that, all you feni haters; my cat has better taste. My dearest grandmother, being 102 and all, occasionally asks for feni, but owing to age and health, is deprived of it.

I do not drink, much. I like wine, and am partial to red wine and the more fruity flavours. I love port wine — the richer, stronger and sweeter variety of the wine family. And no, I do not consider that alcohol. And nobody I know till now has got drunk on port wine.

I drink and enjoy it like the highly fermented grape juice that it is.

Wine, however, has always been the preferred choice of drink at home. The women in my house drink lady drinks — that is wine and shandy (beer and limca for the uninitiated). Wine here is port wine. No fancy, overpriced, restaurant-worthy, full-bodied, dry or earthy wines work here. We drink port freely at weddings, anniversaries, house parties and birthday parties. Champagne is more expensive and limited to ‘special occasions’. You go to any Catholic wedding and you will realise that only the bride and groom and their families are served champagne. We lesser mortals are given port wine. I haven’t seen anyone complain as yet.

Every bottle of wine in my house has a story or memory attached to it.

My grandfather had a wine shop in Pune that was known for its port and Mass wines, which he would make himself. He had a little factory near the house where we would sometimes go and watch the grapes being fermented, or transferred to barrels, or poured out in bottles. Unfortunately for us grandchildren, we weren’t allowed to sample anything, not without parental and grand-parental permission.

Once, a dear friend of my dad brought home a bottle of aged chardonnay from Canada for Christmas. The bottle passed through everyone’s hands, the cover and date minutely inspected. The more adventurous tried understanding the ingredients and the process, but gave up soon. Then, uncle H went on to explain how wine is drunk. Being a little more worldly-wise by then, I nodded along. He twirled the glass, holding it by the stem, sniffed it, took a sip, rolled it in his mouth and swallowed. Five eager pairs of hands followed. The wine descended down throats. Then silence. Uncle H looked around quite anxiously, “How was it?” Then the deluge of voices, “It’s too dry”, “It has no taste”, “Who has time to follow procedure to drink wine, you just sip it”. Exasperated, he walked off but not before hearing the final words from my mother, “I’ll use it to cook”. I don’t see any more wine coming our way.

With the Portuguese (passed down through generations) port wine in Goa and my granddad’s famous wine in Pune, wine is literally flowing in my DNA.  

Hailing from the land of cheap booze,
Joanna Lobo is a wine lover by day and a teetotaller by night

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