Friday, October 26, 2007

The wonders of wine

In his spare time, a dentist propagates the grape-based drink

By Shevlin Sebastian

Whenever dentist Binu T. Abraham, 35, holds a one-day course for hotel management students on his passion, wine, he holds a Q&A session at the end. And, invariably, among the barrage of questions about wine, one student will stand up and ask, "Doctor, how do you do teeth whitening?" After he answers this, there are a couple more dental questions before Abraham gently veers the subject back to wines.

"I found it interesting that there would always be a question about teeth, although the subject is wines," he says, with a laugh. "I guess, the students are keenly aware that I am also a dentist."

Abraham stumbled on to his passion by accident. He had gone to do his post-graduation in orthodontics at The New York University. "In New York, I started drinking wine with a couple of friends who knew a lot about wine," he says. "They told me how wine, unlike beer or whisky, is not a standardised product. Each wine bottle has a unique story behind it. When my California-based brother heard about my interest, he said, 'Why don't you come over?'"

So Abraham went to Napa Valley and set out on a guided tour of the vineyards. He saw how a grape was plucked, the juice extracted and how it was converted to wine and packaged in magnificently-designed bottles. "It was after this tour that I got very interested," says the Aluva-based dentist. "I started reading books on wine."

He says there are several types of wines: red, white, rose and port wines. The red wines are made from red grapes, the white from white grapes, the rose is a mixture of white and red grapes. In port wines, a little brandy is added. "It was the Portuguese who started this trend two hundred years ago," says Abraham. "When they went on long ship journeys, they found that if they poured brandy into wine, it would not get spoilt."

Of course, the king of all wines is champagne, which comes from the town of Champagne, 145 kms north of Paris. The process of making champagne is similar to making white wine. However, just before the wine is bottled, a little yeast is added. This allows fermentation to take place and one of the by-products is carbon dioxide. "Since the gas has no way to go out, the bottle is under terrific pressure, similar to the pressure of a 16 wheeler truck tyre," says Abraham. "Hence, the champagne bursts out when the cork is removed."

In India, the wine industry is booming. Last year, 7 million litres had been consumed nationwide and the annual growth is projected at an impressive 25 per cent. The main players are Indage, Sula Wines and Grover Wines.

"Grover has its vineyards in the Nandi Hills in Karnataka," says Abraham. "They brought an expert from France to set up the vineyards and now the company is making such good wines that it is exporting to France!"

In Kerala, he says, wine drinking is getting popular. However, one of the big mistakes that have been made so far was that wine was served in bars. "After I gave a training session at The Avenue Regent and The Metropolitan, both hotels have started serving wine in the restaurants," says the dentist.

Says Robert Raj, the F&B manager at The Avenue Regent, "The captain and the waiters are now able to suggest to patrons what wines to have with a particular meal. For example, red wines should be taken with red meat and white wines with white meat and fish. Thanks to Abraham, we have been able to develop a wine culture among our guests."

Anil G. Nair, 34, the general manager of The Metropolitan, says, "If you don't know anything about wines, you will have a good idea after his class." And because of his classes, many hotels now realise that storing wine in places like the kitchen, where the temperature and humidity are high, is wrong. At homes, the wine rack is usually kept on the refrigerator, says Abraham. This is also wrong as the heat and vibration from the compressor affects the wine.

"Drastic temperature variations are not good for wine," says Abraham. "The ideal temperature is 20-25 degrees Celsius." To ensure this kind of a temperature, wine has to be stored in an air-conditioned ambience.

All these precautions are for storing, but how does one buy the best wines? "It is helpful to know what grapes are used," says Abraham. "Some of the well-known grapes are Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc." On the label, the name of the grape is mentioned, as well as the year. The year indicates when the grapes were plucked from the vineyard. "The best wines are those which have been stored for a long time, because wine matures slowly," he says.

Lastly, Abraham gives a tip to increase the enjoyment of the wine. "The bottle must be kept in a slanting position, so that the wine is in touch with the cork,” he says. “Then, the flavour of the cork mixes with the wine and increases the taste."

(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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