To Pop the Bubble!

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{NOTE: A piece I had to write detailing the events that took place. It’s quite long, so bare with.}

bubbles

“I only drink Champagne on two occasions, when I’m in love, and when I’m not.”

–        Coco Chanel

What would be my preferred Beverage? If you asked me two days ago, it would have been a good milkshake. A good milkshake is the perfect comfort, that something soothing you’d want at any time in the day. This isn’t about milkshakes, but about a notoriously bubbly beverage that stole me away from my beloved milkshakes sometime in the past week. Beverages are quite important to me, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, as a study in the culinary arts. Culinary arts seemed to have confused someone recently as it had to do with the art and science of everything concerned with food, and well beverage as I mentioned earlier. As a student, I get the perks of tasting sessions and much more. The most recent tasting was around that sparkly liquid popping from the Champagne region of France. You’d have to be a buffoon if you didn’t guess so by now, but if you are that rare ignorant baboon, I quite clearly am hinting at the prestigious champagne. Words never seem to come to a halt to describe this fascinating beverage that’s won countless hearts over.

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The first time I sipped on Champagne was at a party, when I was quite young and absent-mindedly believed the white lie that it was a soft drink. I was quite disgusted by it, which is why milkshakes have been the preferred liquid I’d go by all these years. This was a tasting, one I’d set all pre-conceptions aside as over the years I’ve grown accustomed to the rotten tastes of alcohol that puts away novel drinkers. I did quite a little research and went through notes from the theoretical classes I’ve had on Champagne. A necessity as it paved way for me to understand a lot more about champagne when the brilliant Mr  Singhal, Indian Ambassador for CIVC, took us through a presentation detailing the lengthy history of the Champagne region. One note that stuck with me was his explanation of the term ‘terroir’. I’ve read about how there’s no single word in the English language to explain ‘Terroir’ but it includes the usual topography, climate, soil, etc. Mr Singhal pointed out that the most important aspect to describe the word “terroir” was missing, the most important element as he said. To our oblivious selves, it was the people of the region that also contribute to the terroir. A journey further through the presentation showed the brilliance of the clever people of champagne, which was fascinating as they are the main reason why Champagne is Champagne. Mr Singhal cleverly used the silence to deliver a fine quote by Napoleon Bonaparte, “In victory, you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it.”

It was time to pop open the first champagne, which was a ‘Phillipe Gonet blanc de blancs Brut’. Two colleagues popped the cork and distributed the champagne which was a pale crystal yellow with fine bubbles. Yeasty notes on aroma which also reminded me of damp cloth, and light acidity, with hints of green apple. It was quite impressive. As there is a first time for everything, I proceeded to pop the cork for a fine bottle from the house of ‘Pommery’, which was quite an experience. Though I highly doubt anything beats opening a champagne bottle with a sword as Mr Singhal once did, as he showed in a short film. ‘Pommery’ was highly acidic, toasty aromas and had a good length. It left me with a craving for anything consumable, which is why the flute was bare. ‘Pommery’ left a lasting impression, as I can still remember the shock of experiencing my mouth going dry. It took me another flute to acquire a taste for it.

By far, Champagne was everything I’ve read about and a lot more. Since the other tasting I’ve had around wines were horrible and nothing compared to what I’d read about wines, I’d settled that not everything in theory might be practical. Which is right in a sense, nonetheless Champagne seemed to remind me that it isn’t wrong either.

yeasty

My next glass was from the house of ‘Billecart -Salmon’, which caused a lot of murmuring in the room. Rightfully, it was lighter in acidity compared to the ‘Pommery’, fruitier and well rounded. It was more compatible with majority of the palates in the room as it went down quite smoothly. There was much appreciation for ‘Billecart-Salmon’; I still had a longing for the ‘Pommery’. We voyaged deeper into the presentation, learning more about Champagne as ‘Krug’ Grand Cuvée and the ‘Alfred-Gratien’ Rosé were opened. ‘Krug’ was quite strong, well rounded, and reminded me of Christmas cake, which is essentially a rich fruit cake. It took its while to open up, though it quite significantly reminded me of a strong alcohol like cognac else rum. It had a similar effect as the ‘Pommery’ did, where my mouth was struggling to salivate though I preferred the ‘Pommery’ on basis of taste profile. Strong alcohols put me off, which is why ‘Krug’ isn’t a personal favourite; however I do understand and respect it as a brand. The ‘Alfred-Gratien’ Rosé, again didn’t really appeal to me, though the two girls beside me fell for it. I figured that each house seems to cater to a certain profile, and it just astounds me as to how each champagne house is able to figure the notes and produce a consistent product each year.

I received an award for standing out, which left me perplexed as it seemed nothing could go wrong with a little bit of champagne. I couldn’t express my gratitude to Mr Singhal, not only for the award but for really broadening my thoughts on Champagne. I was simply ecstatic. (Even more so after winning gold at the Nestle Professionals Challenge a week later) I’m not that modest.

A few select colleagues and I were invited to an experimental lunch; where champagne would be paired with Indian food the next day, to help us better understand Champagne. Our principal as well as Mr Singhal pulled us out of our comfort zones with a broad explanation on how a pre conceived notion could ruin our experience. In order to get a true understanding, I removed that silly judgemental voice in my head telling me what the meal would be like before taking the first bite. As ‘Billecart-Salmon’ and ‘Pommery’ were poured in two flutes, I started the meal with a small grace, one of many compulsions I cannot stray away from as well as praying for each person dining on the same table individually, which was a task as there were fifteen students, four faculty members, the General Manager of Vivanta, Aurangabad and Mr Singhal. So after I kicked my colleague for barfing at the long grace I said, I started eating. The Sev Papri chaat was the first, and it was quite crunchy, with a bit of tang from onions and chutney and a bit of grease which was unimportant. It went quite well with the ‘Pommery’, not much so with the ‘Billecart-Salmon’. The same was supported by the other assorted fried bhajia’s on the plates, all of which were soft, a bit bland and went well with the ‘Pommery’. The only item to have failed to pair with the ‘Pommery’ was the chilli bhajia, which upon first bite released intense heat on my tongue, and it wasn’t welcome when the ‘Pommery’ seemed to have elevated the heat. The ‘Billecart-Salmon’ worked in a completely different fashion, it took away some of the heat and as it was quite well rounded which seemed to suit my palate at the moment. The last item on the plate was Murgh Malai Tikka, which was tender and cheesy with a distinct smoky profile that produced wonders on the palate when paired with the ‘Pommery’. The ‘Pommery’ worked the best with the murgh malai tikka as it made the smoky flavour quite prominent.

Love the orange widow.

Love the orange widow.

The carrot and coriander soup was served, and it shared some resemblance with bisque. A shade of orange, creamy and a sweet aroma I associate with shellfish when cooked. This particular soup had no shell fish in it. It tasted marvellous while hot, similar to a Malibu sauce, however that may just be due to both the soup and the sauce using coriander as the main flavour component. I watched in amazement as a bottle of ‘Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin’ was opened, having read so much about “La Grande Dame” who persisted on only one quality – The finest, I really expected quite a lot; however I reminded myself that I had to experience the meal blindly, without any notion. I wondered if they paired the soup with Cliquot mainly due to both the soup and the Cliquot label sharing shades of orange. Insignificant, as they paired quite well. As advised, I tried the soup first and then the champagne, and vice versa. I preferred the former, as the Cliquot cleared the palette of the heavy soup. The latter simply didn’t pave way to completely savour the soup. The Cliquot was one to remember.

The next dish, chilli garlic noodles. Understandably questionable, for the majority of students who eat out, it’s a common takeaway. The noodles reminded a few of us of “Indo-mie” noodles but tasted nothing like it. Focusing on the positive, a bottle of ‘Jacquart’ was emptied into everyone’s flutes. Larger bubbles and quite fruity, I enjoyed it much more than I did the noodles. As everyone shared and discussed their thoughts and took a count of hands as to who preferred what, I overheard the principal mentioning Dom Perignon, and I tried to comprehend everything taking place, with faculty members bustling to get a bottle. I couldn’t help but squeal rather highly in delight and excitement, as I turned to one of my colleagues and said, “Dom!”

The king of champagnes, as I’ve read and learned, never did I ever think I’d taste it. With its special massel, the cork was popped for a 2000 vintage, followed by ‘Krug’ Grand Cuvee. The Dom Perignon 2000 was a bit stubborn on the nose with a faint caramel, though a few minutes and I finally started to pick up notes of honey, vanilla, praline and over ripe bananas. It was light on the palate, and sweeter than the rest, and had a moderate length with an after taste of honey. It was brilliant. The bubbles did fade away, though we were informed that it’s common amongst aged champagnes. The ‘Krug’, well wasn’t my favourite and had notes that reminded me of a rich fruit cake, else candied peel and rum.

The main course finally arrived, Naan Qualia, Subz biryani, Raita and some chicken that I almost missed out on. I tore up my yellow naan which was very rustic, into the mutton gravy as I do with most gravies such as chole bhature and was surprised to hear that the principal and Mr Singhal ate it in a similar manner. They said that it was the right traditional way of eating it. I turned to my colleagues and poked them, and couldn’t help but say “told you so” as I’ve for 2 years had to listen to them gloat on and on as to how I eat my meals in a foreign manner. I like how I surprise myself as to about how Indian I am at times. The ‘Desi’ blood in me. The Dom Perignon paired well with the Naan Qualia, as well as most of the components on the plate, but I’d have to pick the ‘Krug’ over all. Since there were so many strong spices, the ‘Krug’ was able to blend well with its bold notes. The Dom was exquisite by itself. The ‘Krug’ was better paired with the Naan Qualia.

sweet

Dessert was apparently there for dessert’s sake, I with a bit of a sweet tooth ravish desserts. Gulab jamun, Ras malai and a mince pie. Didn’t mean that to rhyme but that’s the quirk of writing, you get these insignificant joys that seem to amuse none other than the writer and the reader. Such fun. The last champagne to be passed around was an ‘Alfred-Gratien’ Rosé which didn’t really pair well, and had notes of cherry. As was with the previous day, I didn’t appreciate the ‘Alfred-Gratien’ Rosé much. Maybe ‘Alfred-Gratien’ Rosé’s and ‘Krug’s Grand Cuvée aren’t for me.

We ended the experimental session recollecting our thoughts. The murgh malai tikka, to me it was the most harmonious pairing throughout the meal. Mr Singhal guided us fairly well and also shared his thoughts on how champagne can be an everyday, all time drink. It’s quite possible, though it’s a long way to go. I expressed my kindest gratitude to him and the principal, as well as everyone else who contributed to the experience.

We all received a bottle to keep as a token, albeit an empty bottle, but a pretty large token. I chose a ‘Pommery’, it kept me coming back for more. Pictures were clicked; funny poses and cheery laughter proceeded. I did wish upon those shooting stars during the Geminid meteor shower 15th December, last year, it’s quite fascinating when it all comes through. So after all that champagne, I laughed, a whole lot. I’d call it my own Felix Felicis, and if you didn’t read Harry Potter, liquid luck.

Yeah, a certain Maiden teased me with a strawberry milkshake. I just read that, and it sounds pervy, but I'm keeping it that way. Honesty keeps me sane.

Yeah, a certain Maiden teased me with a strawberry milkshake. I just read that, and it sounds pervy, but I’m keeping it that way. Honesty keeps me sane.

P.S. – The pics were taken by Akshat (Blossoming food photographer. “Blossoming”, such an amusing word), Arjun (Who provides me with the best pics, I must say) and the last one by Madan, who is the reason behind the milkshakes I’m about to consume.

 

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