Farrukh Dhondy | Of white wines & single malts: The snobbery over drinking

“O Bachchoo you
Who were with me at Thermopylae
Interpreting omens in the sky
Do you recall the slaughter of that day
And doesn’t history forever lie?” a
From Cummerbund: The Waist Band, by Bachchoo

Gentle reader, this is the season to be jolly -- New Year and the birth of Jesus Christ who, one high-up Hare Krishna devotee told me, was definitely an avatar of Lord Vishnu.

I could impose upon you the miseries that this turn of the year brings to the sceptred isle -- the strikes and stoppages of the railways, the failures of the health and ambulance services which leave desperate patients sitting in the vehicles for 13 hours before they can be brought into the foyers of hospitals where they spend a further 12 hours before being seen to… Christ alive, I could go on, but prefer not to.

After all this is the season when even miserably-struck Brits send goodwill cards. It’s the season when one raises a glass of this or that -- which compels me to consider writing about this or that in this festive season.

Take it for granted that I know nothing about Champagne, apart from the fact that it contains the Chardonnay grape, and that it’s bubbly, wet and alcoholic and though not my choice of beverage, welcome in all circumstances.

I have never met an Indian, apart from the “sort-of-Indian”, V.S. Naipaul, who could give me a lively discussion about the qualities of wines. No! Indians -- or at least the Indian Chappaterati -- are keen on whiskies and think they can speak knowledgeably about them.

The jury of my personal consciousness is out on that one.

I was introduced to whisky by my dad, a military man who drank a chhota peg on some evenings and, even at my age of four, would, with my mother protesting, give me a sip from his glass. At the time the mischief in accepting his invitation to sip it trumped my revulsion to its taste.

I never became a whisky connoisseur and will never pretend to be one. Wines? In a half-educated pretentious way? Maybe! But gentle reader, I remember so clearly an occasion when I was to meet a dear friend at his home in Delhi. I turned up and his son said that his father had been delayed but I was to please come into the ample basement and meet his friends.

These friends were all Indian (rich family) graduates of a popular American university. In my day, gentle reader, we Cambridge and Oxford Indians looked down upon such places but one accepts that times change, history moves on and generations are proved snobbish and wrong! Kher!

I join this young US-returned crowd -- all males -- who are talking about the girls they have seduced. The wonderful host, son of my good friend, offers me a drink. I say I’ll have a white wine. He says “of course”, and says that he’ll fetch it.
As he does, one of the other young men says “that’s what women drink, isn’t it?”
I reply: “The French, Italian, Spanish, German, Portuguese and even Australians and New Zealanders who produce the finest Sauvignon Blanc might disagree about this genderisation of white wines,”, but then feeling I was an intruder in their gathering and should temper my tone, I asked: “So, what do you drink?”
The young man said: “I drink whisky. When I was in London some weeks ago, my friends and I were at a restaurant and we had a bottle of Glenfiddich for £200.” He seemed proud.

“They saw you coming”, I said.

It gave me an idea, gentle reader -- in a column I wrote, perhaps in this paper (itself?) , taking note of the guests I had met at parties in Delhi and Mumbai talking about Black Label and Blue Label whisky, I wrote about a Vermillion Label whisky from the same stable which was the bees-knees and only available through certain exclusive contacts in Scotland. I received at least 10 communications asking me where this whisky was available. I dare not say, gentle reader, not being in the least regionalist, whether all these enquiries about the exclusive Vermillion Label were from gentlemen from a particular north-western state of India.

What they did make me think about was whether I should turn my subterfuge to profit by getting in touch with the Black Label company and telling them that they should launch a Vermillion Label and share the profits with me. I could guarantee them sales in a very boastful market.

My moral compass, however (Is this a joke? YOU? Morality?? --Ed. Have to try, boss --fd), stopped me from exploiting this gullibility. So, Vermillion Label will never hit the exclusive retail outlets as the highest of the single malts.

So, gentle reader, have you ever asked yourself if there are any “double malts”, which are even more desirable at Indian parties than single ones? Think no further. The single malt is famous because it is made from a single grain. Other cheaper whiskies are blends of several, one or two or more distilled grains. So the “double”, “treble” or “quadruple” malt is your non-single malt whisky, adding malts or grain in the distillation makes it poorer, not richer! It becomes blended whisky and can’t boast about being a single malt -- much like virgin candidates in the arranged marriage market?

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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