From Golf Fairways to Fine Wines

V Sanjay KUMAR compares his peak experiences as an amateur golfer with the many high points of his wine journey

As an amateur golfer, my career highlights included a single-digit round, an eagle on a par 5, and a hole-in-one that cost me a packet after. What topped all these was a trip to the state of Georgia in the United States. I won a public lottery, travelled to the USA, and spent a whole day watching the very best golfers compete at the Augusta Masters. In the vast beautiful grounds was Tiger Woods. It was a stunning experience to watch him compete.

What could qualify as my peak experience in wine?

This is arguable. My wine journey is more than a decade old, it has been intense, and there have been more than a few wines that brought what is called, an ‘aha’ moment. It is hard to describe it, but when the moment arrives one takes a deep breath and looks up at the Heavens.

It happened to me in Piedmont, Italy, at a winery called Ceretto, a large producer that had a young sommelier who told us he wept for the first time when he tasted the wine he was pouring. It was their Cannubi San Lorenzo 2009. There were a few drops in my glass but they counted. On the nose were floral aromatics mixed with tobacco and earth, the palate had acidity, fruit, and tannins in a nice tango.

It happened again with my first sniff of the Mascarello Giuseppe e Figlio Monprivato Barolo 2013. The aromatics were so good I had no wish to drink it. And there was an Amarone from the famed producer Dal Forno, the Monte Lodoletta 2011 and a Rosso from the other Veneto magician called Giuseppe Quintarelli called Ca’ del Merlo. Both had what can best be described as a ‘Drops of God’ quality.

I came late to the pleasures of Burgundy. Those who have tasted the Pinots and Chardonnays from its various domains point to Domaine Romanée-Conti as the ultimate producer and their precious Pinot Noir as the Holy Grail. To sip a DRC as it is called is almost an impossibility because the prices are stratospheric. The current bottle price is anywhere between $4,000 and $5,000. The best chance someone like me has is a celebration of a landmark birthday. The 50th or the 60th birthday is when some of us feel quite reckless.

And so it happened, a friend had a bottle purchased some years ago, he was astounded by the rise in prices, and we spent many an hour impressing upon him to open it rather than gaze at it in his cellar while prices soared. He graciously agreed. The big day came around, tickets were booked, and calendars cleared. Deep breaths and uncommon anticipation followed. The host was a little nervous. Would the experience match the expectations? DRC bears a heavy burden, and the grape Pinot is by itself a light, temperamental grape that varies its charms by the year. French Pinot Noirs, in general, are not loud, there is no instant karma, the engagement is sophisticated, and the mating ritual is often delicate and sensual.

There were four of us willing to be transported and we had no idea what it would be like.

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The bottle itself was heavy, and the label had a chemistry-sample look, just clean lettering on white, but the burgundy colour on the neck cover looked quite rich. The liquid sat in the glass, a little wan and pale. It had a beautiful pink-red-light brown shade, as if candy floss had melted into red cherry. It is pinot-like I thought and then remembered that this was the standard for other Pinots, this was the benchmark and not all the other Pinots that I had imbibed from hills, valleys, and dales from terroirs of far-flung countries and continents.

There are Pinots in New Zealand in Marlborough, Martinborough, and Otago. The USA has Pinots in Oregon and California. Italy has its own Nero. France has many Pinot regions including Alsace, Jura, and Loire. There are Swiss altitude Pinots, and there is the Spatburgunder from Germany. Even Chile these days has single vineyard Pinot expressions. But among them all, the Holy Grail is Burgundy, and its most prized chalice is DRC.

Romanée-Saint-Vivant is a Grand Crus vineyard in the Côte de Nuits in Burgundy

The opening ceremony began, the cork came out clean as a whistle. The wine was poured carefully into Burgundy glasses. The wine was quite translucent, the 2012 was light at the edges. It had a very herbal nose with rosemary, thyme, light candyfloss and green pepper. Elegant and not in your face. The palate was, ‘Oh so elegant’. The attack was broad, again herbs dominated, and the finish was of resins and mild tannins. There was a hint of the wild in there, of underbrush influence. Did this come from whole bunches in use? I was happy this element persisted despite the use of new oak barrels. Over the next hour with interaction with air, every aspect of the wine was harmonious. It was pleasurable, the intensity gathered slowly but was never excessive.

A few days later the memories lingered and the experience stayed with us. I tried to summarise. Fair to say there was a lovely farm- to-table aspect to the DRC, a wine one felt was made by a farmer. The terroir spoke directly without undue oak interference. While it was light in every respect in the beginning, it added ‘weight’ and it harmonised all the voices in the chorus by the second pour. It was subtle more than intense, very elegant and restrained, it sought to seduce with many touches.

There is fruity wine, tannic wine, acidic wine, and earthy wine depending on what leads from the front. In this Romanée St Vivant we found a savoury wine, not salty but spicy, not Asian spice but cool climate European spice, not liquorice but basil, thyme and rosemary, the more subtle yet persistent of spices.

There is fruity wine, tannic wine, acidic wine, and earthy wine depending on what leads from the front. In this Romanée St Vivant we found a savoury wine, not salty but spicy, not Asian spice but cool climate European spice, not liquorice but basil, thyme and rosemary, the more subtle yet persistent of spices.