Wines to die for at a 50th wedding anniversary dinner

Dhruv and Rati Sawhney’s 50th wedding anniversary provided the perfect occasion for the magnanimous hosts to serve rare, large format bottles to their circle of wine loving friends and family in New Delhi. Vidhi Tambiah was among the privileged guests.

Dhruv and his sons Tarun and Nikhil are well known for their wine connoisseurship, but even they had never opened Nebuchadnezzars, much less figured out how to pour the wine from such monsters to serve 150 guests. Neither, it turned out, had Sanjay Menon, India’s foremost fine wine guru. However, never daunted by such issues, this dedicated group of self-confessed “wine-nuts” devised an ingenious way to siphon the large vessel contents into empty normal sized bottles using a plastic tube.

This siphoning process gave rise to an impromptu tasting for those lucky enough (me) to be standing around watching. Dhruv explained that different sections of the Nebuchadnezzar would taste differently since they will be exposed to air for different lengths of time while being bottled. Interestingly, the first bottles to be siphoned would be the least exposed since they came from the “bottom”. Indeed he proved right! In fact, I was struck by the degree of difference. For example, the 1986 Lynch Bages bottle 1 “en Nebuchadnezzar” displayed a deep core and appeared quite closed on the nose and palate. While bottle 19 was much more open with an attractive spiced leather aroma, silky tannins, and dark fruit palate.

The 1985 showed similar tasting differences and together these observations gave me new meaning to the phrase “bottle variation” (given these smaller bottlings were all actually from the same large one).

The Pavillon Rouge 2009 was still very young, no doubt accentuated by the slower-paced development in large format. Reportedly the finest Pavilion Rouge vintage that the late, great Paul Pontallier made, it did not disappoint – possessing vibrant fruit and stunning structure.

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But the star of the show (for me at least) was the Yquem 1983. This dark, brooding liquid on first nose showed a slightly maderised quality. However, after a few minutes of breathing, it evolved to a glorious heady mix of orange cognac, mature honey and warmed caramel. On the palate it was not over-sweet but unctuous and everlasting. The suggested tasting window is quite the widest I have seen (2005-2075).

During the event, I spotted some guests sporting several glasses, no doubt keen to witness the in-bottle variation for themselves. Everyone seemed to be having fun. For example, I overheard one guest ask another: “which bottle are you tasting? 1985 Lynch Bages? Have you tried bottle #17 yet? Amazing, best so far. Much better than #5”. I have never seen so many people eager to try effectively the same bottle over and over again, discovering the nuances that make wine so fascinating.

In this sense, this tasting was similar to countless others that Dhruv and Rati Sawhney have hosted during their magnificent 50 years together. These events strive to educate, surprise, amuse and enrich wine lovers and wine newbies, alike, and in doing so consistently exceed guests’ expectations.

This splendid wine dinner took place at the Taj Mahal Hotel, Mansingh Road, New Delhi. An establishment that’s known for its wine service, and on that night they outdid themselves. The food and service were superb.

Wines Served
– Château Lynch Bages 1985 and 1986 from Nebuchadnezzar (20 bottles).
– Château Margaux Pavilion Rouge 2009 from Imperial (8 bottles).
– Château Yquem 1983 from Imperial (8 bottles).

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