An evening with some signature dishes of The Orient Express, Taj Palace, New Delhi, paired with a selection of vintages from Montes, a “Top Gun” from the wine barrels of Chile

A wave of mirth emerged when Chilean wine-maker Aurelio Montes told those assembled at an evening hour at The Orient Express of Taj Palace, New Delhi, the other day, “We are a happy family with five grown up children and 17 grandchildren.” Accompanied by his wife, Aurelio Montes came to the city all the way from Santiago, no, not to tell us about his large family, but to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his wine brand Montes. But in his short and sweet address, focussing on his family and expressing an enthusiasm to meet for the first time wine drinkers from the city — and leaving to the crowd to judge for themselves the class and flair of his wines, the winemaker definitely set the right pace for a relaxed tasting session.

A sit-down five-course dinner wheeled out of the Taj kitchen, paired with a selection of vintages from Montes, threw back at diners a range of experiences — from exceptional to near ordinary. But first, let me share with you the story of the birth of Vina Montes. Back in 1987, Aurelio Montes and Douglas Murray brought together their years of experience in the wine industry to take Chilean wines from their local supermarkets to their counterparts across the world, by concentrating on upping their premium quality. In 1988, another two partners — Alfredo Vidaurre and Pedro Grand — joined in to help give birth to Viña Montes, initially under the name Discover Wine Ltda. The company thereafter has grown by leaps and bounds and Montes wines today, from this necktie of a South American country, is available in over 75 countries thus raising the flag high for Chile as a premium wine producer.

To insert a sliver of history here for those interested, Chile, though considered a new entrant to the world wine market, has a rather aged viti-cultural past. Wine was brewed in Chile as far back as the 16th Century when its Spanish colonisers brought vines with them. French grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenère and Cabernet Franc were introduced in the mid-19th Century. And after a hundred years have passed, (read mid 1980s), the wine industry took steps towards modernisation by introducing facets like stainless steel fermentation tanks and use of oak barrels for aging. Even as wine production grew, its exports too increased. According to an estimate, the number of wineries in Chile went up from 12 in 1995 to a whopping 70 in the following ten years. No wonder, the country, blessed with a range of territories — from the sea to the hills — is today the world’s fifth largest exporter of wines.

Another plus is that Chile so far has remained free of phylloxera louse, meaning, its grapevines don’t need grafting. In his address, Aurelio underlined the favourable terrains of his country which have contributed significantly in producing wines with distinct tastes including his brand.

The dinner set off with a glass of Montes ‘Reserva’ Chardonnay poured from the 2011 batch and paired with hors d’œuvres — butternut squash soup, truffle butter mezzelune, Chilean sea bass, burlotti beans, cep mushrooms, parsley oil and palm hearts. Being a fish eater, the cod in palm hearts was okay to my taste though its pairing with borlotti beans didn’t quite find favour in me. Also, I was left wondering why was the parsley oil so half-a-dash. The glass of fruity white though was a nice foil to the fish.

Next on my plate was a roulade of avocado, radish, fennel, cucumber gastrique with Chilean pork chops, thyme, parsnip puree and calvados jus. A fine show served with three wines — Kaiken Reserva Malbec 2011, Montes Alpha Merlot 2010 and Napa Angel by Montes 2007. Though my dinner mate Magandeep Singh, bringing into our conversation his fine knowledge on wine as a sommelier, gave a hands-up to the rich red and oaky Napa Angel, for me, the inky Malbec was the ultimate mouth filler.

The next tasting session bought on an array of vintages (1990, 1995, 2001, 2007, 2010 and 2011) of Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon paired with a rich pink coloured symphonie de sorbet and strawberry ginger. This wine is said to be the first premium wine from Chile. Even with my modest knowledge of wines, I could say that the 1990 one, and also the 1995 one, were impressive and left definite tastes when swirled in the mouth though my untrained palate couldn’t find much difference between the 2010 and 2011 batch.

Aurelio, at the very beginning, promised guests to serve “a secret” towards the end. So out came huge wine glasses and bottles of one of the finest wines from the Montes’ stable, Taita 2007 vintage, launched recently to mark the brand’s silver jubilee. The Orient Express paired it with ricotta gnocchi, artichokes, truffles, morels and parmesan on New Zealand lamb and roasted eggplant caponata. The rich spiciness of the Taita gave a solid drape to the meat. It worked fine for Magandeep who said, “When you press a piece of lamb to cut it, it should almost say, baieeh!”

Though I didn’t stay back for dessert, the meal was wrapped up with cherries crème brulee and vanilla cream quenelles.

Later, mulling over what was best that evening, I thought, to cup an over-sized wine glass filled with Taita, yet again, would be an appealing idea. But if you want a moment of zest, it has to be the Malbec.

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