From the wine connoisseur – Seagram’s Nine Hills

I was never a wine guy. Domestic whiskey and the frequent flirting with an assortment of beer from all over the world has been my weekend drink. There was this one time I brought wine home, and even though I don’t have very clear memory of how that went, it sure wasn’t good enough to take me back to it. But that has all changed off late – especially, I must mention, due to the excellent range of  in-flight wines served by Air France during my recent trip to the US. I will confess I’m now hopelessly in love with wine, and especially with the red variety. This love blossomed every Monday through Thursday, during the evening complements, throughout my month-long stay at Marriott’s Residence Inn in Atlanta and the final weekend I spent at my uncle’s beautiful house in New Hampshire. Unfortunately, and as I now realize, very foolishly, I never kept track of the I wine was having; the names to go along with those elegant bouquets and those absorbed-on-the-tongue flavours have been lost into nothingness. There still exists a slim chance that I may have saved the Menu offered by the airline, but I’ll never be able to give name to the intoxication I enjoyed during my hotel stay. Therefore, in order to make up for my inexcusable sins, I decided to make a detailed account of every wine I savour henceforth. I begin tonight with an Indian red variety I decided to pick this weekend – Seagram’s  Nine Hills.

Harvested and fermented in the wine capital of India – Nashik; Nine Hills, a Cabernet Sauvignon has a rich terracotta colour. The bouquet, albeit nothing like those of the varieties I savoured during my trip, is still one that will invite you to take a healthy first gulp. Once served, the Nine Hills takes a deep texture at the bottom with a hint of thin purple on view at the brim – possibly the expected lack of quality showing up – nevertheless it is one that does not disappoint the slightest. Time a for a little shake and the wine swirls and twirls delightfully for the connoisseur,  softening  only very slightly. Here we go then – the first gulp, and umm.. I must say the Nine Hills is definitely not bad wine, on the contrary it has a nice palate with a few inexplicably, yet enchanting, flavours throwing little hints all over your tongue. The grapes that went into this wine were definitely of the highest quality and there has been an obvious effort to achieve perfection in the blend of flavours.  Next comes the aftertaste, and here’s where it leaves a little to be desired – its basically more of a wash-down variety – in ways compatible with the Indian wash-down drinking style. But there is a little bit of lingering .. was that a bit of vanilla there ?

Everything said, Seagram’s Nine Hills is premium domestic wine, keeping Nashik’s reputation very healthy. For INR 565 or $10.49 ( in Maharashtra ), it is real value for money and would easily place in the mid-shelf of any common western wine store. Try it for its rich taste and texture, and obviously for the sweet-mild intoxication that comes along. The bouquet and the after-taste is where it could probably have been better, but hey ! what do I know, I’m only just getting started !

I’d give it a nice 3.5/5 on my wine chart. The Nine Hills is a good glass.

Enjoy Responsibly.

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Rajdeep Sardesai’s letter to Raj Thackerey

This comes after I recently got involved in the  “Migrants in  Mumbai” debate at kv’s blog.

My Dear Raj,

My apologies for having to communicate through the editorial pages of a newspaper, but frankly am left with little choice since you seem to have decided to stay away from the so-called ‘national’ non-Marathi media. Let me at the very outset say that I am impressed with the manner you have carved a niche on the political landscape of Maharashtra. I distinctly remember meeting you in February last year soon after the Mumbai municipal corporation elections. It wasn’t the best of times: your party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena had been marginalized while your cousin Udhav Thackeray and the Shiv Sena had captured power in the city. With many of your supporters deserting you, you appeared down, if not quite out. Twenty months later, I see you’ve bounced back: every local and national daily has you on the front page, you are the subject of television debates and your politics has even united Bihar’s warring netas.

And yet, my friend, there is a thin line between fame and notoriety, more so in the fickle world of politics. Bashing north Indian students may grab the headlines, getting arrested may even get you sympathy and strident rhetoric will always have a constituency, but will it be enough to secure your ultimate dream of succeeding your uncle Bal Thackeray as the flagbearer of Marathi asmita (pride)?

If Balasaheb in the 1960s rose to prominence by targeting the south Indian “lungiwala”, you have made the north Indian “bhaiyaa” the new ‘enemy’. In the 1960s, the Maharashtrian middle class in Mumbai was feeling the pressure of job competition for white collar clerical jobs. Today, it seems that there is a similar sense of frustration at losing out economically and culturally to other social groups in Mumbai’s endless battle for scarce resources. With the Congress and the NCP having become the real estate agents of the state’s rural-urban bourgeoise and the Shiv Sena a pale shadow of its original avatar, the space has been created for a charismatic leader to emerge as a rabble-rouser espousing the sons of the soil platform.

But Raj, I must remind you that electoral politics is very different from street agitations. Sure, round the clock coverage of taxis being stoned and buses being burnt will get you instant recognition. Yes, your name may inspire fear like your uncle’s once did. And perhaps there will always be a core group of lumpen youth who will be ready to do your bidding. But how much of this will translate into votes? Identity politics based on hatred and violence is subject to the law of diminishing returns, especially in a city like Mumbai, the ultimate melting pot of commerce. Your cousin Udhav tried a “Mee Mumbaikar” campaign a few years ago that was far more inclusive, but yet was interpreted as being anti-migrant. The result was that the Shiv Sena lost the 2004 elections – Lok Sabha and assembly – in its original citadel of Mumbai. Some statistics suggest that nearly one in every four Mumbaikars is now a migrant from UP or Bihar. Can any political party afford to alienate such a large constituency in highly competitive elections?

Maybe, your not even looking at winning seats at the moment, but simply staking claim to the Sena legacy in a post Bal Thackeray scenario. Perhaps, thats exactly what the ruling Congress-NCP combine in Maharashtra wants: like a market leader who gets competing brands to crush each other, the Congress-NCP leadership seems to be practicing divide and rule politics once again. They did it with Balasaheb and the communists in the 1960s, with Bhindranwale and the Akalis in the 1980s, even with the Kashmir valley politicians in the 1990s. A larger-than-life Raj Thackeray suits the ruling arrangement in Maharashtra because it could erode its principal rival, the Shiv Sena’s voter support. It’s a dangerous game, but often when politicians run out of ideas, they prefer to play with fire. It’s a fire that could leave Mumbai’s cosmopolitanism scarred for life.

Now, before you see my writings as the outpourings of an anglicized non-resident Maharashtrian, let me just say that, like you, I too am proud of my roots. I too, would like to see the cultural identity of Maharashtrians preserved and the economic well-being of our community assured. Where we differ is that I am a citizen of the Republic of India first, a proud Goan Maharashtrian only later. Fourteen years ago, I left Mumbai for Delhi to seek professional growth and was distinctly fortunate to be readily embraced by the national capital. Like millions of Indians, I too am a migrant and a beneficiary of a nation whose borders don’t stop at state checkpoints.

Moreover, I cannot accept that ‘goondaism’ is the way forward to forging a robust Maharashtrian identity. By vandalizing a shop or stoning a taxi, what kind of mindless regional chauvinism are we promoting? Taking away the livelihood of a poor taxi driver or beating up some defenceless students from Bihar reflects a fake machismo that is no answer to what ails Maharashtrian society today. The Maharashtra I once knew was inspired by the progressive ideals of the bhakti movement, by a Shahu-Phule-Ambedkar legacy of social reform. Are we going to dismantle that legacy under the weight of hate politics?

When you started your party a few years ago, it had been pitched as a party committed to a “modern” Maharashtra. If that vision still stands, why don’t you take it forward in real terms? Why don’t you, for example, set up vocational courses and technical institutes for young Maharashtrians to make them competitive in the job market? Why not, for that matter, start English-speaking classes for Maharashtrian students to equip them for the demands of the new economy? If cultural identity is such a concern, why not launch a statewide campaign to promote Marathi art, theatre and cinema by financially supporting such ventures? If Mumbai’s collapsing infrastructure worries you, then target the politician-builder nexus first. And isn’t it also time we realized that Mumbai is not Maharashtra, that the long suffering Vidarbha and Marathwada farmer needs urgent attention? Why not use your political and financial muscle to start projects in rural Maharashtra instead of focusing your energies on Mumbai’s bright lights alone? An employment generation scheme in a Jalna or a Gadchiroli may not make the front pages, but it will have far greater value for securing Maharashtra’s future.

Jai Hind, Jai Maharashtra!