Saturday, 8 February 2014

Dining With Miguel Torres, Rock Star of Spain's Wine World, Under A Banyan Tree at Sevilla

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

IT IS not every day that you get to sit next to a wine legend at a fabulous dinner in one of the finest restaurants of Delhi on an evening blessed by the weather gods. I am talking about Miguel Torres, the Decanter Man of the Year 2002 who re-wrote the rules of Spain's wine industry in his youth and now presides over land holdings stretching across 2,400 hectares in three continents and an annual turnover of 235 million euros (Rs 1,995 crore). The setting was Sevilla at The Claridges New Delhi, which is not only the best-looking venue to go out for dinner on a balmy night, but also the restaurant with the best Mediterranean menu in the city.
Miguel Torres, Decanter Man of
the Year 2002, is one of Spain's
most celebrated wine moguls.
Image: Courtesy of
The Torres wine evening on February 6, sponsored by Prestige Wines and Spirits, was made magical by Executive Chef Neeraj Tyagi and his younger colleague Rajiv Sinha, who presides over the restaurant's al fresco kitchen dominated by its prized possession -- a gleaming Josper oven that turns grimy as the evening progresses because it is kept very busy. Tyagi recently toured Britain and worked with some of the finest restaurants there to hone his skills, and these were on full display as the evening progressed.
The appetisers -- patatas bravas, dates wrapped with ham and a 'deconstructed' Spanish tortilla (the thick potato omelette) served innovatively in martini glasses -- set the mood for the evening. I got a chance to catch up with Atul Lall, who has taken over as the Area Vice-President of The Claridges after a fairly busy stint at Fairmont Jaipur -- his left foot was in a cast, but he looked every inch a Jodhpuri royal. I also got to chat with the director of Prestige Wines & Spirits, Sumit Sehgal (I learnt later that the Gautam Thapar company is in talks to add an Indian wine to its portfolio), the hotel's sprightly F&B Manager, Tarun Seth, and the young sommelier and wine educator, Gagan Sharma (I wonder if his bald pate, which matches that of his multi-talented boss, Magandeep Singh, is a mandatory requirement for employment at Wi-Not Beverage Solutions!). Gently flowing conversation, tasty finger food washed down by a Vina Esmeralda (the delicate and delightfully fragrant white wine from the Upper Penedes produced from Mosacatel de Alejandría and Gewürztraminer), followed by the refreshingly fruity and slightly sweet De Casta Rosado (grape varieties: Garnacha Tinta and Cariñena).
The gathering was eclectic. It included a host of Supreme Court lawyers led by the bon vivant and senior Supreme Court advocate, Parag Tripathi. The Spanish Ambassador, Gustavo Aristegui, a remarkable career diplomat who has also spent 16 years in public life (including 12 as MP), shared the head table with Torres, as did Delhi Wine Club President Subhash Arora, who reminded us in an informative speech that our distinguished visitor owned as many hectares as are under wine grape cultivation in India, and Reva Singh, Editor of Sommelier India: The Wine Magazine, who had met Torres late last year at the Wine Vision conference in London, where she was the speaker from India along with Sula Vineyards Founder-CEO Rajeev Samant.
Sommelier and wine educator Gagan Sharma
(extreme left) with the team that ensured we
got our wines on time and at the right
temperature. Image: Arun Varma
The service was initially slow, which gave us time to digest the corporate film screened at the start of the dinner and listen privately to the views of Torres on doing business with China. The conversation gathered momentum. The Spanish ambassador reminded us that his country has four restaurants ranked among the World Top Ten and that San Sebastian has more Michelin-starred restaurants per square mile than the whole of northern Europe. And then, Tyagi and Sinha rolled in their treats -- and what treats they were for the senses!
In between courses, the ambassador talked about China and India, about political will and economic development, about how he was able to juggle political and diplomatic careers without losing his seniority in service, about the long history of the Spanish ambassador's residence on Prithviraj Road, and about his embassy being among Spain's ten largest in the world. And when, in his concluding speech, he said he had already presided over five Torres dinners in two year and would like to do so 22 more times, if given a chance, he was speaking for all of us.
Here's the menu (with my comments) of the wine dinner, which we had under an ancient banyan tree, our conversations rudely interrupted at intervals by Ferraris screeching across the neighbouring road:

Potato gnocchi stuffed with sobrassada (paprika-spiked sausage from the Balearic Islands), shaved Périgord black truffles (from France), sage butter and Parmigiano Reggiano crumble
My Take: Absolutely brilliant; this is what gastronomy is all about.
Or: Goat’s cheese gnocchi with sage butter, shaved black truffles and Parmigiano Reggiano crumble (I didn't go for this option)
Miguel Torres Milmanda 2011
Tasting Notes: Named after a historic castle at the Milmanda estate in the Conca de Barbera region, this brilliantly golden yellow single-estate Chardonnay has an intense, complex aroma with notes of fruit, citrus and peach compote, over a fine background of vanilla, and is big on the palate.

Pan-roasted duck breast on compressed winter berry reduction  (I opted for the next)
Or: Mini phyllo-wrapped forest mushroom with romesco sauce (a nut-and-red pepper-based sauce from Tarragona, Catalunya)
My Take: It was a heaven-made marriage of forest mushroom and romesco sauce and the combination matched beautifully with the hearty red wine served with it.
Torres Mas La Plana 2009
Tasting Notes: This Cabernet Sauvignon from Penedes attained international stardom in 1979, when its 1970 vintage trumped a host of French greats, including Chateau Lafite. Its distinguishing characteristic is its intense aroma, great body and breadth on the palate, and juicy tannins that become balanced and elegant as the wine ages.

Char-grilled Angus with spiced potato puree, grilled string beans, and roasted forest mushroom béarnaise sauce
Or: Majorcan pistachio-crusted, pan-seared Chilean Sea Bass with fennel air, chorizo and potato ragu
My Take: I chose the Chilean sea bass over the rest and regretted the decision only because it did not match with the wine. By itself, the dish was a triumph of simplicity over form, but maybe the buttery fish would have done better with a chorizo crust and not pistachio.
Or: Sous vide rack of lamb, black olive puree and pear glaze
Or: Saffron pancakes and ratatouille, mozzarella-filled eggplant timbale with goat’s cheese fondue
Miguel Torres Grans Muralles 2006
TASTING NOTES: A seductive combination of Garnacha and the lesser-known Mazuelo, Monastrell, Garró and Samsó grapes. Intense deep red with a purplish sheen, the wine has an aroma of exotic and profound complexity, incredibly rich body and structure, hints of spices (pepper and clove), shrubs (thyme) and ripe red berries (cranberry and redcurrant) over a background of smoke, vanilla and incense. The dense but sweet tannins open up and leave a lingering aftertaste that produces instant happiness.

Bavarian citrus chocolate, five-spiced chocolate sauce, white chocolate and vanilla bean jelly, single- origin chocolate bar and raspberry sorbet on chocolate soil
Torres Floralis
TASTING NOTES: Made from the Moscatel grapes celebrated by Greeks and Roman epicures, the intensely aromatic dessert wine first tantalises the nose with its floral perfumes (rose, geranium and lemon verbena) and then flirts with the palate with its voluptuous mouth feel and delicate sensuality.

Torres Jaime I
TASTING NOTES: Served in a wavy bottle designed by the renowned Japanese architect Hiroya Tanaka, the brandy is drawn from the oldest soleras that started off as distilled Parellada wine, enriched by the best that are at least 30 years old, with a small amount of the 1972 eau de vie of Folle Blanche lees, the rarest of grapes used to make the highest-quality pot still brandies, added for intensity of aromas. Jaime I is deep, rich and dark amber brandy characterised by a concentrated complex bouquet, with marked overtones of coconut, dried fruits and spices. Round and lush, complex and majestic, it has a lingering finish that you'd want to sip gently as you absorb the grandness of the meal that you've just had.