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Champagne, gossip and the Falaknuma Palace

CIVIC, the controlling body for Champagne, holds an annual promotional event in the country whereby a handful of food and lifestyle journalists are invited to experience champagne in a variety of settings. With India being an important destination for its future and the French body keen, no doubt, to tap into the growing middle class market in the country, there is quite an attempt to pitch champagne not just as a celebration drink—as it is usually perceived the world over.

This year, Rajiv Singhal, the CIVIC rep in India, invited us over to Hyderabad to the newly refurbished Taj Falaknuma Palace Hotel (at an astounding cost of Rs 120 crore, or so is the buzz) for a sampling of champagnes across styles and what a one-and-half day it proved to be. We had champagne over some journalistic  gossip (including that involving a newspaper  which hires scribes not on merit but on the basis of numerology), over a mega dinner (luckily, not seated on the 101 table that can seat as many people, apparently the nizam had it installed for cosy lunches and dinners!), over breakfast next morning and next to the swimming pool before we called it enough and got into our flights. There were as many as 11 champagnes that we ended up having in all. Love such challenges.

So what were my favourites?

  1. Bollinger La Grande Annee 2000: It went surprisingly well with the nihari served to us.  A definite find.
  2. The Tatinger 1998: served with some lovely fish.
  3. Ayala CuveePerle 2002: With an amazing nose, it promised a lot, the first sip didn’t live up to that but amazingly enough as we had our starter of seared scallops, the taste changed (for the better.)
  4. Krug, Grand Cuvee: Obviously, a very well chosen wine.

The point, of course, is that many of these wines are simply not available in India so the best you can do is to buy them when travelling abroad. Also, while it may be a good idea to have different champagnes over different courses, it would be interesting to see to what extent a wine goes with Indian food. Without being snobbish, I have to say admit that there are some dishes that will just kill off a wine. For instance, I didn’t agree with the dessert pairing of Arman de Brignac Rose with the dessert where the chocolate totally destroyed the champagne… But you are free to form your opinion and there may be others who will disagree.

Buzz: An old staffer, formerly with the nizam, was posted outside a room for much of his decades-long tenure. His job: To guard the room. What was in the room? A pit. What was in the pit? Diamonds… Apparently, royalty didn’t know what to do with so many sparklers so threw them down a hole!

How I felt staying in an ostentatious palace: Thankful… that we stay in independent India where such royal excesses are a thing of the past (even if scam rajas persist). Also scornful of all foreigners wanting to touch the desk where the Jacob’s diamond was apparently kept as a paper weight. Irritated: At the non-working lights in the loo, miserly toiletries and lack of tea maker  in the room. The logic is that royalty doesn’t lift a finger, and there are always bearers to serve you. Happy: At the buggy ride bringing us to the palace.

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