Monday, 28 December 2015

Bengali Tomator Chutney ( Tomato Chutney)

Hi guys, once again I am back in Kolkata for my holidays. Spending my days indulging in a lot of travel and food experiments. I love this time of the year in this city when the vegetable markets are full with fresh seasonal produce. Even simple recipes turn very flavorful with the use of such fresh vegetables.

Apart from the vegetables the thing I am enjoying everyday with my meals is chutney. Chutneys are an intrinsic part of a Bengali meal, mostly used as a palate cleanser after the main meal and before the dessert. Bengali chutneys are mostly on the sweeter side since we are well known to have a sweet tooth. The recipe I am writing about today is super easy and quick to make.

Preparation Time: 5 minutes  

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Serves: 2

Cuisine: Bengali

  • Ripe Tomatoes - 3 medium
  • Tamarind paste - 1/2 tsp
  • Fennel seeds - 1/2 tsp
  • Kalonji - 1/4 tsp
  • Fenugreek seeds or Methi dana - 1/4 tsp
  • Dried Red Chilli - 1
  • Mustard Oil - 1 tsp
  • Sugar as per taste
  • Salt - a pinch

1. Discard the woody tops and rinse the tomatoes. Roughly dice them. Add a pinch of salt and pressure cook to make them slightly mushy, for one whistle or as required. Immediately remove the lid so that the tomatoes are not over boiled.

2. Heat mustard oil till smoking in a frying pan. Add Fennel seeds, Kalonji and Fenugreek seeds into it. 

3. When the spices are flavorful, add the boiled tomatoes and the Dried Red Chilli. 

4. Add sugar as per taste.

5. Fold in the tamarind paste. This adds the necessary tang to the chutney. If you feel the tomatoes are tangy enough then you might skip adding the tamarind paste. Cook till a nice boil comes. Turn off the flame and let the chutney cool down.

You can serve this as a side to your main course or you may also use this as a dip for a grilled meat preparation. Use it any way you like, because chutney's are always finger licking good!

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Tawa Chicken Sizzlers ( Homemade Chicken Sizzler in a frying pan)

Everyone loves sizzlers and I am no exception. Anything barbecued is my weakness compared to anything curried. When you barbecue anything it retains the original flavor and taste of the element. Just grill, char or sauté the meat and vegetables according to your liking, add the sauce of your choice to it and ta-dah! You have a wonderful dish ready in few minutes. 

Quoting from the internet "The word "sizzler" comes from the sizzle that one hears when, after heating the dish under a grill. The dish started in US (Culver City, CA) in 1958 when the restaurant of the same name, started serving steak and veggies together on a hot plate with gravy poured on. This would keep the meat and vegetables hot for a longer time than the traditional method of serving on a china plate."

Though how much I like it, I never tried to make it at home. Because I always had this thought that how can I make a sizzler without its signature sizzler plate? So we usually went to some sizzler joint in the town for enjoying a good sizzler. This time around when we were in Mahabaleshwar, a quaint little hill station of Maharashtra and it was raining pretty hard so much that the buildings in the town had vanished among the thick blanket of fog we craved for a hearty warm meal. Sizzler Place- the only sizzler joint of the town seemed like an inviting option. 

The Sizzler Place
We grabbed a window seat to enjoy the rains as we had our meals. I had read about their famous butterfly chicken (grilled chicken steak with mushroom sauce, stir fried vegetables and mashed potatoes served with rice) and that’s what we ordered. All I can say about the meal is that it was possibly the best sizzler I ever had. The mashed potatoes were mushy creamy and totally heavenly, crunchy vegetables and a nicely done grilled chicken steak. The USP was the amazing pepper sauce they served to go with the sizzlers. 

Chicken Butterfly at Sizzler Place
I was so charmed by this particular sizzler that I finally decided to try my hand at recreating the whole thing in my own kitchen with a bit of my imagination. I decided to use my non stick tawa (frying pan) as a sizzler plate and tell you what it turned out beautifully at the end and earned a lot of appreciation from my family.

I decided to improvise on the existing combination and introduced a few new elements which added to the taste. The possibilities are infinite with what you want to put on the plate. You can use a bit of imagination and serve any combination you like – Baked beans, Chilly chicken, Golden prawns, Stir fried cauliflower, Capsicum julienne , Butter corns,  French fries, Fish steaks, Poached egg etc. 
Only two things are required for making a perfect sizzler - the ingredients and a whole lot of patience. Here is my version of the butterfly chicken. 

- Chicken Fajita in  Buttered Mushroom Sauce and Honey Sesame Paneer served with Sauteed seasonal vegetables, Honey onion rings and Cilantro lime rice.

Preparation Time: 40 minutes  

Cooking Time: 60 minutes

Serves: 2

Cuisine: American


Chicken Marinade -
  • Boneless Chicken breast halves - 7-8 pieces
  • Lime - 1/2 juiced
  • Fresh Cilantro - 1 handful finely chopped
  • Chipotle peppers/ dry red chilli whole - 2 
  • Refined Oil - 1 1/2 tsp
  • Cloves of garlic - 4 grated
  • salt as per taste
Fajita Seasoning -
  • Ancho Chili / Normal Chili Powder - 1/2 tsp
  • Cumin Powder- 1/2 tsp
  • Paprika - 1/2 tsp
  • Crushed Black pepper - 1/2 tsp
  • Dried Oregano power - 1/2 tsp
  • Cinnamon powder - 1/2 tsp
Honey Sesame Paneer and Onion Rings Marinade -
  • Paneer cubes (Cottage Cheese) - 7-8 pieces
  • Onion sliced horizontally to make packed rings - 2 small onions
  • Honey - 2 tbsp
  • Soya Sauce - 4 tbsp (increase according to taste)
  • Sesame Seeds - 1/2 tsp
Buttered Mushroom Sauce-
  • Mushroom - 7-8 diced
  • Garlic cloves - 4-5 chopped
  • Butter -32 tsp
  • Green chilli - 1 slitted
  • Chilli flakes - 1/2 tsp
  • Peppercorns - 7-8 coarsely ground
  • Parsley (or any herbs you like) - 1/2 tsp
  • Soya Sauce - 2 tbsp
  • Sugar - 1/2 tsp
  • Salt as per taste
Mashed Potato with burnt garlic -
  • Good quality Potato with skin - 2 medium
  • Garlic cloves - 6-7 chopped
  • Fresh Cream - 2 tbsp
  • Whole Milk - 4 tbsp
  • Crushed black peppercorns - 9-10
  • Butter- 1 tbsp
  • salt as per taste
Cilantro Lime Rice -
  • Basmati rice - 200 gm
  • Fresh Cilantro - 1 handful minced
  • Lime/Lemon - 1/2 juiced 
  • Black Pepper - 1/2 tsp crushed
  • Butter - 1 tsp
  • Bay Leaf - 1
  • Salt as per taste
Sauteed Vegetables -
  • Carrots - 1 big sliced into two inch long pieces
  • French Beans - 8-10 cut into two inch pieces
  • Green Peas - 1 handful
  • Black Pepper - 1/2 tsp crushed
  • Butter - 1 tsp
  • Salt as per taste
For Plating -
  • Cabbage leaves - 5-6
  • Butter - 1 tbsp
  • Refined oil - 1 tsp
  • Water
1. Prepping the chicken: In a mixing bowl combine the chicken and its marinade. In another bowl combine the ingredients mentioned under Fajita seasoning with the refined oil. Add this fajita seasoning paste to the chicken and toss everything to coat the chicken evenly. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or more. For more pictures and details checkout my Chipotle chicken burrito bowl recipe.

2. Cooking the Chicken: Heat 2 tsp of butter in a skillet. Add the marinated chicken in a single layer. Cook on high flame for about 5-6 minutes each side taking care the chicken doesn't get burnt. You can keep the chicken with the bone or can discard the bone by making pieces out of the cooked chicken. Make sure to keep the chicken warm till you are ready to assemble. If the chicken turns cold it will become chewy.

3. Preparing the Rice: Heat the pressure cooker. Add butter, coarsely ground pepper powder and bay leaf. Add rice. Add double the amount of water. Adjust salt and sugar. Cook the rice for necessary whistles. When vapour escapes add finely chopped cilantro and dash of lime juice and fork the rice evenly.

Since we add lime juice after the rice is cooked hence salt has to be added to balance the taste.

4. Making the Mashed Potato: Take a pan and stir fry the garlic pieces in some butter till they are golden in color. Keep aside. 

Boil the potatoes in a pressure cooker with the skin on till two whistles or depending on the time it usually takes for boiling the potato. Drain the water and peel the potato while its still steaming hot. Mash the potato evenly with a fork. Add the ground black pepper, salt, sauteed garlic, fresh cream and milk. Whip them with a hand beater or a electric beater into a smooth, creamy mix. You can again add some more peppercorn if you wish.

The potatoes need to be boiled with skin on to prevent entry of water as much as possible. So pressure cook them till the point that they don't break.
Also mash the potatoes when hot. because if they become cold the mash will become lumpy as potatoes would not break evenly.

5: Preparing the Sauteed Vegetables: Par boil the vegetables and remove from the water till they still have a slight bite in them. Take a pan, add a tsp of butter and crushed peppercorns. Toss in the vegetables. Add salt. Stir fry for a couple of minutes. You can use any seasonal vegetables for this.

6. Preparing the Mushroom Sauce: Add butter in a pan. As the butter melts toss in the chopped garlic, ground peppercorns, chopped green chilli, chilli flakes. Saute for a couple of minutes till the garlic sizzles and is fragrant. Toss in the diced mushrooms. Add salt and sugar. Fold everything in and stir fry on high heat till the mushroom begins to sweat. Add a little more butter and the soya sauce. Lower the heat. Mix everything well taking care not to burn the sauce. Sprinkle the herbs and toss once again. 

Mushroom has high water content. So while stir frying make sure you dont cook the mushroom for more than 2-3 minutes as we dont want the mushroom to loose the water and shrink.

7. Preparing the Honey Sesame Paneer and Onion rings: Heat some water in a bowl and add 1/2 tsp salt to it. Take the Panner cubes and put it in the hot water till they become soft and ready to cook. Take a bowl and add the honey, soya sauce and sesame seeds. Mix them to make a marinade of semi liquid consistency. Coat the Paneer cubes and the onion rings in this marinade and keep it for 10 minutes. Take a pan and add some butter for frying. When the butter is hot place the panneer cubes one by one and fry on high heat to retain its moisture while it cooks. Cook the paneer till it chars a bit at its ends. Take them out and keep them warm. Repeat the same steps with the onion rings. Take care not to break the rings. Char the rings till they look browned. 

You can also grill the paneer in a sandwitch griller instead of frying it. I did it that way because using a griller would give you the beautiful barbaque lines on the paneer. 

8: Final Assembling: Take the cabbage leaves and lightly pound them with a pestle to flatten them out. This will make it easy for placing them uniformly in the tawa. 

Take a large tawa big enough to hold all the ingredients of the sizzler. Switch on the gas on high and heat up the tawa considerably. Be real quick with these steps. Add the butter on the tawa and spread it uniformly. The butter will start sizzling. Lower the heat. Place the cabbage leaves so as to coat the entire surface of the tawa. Now place the sauteed vegetables, mashed potato, chicken and paneer like shown in the picture. Pour the Mushroom sauce over the chicken. Place the onion rings over the paneer. 

Mix 1 tsp oil and 1 tsp water. Add this emulsion by the side of the leaves into the pan. The smokey sizzling will start immediately. Take a lid and cover the pan so that the steam heats up all the ingredients evenly. 

You can also add the rice on the tawa but since we had too many ingredients on the tawa already there was no place for rice. Once everything is hot and sizzling do the plating. In a serving plate serve any portion of the sizzler on a bed of cilantro rice and enjoy!

Monday, 15 June 2015

Sojourn to Four Seasons Baramati – An experience to cherish forever

There is a beautiful French proverb that says "In water one sees one's own face; but in wine one beholds the heart of another"

Wine is eternally associated with an element of romance. And the thought of a winery intensifies the warm and fuzzy feeling inside your heart.  I love being in a vineyard, it kindles the feeling of history and love and then something more.

Almost 7 years ago I was in Igatpuri for a weekend trip with my colleagues and in close proximity of Sula Winery. Considering the distance the driver gave us two choices – Sula or Trimbakeshwar. I picked Sula. Unfortunately I was outnumbered 6 to 1. The rest voted for Trimbakeshwar. So even being so near to a winery I could not make it. Later when I was in California, Napa valley was almost like in my neighborhood. But once again due to some or the other reason I could not make it.
Strangely enough till then I had not even tasted wine ever in my life. But still the thought of a winery fascinated me. Some years later while in Atlanta one of my roommates’ first made me taste wine. An acrid white and a full bodied red. I don’t remember the brand but I do remember that I liked the red better.

All through these years whenever I saw a picture of a chateau or a close up of those plump wine grapes it made my heart yearn all the more for visiting a winery and experiencing something different, something out of the world. The first opportunity came when we made an impromptu visit to Chateau Indage in Narayangaon near Pune. Everyone knows about their highway restaurant but only a few know that you could also spend a night in their quarters at a cost. Our day was spent exploring their wine making process with their expert winemaker and experiencing for the first time Indian food and wine pairing. The night was spent walking in their vineyard by the moonlight, sitting on the patio watching the highway at a distance. It was everything I had expected.

I had fallen in love with Indage and wanted to visit it every year from then on. But to my utter shock soon I learned that Indage was going out of business. I was pretty heartbroken to know about it.  It was around this time when for the first time I read about Baramati Four Seasons Winery in a blog. It was pretty unintentional. I was simply searching for wineries in India when the search results popped up the name of Four Seasons. The chateau and ambience looked simply amazing and pretty inviting too. It brought a glimmer of hope – a winery in the close proximity of Pune. What more could I ask for! The account of the bloggers piqued my interest further. But as I read through the blog and then some more related blogs about it I found that Four Seasons was not yet open to public and all these bloggers got the opportunity to visit the winery based on invitation from Four Seasons themselves. The invitation thing seemed like a big roadblock for me. I did have a food and travel blog but on what parameters the Four Season people chose the invitees was completely unknown to me. And with the kind of luck I usually happen to have around wineries it seemed like a tough nut to crack. So I decided to wait.

A year passed and nothing happened. I was getting restless. I really wanted to spend at least a day at this place. My impatience made me look-up for any contact details on their website and try having a word directly. When the phone number went unanswered I decided to write an email. But no luck there as my mail also remained unanswered. This was in 2014. I would still keep searching for Four Seasons on Google and keep reading about the bloggers’ experiences.  As much as my heart yearned for this place my mind kept reminding me that it was a fruitless expectation. I was not lucky enough to fit the bill.

This April had a long weekend and me and my hubby didn’t have any plans as such. We were toying with the idea of going for white water rafting and camping. On the last but one working day of that week a random link on some page led me to a write-up on Four Seasons. Something triggered inside me and I visited their Contact us page once again. This time it had some additional contact numbers. I crossed my fingers and rang up. I had reached the Bangalore office.  A very courteous gentleman heard my side of the story and politely informed me that though they didn’t allow anyone else outside the UB group to spend time at their Chateau but I may as well try dropping a mail about my requirement to a certain mail ID. A bit crestfallen but I had nothing to lose. Within the next 5 minutes I had sent a mail half expecting a miracle to happen.

Maybe the tone of the mail had carried my palpable eagerness or maybe due to any of my good Karma I had finally got a reply! I almost broke into a jig even before reading the reply. And when I finally read the reply I was overwhelmed with emotion. They had agreed to host us for a complete day!!! Since they are yet not officially open they were only going to charge us for the food. The accommodation, wine tour and tasting would be offered complimentary. I read through the reply almost 10 times before I rang up my husband to convey the good news.

Next I had a quick chat with Mr. Bala who was going to be our point of contact. He came across as a genuinely cordial and jolly person. He patiently answered my questions and gave the directions to the chateau. He was so kind to offer us a pick up from the highway to the chateau when I said that we will come by public transport. But considering the 7 KM distance of the property from the highway we finally decided to bring our own vehicle for the sake of mobility. Thus even if we didn’t get invited by the Four Seasons, we kind of self invited ourselves.

On a bright Saturday morning we began our journey. Since we live in the other part of the city we had to cross entire Hadapsar to reach the highway. Till end of Hadapsar it took an hour and the rest of the journey took 1 hr 20 minutes at 80Km/hr. We took the Mumbai – Solapur highway and crossed a total of three toll naka on way. The road was pretty much empty compared to any other highway so we could maintain a steady speed throughout. Just before the last toll naka was the Patas town.  There is a flyover which would directly take you to the Patas toll naka but we took the road below. We went inside the Patas town to get some cash from the ATM just in case Four Seasons wouldn’t charge on the card. And it was a good thing we did. Immediately after the Patas Toll naka we had to take a right which takes us right through the Rotti Village. We left behind the city landscape and a serpentine road led us through an undulating terrain of red soil and rock. For a while we were wondering whether we had taken a wrong road because it didn’t seem to end anywhere. Then suddenly in the backdrop I locate the iconic Chateau that I have witnessed in so many blogs through the last couple of years.  The lone ivory building designed like a Mediterranean French château stood in sharp contrast to the rolling landscape around it and seemed like a dream.

Bala Sir had already mentioned that a dirt road would lead us to the Chateau. But the road that we were driving on was practically made of loose rocks and it was pretty difficult to balance the bike on it. But all credit goes to Hubby for making it through that non-existent road; he even scaled an elevation on such road conditions.  We were pretty much in disbelief that how such a road could possibly be used for regular commutation, it almost seemed like we were the only ones who ever accessed that road. And it indeed turned out to be that way only. Later we came to know from Bala Sir that we had taken the wrong dirt road.

Anyway we reached the back entrance of the chateau by that ‘pebbled’ road. A few staffers were loading some crates onto a truck. Probably it was the first time they had visitors who came to the back door. We were then guided by them to the front entrance through another narrow road by the side of the vineyards. The huge manor looked totally amazing up close. It was far more beautiful and classy than it looked in the photographs – almost like a perfect vintage Bollywood set.  Aha it was love at first sight!

I was still in an overwhelmed state when we walked down to the reception. There was a guard manning the reception. We explained the reason of our visit and he told us to wait. While we waited we walked around the reception room. It was a pretty huge reception with neatly stacked Wine Magazines, Wine related information, quotations and wine bottles displayed on oak barrels. Mr. Raghunath Subramanian, Manager-Quality Control came to welcome us. He informed that Bala Sir would arrive soon. In a quick chat Mr. Raghu introduced himself and explained what was in store for us or our itinerary for the day. It sounded pretty promising with a winery tour and tasting session followed by an Indian lunch with wine pairing , then a leisurely walk round the property enjoying the sunset and rest of the day or rather night we can relax by the poolside. This was turning out to be a perfect holiday for us. But it was just the beginning.

Mr. Raghu suggested we freshen up and rest for a while before coming down for the winery tour. We were almost in a half fried state by the blazing sun so we obliged happily to his suggestion. One of the staff escorted us to our room. We went up a spiral flight of stairs made from wood. The adjacent walls have beautiful colored glass designs. We saw two dogs tied below the stairs who curiously observed us as we went up. The more we got to see the manor the more impressed we were.  Read somewhere that the cost of setting up this Chateau was in crores and it is very much evident in every fine detailing that makes up this manor. The walls had scores of framed photographs of celebrities enjoying Four Seasons wines at various events. I specially liked the section in the ground floor where they had a wall full of black and white captures.

Four Seasons was started in 2006 after the French winery Bouvet-Ladubay was acquired. The property has 10 rooms and 4 suites on the first floor are connected with the winery through a corridor .Every room is named after some famous winery or wine producing region of the world. We checked into a room called Bordeaux - a wine making region in southeastern France. The nameplate was made up of wine corks and looked pretty interesting. The room facilities could easily match upto some 4 star hotel room. Everything in the room was very tastefully done. The color coordination was very warm and welcoming. A plush bed at the centre of the room, pillows with elegant pillow covers, heavy wooden furniture, gorgeous curtains, wall mounted TV and a tray on the table with sachets of milks, coffee, sugar and tea bags, coffee cups and a water heater. We also had complimentary distilled water bottles in the room.  A pair of slippers was placed outside the bathroom. The bathroom was equally classy. Neatly folded towels, toiletries from Biotique (face wash, shampoo, sandalwood talc, moisturizer), toothpaste, toothbrush, parachute hair oil, beautiful little lamps et all. I particularly loved the beautiful red ceramic liquid soap dispenser. Also every room had a framed poster with the information about the wine growing area on which the room was named. Some of the other rooms were – Napa Valley, Barrique, Barossa Valley etc.

The ride in the blazing sun had tired us so we quickly freshened up and relaxed for a while. Around 11 o'clock we went to the reception. The person at the reception informed us that Bala sir had arrived and asked for us. He gave us two visitor ID card which we were supposed to wear during the winery visit. We were then ushered into his cabin. Mr. Balakrishna Kambhampati or Bala Sir is the GM, but he is such a down to earth person. The more we talked with him the more fondness grew. He said that usually no one is allowed in the property apart from UB group members but seeing our eager interest we were allowed. And we were more than obliged for that. It was also our added good luck that being month beginning they didn’t have the month end rush of work. So Bala Sir himself took us around for a tour of the winery.

The first place we visited was the lab. There were a lot of informative posters all around. I wish I could have read each and every one, but we were running short of time. The lab had all kinds of apparatus used in wine making. Bala Sir explained the functionality of each apparatus present there. We also were shown a small gadget for measuring the sweetness of the grape. The moment the grapes are picked determines the acidity, sweetness, and flavor of the wine. Determining when to harvest requires a touch of science along with old fashioned tasting. The lab had a long table on one side which had small sinks. Bala sir explained that during wine tasting the wines are spitted after tasting and not ingested hence the sinks.

From the lab we moved into the fermentation chamber. Here we were rejoined by Mr. Raghunath Subramanian aka Raghu. He is very passionate and knowledge about wine. He told us about his journey into winemaking which was really fascinating.

The fermentation chamber had huge stainless steel vats. Fermentation is the conversion of sugar, by the interaction of yeasts into alcohol with a by-product of carbon dioxide (CO2) gas. The crushed grapes ferment or soak with their skins, often at varying temperatures, until the fermentation is complete and the yeasts have converted the sugar to alcohol. During fermentation, heat is produced. In general, warmer fermentation extracts more flavors, but the winemaker's goal is to find the perfect balance. He told us how the different types of wines are made.

We came to know that wine can either be made from a single grape variety or a combination of grape varieties. In the first case, it is known as varietal wine; in second it is known as blend. Wine comes in three colors-Red, White and Rose. Generally white wine is made from white grapes and red and rose wines are made from red grapes. The color of the wine comes from pigments in the grape skin which are leached out during the process of fermentation. The wine making process is similar to all three wine colors .The main difference is that the grape skin are removed before fermentation for white wine. For red wine, the grape juice is fermented with the grape skins as it is from the skins that the wine gets its color. Traditionally rose wine follows the same process as red - except that the grape juice and skins are kept together for shorter period of time. That results in the color "blush". Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier are white wines while Cabarnet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Zinfandel are red wines.

As Mr. Raghu shared this knowledge we also went through a comparative tasting session to understand the nuances of different wines. There are four levels of sweetness in wine - dry, off dry, medium sweet and sweet. The sweetness levels result from how long the wine has been fermented. If the fermentation process runs to completion, the wine is dry. If stopped by a winemaker prior to completion, the wine will be sweeter. Wines can be classified on the vinification method as Sparkling(with carbon di oxide), Still (no effervescence), Dessert (sweet wines) and Fortified (more alcohol content).

We were offered different samples of wines from different stages right from half fermented, half matured and fully matured and aged. I didn’t like the acidic half fermented grape juice at all. Bala sir had asked us whether we want to drink all the wines or spit it after tasting and boldly we preferred the former. But after I was through with 8-9 different wines it was making me feel a bit dizzy and began to request for less quantity to be poured in my glass thereafter. Hubby was unaffected however. I had gone through wine tasting at Indage as well but that was too professional – no detailed information about the wines we tasted. The experience we were having at Four seasons was much more personal and enriching.

Next we moved to the wine cellar where barrel fermentation takes place. The cellar had a golden yellow lighting and the air was filled with the characteristic intoxicating aroma of wine. The room was filled with rows of expensive French oak casks. It reminded me of scenes from Tintin comics. Winemakers typically check the maturing red wine barrels at regular intervals, and top them up as some of the wine evaporates during the maturation process. The wine tasting session had not ended yet as we were handed over the signature Barrique wines for tasting. A glass device known as “wine thief” which looks like a large pipette was used to draw the wine out of the oak barrels. I loved the full bodied red wines, the firmness was really distinguishable.

After the wonderful tasting session, Mr. Raghu left us with Bala sir for lunch. We saw the room which was planned to be made into the official tasting room. They would also set up wine related merchandise and souvenirs for people to take back with them after tasting. Then we went to the elegant looking dining hall. The walls were done in ivory color with wood detailing. We were really touched when Bala Sir joined us for lunch. The menu was homely since we were the only guest that day. I was eagerly looking forward to Indian food and wine pairing. It seemed Bala Sir had already instructed the chef to arrange for some of the wines he wanted us to have with the food. We really felt at home as the three of us chatted merrily over lunch.

We started with a Rosé sparkler. It was festive, light and added the effervescent touch that stimulated our appetite. I might as well add that this was one of the best Rose I have ever had! This was followed by the white Chenin Blanc and then a gorgeous Barrique Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. But the hero of the day was the sparkling Rosé without a doubt. Unfortunately they were still experimenting with sparkling Rose due to which it was not available through retail.

The food comprised of Chapati, steamed rice, daal tadka, a paneer subji, chicken curry, salad and papad. And at the end butterscotch ice cream. The in-house chef and his assistant were taking care that our plates were never empty. We ended up stuffing ourselves more than expected as the fare was totally awesome.

Post lunch Bala sir suggested we rest for a while and then come back for rest of the winery tour. All the wine and food was already making me feel sleepy and I was the happiest at his suggestion. We played with the two dogs, Ceasar and Lucy for a while before going to our rooms. Both of them loved our attention. We were out like a light as soon as we hit the bed.

The alarm woke us up at 4:00 PM. The power nap was pretty useful as I felt quite fresh. We went down to Bala Sir’s office again. Before going for the rest of the winery tour we bought two bottles of wine – The Ritu Blush and Ritu Barrique Reserve Shiraz as suggested by Bala Sir. He showed us a Cork panel from which wine corks were made and gave us some Four Seasons Pamphlets as keepsake.

Mr. Srikanth escorted us for the rest of the winery tour. First we went to the sorting room. The harvesting season was already over hence we had to visualize the entire process as Mr. Srikanth explained. The grapes are first sorted manually on a “sorting table” or a slowly moving conveyer belt for discarding raisined grapes, spoiled grapes and bugs. Then the grapes go into the destemmer which removes the stems from the grape clusters and lightly crushes the grapes. Then it goes into the Pneumatic Press machine in order to separate the juice from the skins, seeds, and solids. The entire process is temperature controlled. After this the juice flows into the fermentation tanks. After fermentation wine is stabilized and then filtered. The filtered wine is then set for maturation.
We had already been to the fermentation chambers in the morning hence we went to the bottling room next. Four Seasons Wines is owned by United Spirits Ltd. Four Seasons Wines retails wines under the two brand names Zinzi and Four Seasons. Zinzi is mainly targeted for the youth whereas Four Seasons is the flagship brand of the company which is retailed in the nationally. The international counterpart of Four Seasons brand name is Ritu. It’s the premium segment and only meant for export to foreign markets. The bottling unit was imported from Italy and has a capacity to bottle 2500 bottles per hour. Quality control is ensured at each and every step.

This concluded our winery trip and Mr. Srikanth suggested we take a tour of the other parts of the building before sun down. We took the elevator and went to the top most floor of the main tower. The patio gave us a 360 degree view of the sprawling 300 acres of the vineyard and the forest area behind. The property looked very beautiful at this time of the day. Mr. Srikanth showed us the lake in the distance from where water was brought down for the vineyard. He also told us that Deer, Hyenas and wild dogs were commonly spotted in the area around the vineyard. Bala sir had already shown us pictures of Hyneas he had spotted during morning walk one day.Next we went around the recreation area at the backside of the building which had a swimming pool, a barbeque area and party deck with artificial grass lawn. Unfortunately we didn’t carry our swimsuits hence we could only enjoy the water from a distance.

 We decided to take a stroll in front of the Chateau and take some pictures of the place with the setting sun. We met Bala Sir as he was leaving for the day. It felt a bit sad that we wouldn’t be able to meet him next day as we would be leaving pretty early. We walked around the entire stretch of road taking pictures and enjoying the evening breeze. Mr. Raghu met us before leaving and told that we could have dinner by the poolside if we wished. He also said that he had kept aside a couple of premium barrique reserve wines especially for us to be served during dinner. The warmth and hospitality we were receiving inspite of being the only guest at the property was beyond our imagination. It almost felt unreal at times. It was becoming an experience fit for a king!

We spent some time in the room before being called for dinner. The chateau looked surreal by the night. I really wanted a poolside dinner but hubby suggested it would be too much of an effort for the staff to set up a table by the pool for just two people. So we decided to have dinner in the dining hall itself. The dinner fare was almost similar to lunch except that the preparations were different. We told the chef that we would have the wine post dinner by the pool side.

The pool area was lit up in soft pastel lights; just enough to give a dreamy feel to the entire lawn. The weather was just right. It was not too hot not too cold and a pleasant breeze was blowing. We lied down on the pool chairs by the pool side. The full moon kept us company. Soon the chef brought us two glasses of deep inky red Barrique reserve wine and a bowl of roasted peanuts. Could there be anything more romantic than this. It was the best wine we had tasted so far. It was butter smooth and had intense earthy flavors with savory spices on the nose. We raised a toast and enjoyed the wine and the ambience till 11 PM.

We had a good night’s sleep. Wine has an excellent sleep inducing quality which we experienced one more time.

We had plans of leaving by 7:30 AM hence we woke up very early. We decided to go to the pool area to get some morning shots. It was pretty windy in the morning and I feared my tripod would trip over due to the wind. Fortunately that didn’t happen. While I was busy taking pictures A drew my attention to the forest area faraway. I focused my zoom lens and saw that it was a herd of deers gazing in the grassland. We were elated to have spotted the animals. However soon we saw them sprinting away and spotted some dog like animal chasing them. Whether it was wild dogs we could not figure out from such a distance. We didn’t have time for a walk round the vineyard; otherwise we would have definitely done that.

We packed our stuffs and headed for the dining room. The breakfast table was already laid down for us. I walked down to the adjacent balcony; the winery looked fabulous in the early morning light. The chef asked us whether we wanted to eat in the balcony. But it was a bit hot outside so we decided to have it inside. The excellent repast consisted of buttered whole wheat bread toast, masala omlette, poha, fruit salad, tea/coffee and a chilled glass of orange juice. We thanked the chef and his assistant for the lovely food throughout.

We petted Ceasar and Lucy for one last time before heading out. I was feeling very sad and happy at the same time. Sad – as we had to leave this place which had made us fall in love with it and happy- because we got the opportunity to experience something like this.

The place is yet not open to the public, but what a place it’s going to be for all the wine aficionados and those wanting to learn about wines. The entire setup is mindblowing and it becomes all the more special due to the warm hospitality extended by Bala Sir, Mr. Raghu and gamut of staffs at the Four Seasons. It’s them who add life to the winery. For us it was home away from home.

Heartfelt thanks to Bala Sir and Four Seasons for having us over for a day. It has given us a bagful of memories to cherish forever.

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