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FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2012

KERBSIDE ROAR

SHELF

SAAHIL ANANT

LIFE PAMELA PAUL

India’s first compact SUV is a road friendly, true-blue Indian vehicle

Spring is here A

S WINTER slogs on, as it has been known to do exhaustively in New York until April, it is hard to believe that one day spring will come. Especially if you are four years old and your calendar years are defined by the inexplicable wastelands between birthdays, Christmas and Halloween. But a hint of sunshine and sky-blue vistas emerge in two attractive new picture books, When Blue Met Egg, written and illustrated by Lindsay Ward, and And Then It’s Spring, written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Erin E Stead, who won a Caldecott Medal in 2011 for A Sick Day for Amos McGee. When Blue Met Egg is very much a bird-in-New-York story along the lines of Pale Male’s, albeit with far less truth and a lot more whimsy. Blue is a small bird awakened by “something extraordinary flying through the air” that lands in her nest. The observant four-year-old reader knows this object to be a snowball, though Blue mistakes it for an egg. What follows is a New York travelogue as Blue searches for Egg’s mother. Together they make their way through the city, from Central Park to the Statue of Liberty, with one foldout spread offering an aerial view of the Brooklyn Bridge in all its glory. The mission, needless to say, is a flop, but Blue sticks

RAVIN’ RIO W

ITH all the hullabaloo about compact SUVs, it’s time we take you on a ride in India’s first compact SUV: Premier Auto’s Rio. Yes, Premier of Padmini fame is back after a long sabbatical with a small SUV and, the company stays true to its image of making rigid cars. Remember 118NE sedan? At the outset, Rio comes across as a carefully designed SUV and not just a caricature of a bigger car shrunk into something small. Its height is raised aptly above the ground so you won’t have to go into the technicalities to know that it has a good ground clearance for Indian roads. Its tyres are fat enough for any rough terrain. Its profile is impressive: You can make out that it’s no makeshift from a hatchback. And it’s not over the top like XUV500. There’s plenty of space at the back for those trips to the hills. It takes to potholes relatively smooth. That’s the best part about Rio: It doesn’t cost much more than a hatchback but rides like a big car. The fully loaded 1,500 cc litre diesel costs up to Rs 8 lakh on road while 1,200 cc petrol costs almost Rs 7 lakh. The car is just below four metres length and its apt engine size enables it to avail lower excise duty: Cleverly done! The petrol variant gave me a mileage of 14 kmpl with the AC! Thumbs up, indeed. (I couldn’t test drive the diesel because it can’t be driven in the cities being a Bharat Stage 3 engine.)

with Egg as the two pass the winter months visiting various attractions, including, rather improbably, the New York City Opera and the Guggenheim Museum. Only when spring comes does Egg meet her inevitable sloshy fate, though Blue, ever optimistic, finds a way to carry on the friendship. The book is full of good cheer, New Yorkiness and an “I knew it!” ending like that of PD Eastman’s Are You My Mother? It doesn’t really surprise the reader, but makes him feel wiser nonetheless. Ward’s engaging and imperfectly cut cut-paper illustrations are full of witty urban references. Crossword puzzles shade Central Park’s hills of snow, and maps of Manhattan colour the East River. Throughout, Blue, topped with an eccentric cherry-coloured hat, flits brightness into the winter landscape. A child clad in red woollens provides much the same function in And Then It’s Spring, which opens with a dreary landscape. “First you have brown, all around you have brown,” observes the bespectacled boy as winter drones unpromisingly into late winter, and finally, glacially, into early spring. In Erin E Stead’s delicate, atmospheric illustrations, a melancholic cloud always hangs overhead, lending a pensive tone that meshes nicely with Fogliano’s rambling, meditative text. This is a story about waiting and waiting and waiting, a gloomy subject, unleavened by humour (with the brief exception of some stomping bears) — it may hit rather close to home for young readers. Combined with the muddy browns and the boy’s opaque glasses, the effect could leave small children a little cold, even as it appeals to their world-weary parents. If only we didn’t have to wait till the very last page for spring. ❚❚

Rio had been around for sometime but the company has recently introduced a jazzed up Rio with crucial safety features such as ABS. Look wise, it got rid of its bland black bumpers for something more modern and body coloured and the indicators on the side mirrors, chrome strips on the front grille and fog lamps add to that premium feel. More modern features inside the car include a button to adjust side view mirrors. Also, the heart of the car is well engineered — open the bonnet and see the fitment of various parts. And when it comes to after-sales service, the fact that Rio’s been in the market for sometime is not going to hurt the availability of spare parts and neither are the spare parts going to cost you a bomb. Premier Auto has consistently been making components after discontinuing Padmini. In Mumbai, Padminis could still be spotted, cruising jauntily. It took me 30 minutes to spot the design flaw in Rio: The steering column is not fitted perfectly; it sways to the right. Measure it. There’s lesser space for the right elbow — just an AC vent to the right of the steering and the panel comes to an abrupt end. One explanation could be that car has been made in collaboration with Chinese auto company Zotye. Some Chinese cars have

crooked steering placements. Mahindra Bolero, India’s largest selling utility vehicle, in the similar price range has been around for donkey’s years. With each passing year, its reliability quotient is increasing, especially in rural areas. Bolero doesn’t fall in the category of a compact SUV, but since it costs just about the same and can seat more passengers, it will continue to be preferred more. Rio’s future depends on word of mouth publicity. But, if it’s of any help, Ford and GM are taking notice of how fruitful a compact SUV can be, looking at Rio. So make your choice: Wait for the MNCs to roll out a compact SUV that is likely to be priced on the higher side. Or, go for the road friendly true-blue Indian vehicle with low cost maintenance. ❚❚ (The car was provided for test drive by Premier Auto) saahilanant @mydigitalfc.com

—International Herald Tribune

Embracing the power of grenache in Gigondas F

EW grapes make wines as immediately pleasing as grenache. A first glass envelops you in its rich, powerfully fruity embrace. It’s that tricky second glass where the measure of the wine can be taken.That glass will reveal whether the initial blast of fruit was structured in a way that will refresh, invigorate and energise, or whether it will simply wear you out. The fatigue factor is often a problem with grenache. It’s a hot-weather grape, planted throughout southern France, Spain, California and Australia, and it regularly achieves alcohol levels over 15 per cent. Without scrupulous management, especially in the vineyard, those fruit flavours can easily taste hot, jammy and sweet. Yet, when done right, the sheer fruit-drenched power of grenache can be immensely winning, particularly when the juicy, exuberant fruit is tempered by mineral or herbal flavours that create a sense of complexity.

Just the other day, I opened a 2008 Gigondas from Domaine du Cayron. Like most reds from the southern Rhône, this was a blend dominated by grenache, 70 per cent in this case, along with syrah, cinsault and a touch of mourvèdre. The wine was ravishing, with the great wash of plummy, berry fruit anchored by an earthy, almost gravelly foundation. Sure, it was 14.5 per cent alcohol, but it was perfectly refreshing. Grenache is the basis for great wines like Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Priorat from Catalonia, as well as many lesser-known wines, including Gigondas, Châteauneuf’s close neighbour. In an effort to get a clearer picture of Gigondas, the wine panel tasted 20 bottles from recent vintages, mostly 2009s but also a scattering of ’07s and ’08s, and one 2010. For the tasting, Florence Fabricant and I were joined by Raj Vaidya, the head sommelier at Daniel and Pascaline Lepeltier, wine direc-

SUNDOWNER WITH NYT ERIC ASIMOV

tor at Rouge Tomate. We all agreed that collectively, these were sound, fruity, generous wines that could be extremely likable. Yet it seemed equally clear that placing Gigondas on a level with Châteauneuf was mostly wishful thinking. Good Châteauneuf offers a kind of crumbling magnificence and grandeur that mostly eludes these more straightforward

wines. We didn’t find the characteristic aromas of wild herbs and spices that relieve the fruitiness in good Châteauneuf. Even the Domaine du Cayron, which I had enjoyed so much at home, but which sadly was not in our tasting, lacked that extra dimension. While the aromas and flavours of Châteauneuf immediately evoke a particular sense

of place, these Gigondas wines summoned up more generalised images of southern France. Raj suggested at one point that the telling details of Gigondas were not to be found in the aromas and flavours, but in the structure and high alcohol. Let’s be clear, though. I don’t mean to criticise Gigondas; I simply want to adjust expectations. Every sort of wine has its place, and I especially value good everyday wines. Even allowing for vintage variations (and 2009 was a warm year that would heighten the fruitiness and power), most Gigondas rarely rise to the level of exalted. “There’s a tiny world between Côtes du Rhône and Gigondas, and a big gulf between Gigondas and Châteauneuf,” Pascaline said. Wines from Gigondas had been considered Côte du Rhônes until 1971, when the region was awarded the right to its own appellation. Among our favourites, we especially appreciated wines that

offered a sense of liveliness and energy, which allows even big wines like these to be refreshing. Our No. 1 bottle, the 2009 Les Mourres from Notre Dame des Pallières, seemed particularly balanced despite its 15 per cent alcohol, and was one of the more complex wines in the tasting. Our No. 2 wine, the 2007 Cuvée Tradition from Domaine du Gour de Chaulé, was also fresh, and if it lacked the sheer power of the Notre Dame, it made up for it with herbal and mineral accents that we rarely found in the tasting. Like 2009, the 2007 vintage produced big, opulent wines. Many were over the top, though some (the Gour de Chaulé and our No. 3 bottle, the 2007 Domaine de Font-Sane) were delicious. The Font-Sane was a brawny wine, also at 15 per cent, yet had that savoury, earthy freshness that we liked so well. It was also our best value at $21. Most Gigondas are under $40 a bottle, though they occasionally rise to surprisingly expensive

heights. We paid $73 for a 2009 Prestige des Hautes Garrigues from Domaine Santa Duc, yet we found it overly big and jammy. It didn’t make our top 10. Nor, at $65, did the 2008 Hominis Fides from Château de St.-Cosme, which was rich and tannic, but had a sweet, candied fruit flavour. Other wines worth noting were the well-balanced 2009 Pierre Henri Morel; the concentrated yet complex ’09 La Font de Tonin from Domaine la Bouïssière; the potent, juicy 2010 from Les Pierres du Vallat, a $19 bottle, and the slightly funky 2009 from Domaine Saint-François-Xavier. And I can’t forget the earthy, liquorice-tinged ’08 Domaine du Cayron that I drank at home. Even if it wasn’t in the tasting, it’s the benchmark I use for how enjoyable Gigondas can be. Try it, or any of our top wines, and see if you don’t find yourself reaching for a second bottle. ❚❚ —International Herald Tribune


Financial Chronicle, Delhi 17th February, 2012