Drink - Shane Watson savours posh wine tasting

By the Indian Ocean, no spittoons in sight, wine tasting can be a pleasure

I've never understood the appeal of wine tasting. Eager as I am to improve my pitiful knowledge of the subject, and to stop having those "What's the difference between New World and French?" conversations with my long-suffering wine merchant, I don't much fancy huddling round a spittoon with a load of pretentious twits. That's unfair, of course. And typical of someone who is forever "trying" three kinds of Burgundy yet is incapable of remembering which she preferred the morning after. Still, I suspect my aversion to the classic type of tasting is something that others share - especially women who have an I-know-what-I-like approach to wine and don't want to identify notes of "burnt rubber" or swill it around their teeth.

Sampling wine with food in a relaxed environment, however, is another matter - particularly if you are on holiday at a swanky resort. Especially if this resort has an impressive 6,000-bottle cellar, a selection equalled by few London establishments, and a cute twentysomething French sommelier with an accent straight out of a 1970s Cointreau ad.

Well, for the price of a flight to the Maldives and a room at the

new Huvafen Fushi resort, this scenario could be yours. Huvafen

Fushi's Vinum evenings are held eight metres under the island, in a chic circular room lined with bottles, a plasma-screen image of an open fire flickering on the ceiling. So far, so James Bond, and a marked improvement on the back room of your typical wine merchant. Guests are seated at a gigantic round table, with their feet resting on hot stones (it's a crisp 16 degrees Celsius down here), and proceed to work their way through six courses, each with an accompanying wine or two.

What's particularly appealing about the experience - apart from the knowledge that the Indian Ocean is lapping just yards away - is that the wines are enormously expensive (£110, for example), which adds a certain frisson to proceedings. The young sommelier also manages to instil a real desire to learn (or to impress), rather than making you feel like a philistine with the palate of a meths drinker. At my Vinum evening, we sampled everything from a Salon Cuvee S 1995 champagne to a Howell Mountain 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon. Along the way, I learned that people are drinking Pinot Noir like maniacs at the moment (so hardly any Pinots stay in a cellar for five years, even though many are at their best by then) and that the size of a champagne's bubbles more or less indicates its class (small is more refined). But the main lesson was that wine tasting

is a positive pleasure if you've got plenty of oysters to hand,

nothing to do the following day, and not a pinstriped suit in sight.

To book, e-mail reservations@huvafenfushi.com

This article first appeared in the 15 August 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Robin Cook: a tribute