I happen to be a Sommelier in India. In a country of over a billion people, I am one of the few who practices this trade. Sure, there are plenty of wine importers, retailers and sundry bootleggers but, for most people in India, the concept of a Sommelier is still new. Inevitably, when people hear what I do for a living, the most frequent response is “what….wow, a sommelier? That must be something….!”. After they’re done trying to figure out what a good life I have – being a wine guy and all – the conversation finally turns to wine itself. Among the questions I receive, the two most common ones are: What is your favourite wine? And, what do you think of Indian wine?
The first one is easy: I don’t have a single favourite so I explain that I enjoy different kinds of wines, based on my mood. Commenting on Indian wine is trickier – will I be considered unpatriotic if I say I don’t like it? Are they really asking for my opinion, or are they checking to see if I’m some kind of wine snob?
So, I turn the question on them: do they like Indian wine? Is there a particular brand that they like? What do they dislike? Can they explain why they like Sula, or Grover or whatever it is….?
I genuinely believe that the important thing is whether the person drinking the wine enjoys it. If it gives you pleasure – then it’s a good wine for you. The most important thing for wine drinkers is to develop their own palate, taste and judgement.
I also genuinely feel that we’re lucky to live in a country that produces wine. The act of producing wine – of growing grapes and fermenting them to make wine has its own romance. For me, even the simplest of wine has its own beauty – especially if it is not over-analyzed and is treated as it should be: which is as a simple beverage to enjoy with a meal!
Indian wine may not be complex, but neither are many Indian wine drinkers. Many Indians are just happy having a glass of wine and I think it’s great that they can affordably buy Indian wine.
Connoisseurship is another story, and that’s where the complication sets in. As our tastes develop, we aspire to new experiences, better tastes, more flavour. Just as wine can be simple, it can also be beautifully complex with an ability to age and evolve in the bottle. Whether one should keep one’s tastes simple, or let them evolve is a philosophical question which every person has to answer for themselves. As for me, I enjoy being a pleasure seeker when it comes to wine. As much as drinking wine, I enjoy the aspiration and the anticipation of seeking better and better wine. I want to experience that great Burgundy, that great Bordeaux – or that incredibly expensive old bottle of wine which is older than me! At the same time, I genuinely hope that I never lose the ability to enjoy simple pleasures – like an unnamed chilled white jug wine on a hot summer afternoon, or a simple Indian red wine with a simple Indian meal.