Wine has its way of attracting followers and India is no exception. There are wine lovers in India, as there are wine lovers elsewhere in the world. Wine lovers in India though have it hard! Inevitably, most Indians with any ‘decent’ exposure to wine have received it abroad. This is mostly because of the lack of availability of good wine in India, especially in retail. Where it is available, the prices are horrendously high and bear no relation to reality – blame custom duties, excise taxes, VAT and retail/restaurant margins (see my previous blog article: Buying Wine in Delhi). To make matters worse, we live in a hot country where the storage and transportation conditions of wine are questionable at best and where spoilt wine is all too common.
What then should the wine lover in India do? The question is almost philosophical! I know from experience (mine and others’) that wine can make you happy. Therefore, I advocate developing this rewarding hobby despite the challenges you’ll face doing so in India. Here are some tips….
- Be prepared to spend money developing your wine hobby: you do not need to be rich to enjoy wine, but you do need to set aside a budget. I would suggest setting aside a monthly budget – anything from `2,000 to `5,000 will be reasonable. If you can afford more, good for you! But moderation is good in spending money on wine, as it is on drinking it! Let the money add up rather than trying to spend it each month. But when you do spend it, spend it only on wine! Treat money spent on wine as an investment in the pursuit of pleasure, not merely as an expense. A recent article in the New York Times about happiness research (NYT: But will it make you happy) pointed out that spending money on ‘experiences’ (which includes a drinking a good bottle of wine) brings people a lot more happiness than spending money on things (such as cars).
- Use trips abroad to buy wine – and do so at specialist wine stores (Berry Brothers & Rudd is an excellent example in London) and not at supermarkets. At specialist wine stores you can get advice from knowledgeable staff, which is invaluable if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. They also tend to carry a lot better wine than supermarkets. Avoid buying wine at duty free shops – especially in India! I cannot stress this enough: never buy wine duty free in India: the storage conditions are very unreliable and spoilt wine all too common. Another thing not to do: buying wine from local bootleggers!
- Try a different wine each time: Aim to drink a different wine each time. Pick another grape variety. Try a different producer from another country. This way you will not skew your palate. If you always eat heavily spiced mutton curry, then delicate tandoori prawns will make no impression on you. If you always stick to a big and powerful Australian Shiraz, then even a supreme but delicate Pinot Noir will taste watery. Keep an open mind and train your palate to enjoy the variety of tastes, textures and flavours that wine offers.
- Buy a wine fridge (Voltas makes one) and start a wine collection. This will need more patience than money, but it certainly helps to set aside a small budget exclusively for wine that you will buy for cellaring. You need patience so you don’t drink the wine as soon as you buy it or soon after. Some wines need cellaring for a decade or more to bring out their potential. When you can, acquire good ageworthy wine abroad and cellar it at home. The staff at a specialist wine store abroad should be able to guide you, but you should develop an idea of what kind of wine ages well. I recently blogged about an article on ‘What makes a wine ageworthy’ by wine writer Matt Kramer. You could start there. A Google search on the subject will also turn up some interesting stuff. Generalizing broadly, more structured (and relatively more expensive) examples of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo and Sangiovese will all age well. These come in different avatars – from New World ‘Cabs’ to Bordeaux’s, Burgundies, Rioja’s, Chianti’s and many more. Among whites, high quality German Rieslings and some Bordeaux and Burgundy whites are prime candidates for aging. The list is far from exhaustive and the best guide will be your own enthusiasm and research. Why cellar wine? I never get tired of explaining that good wine tastes entirely different when it is mature and ready to drink than when it is young and still developing. It is the complexity of a mature wine that you have to aim for! And it will cost a lot less money if you buy and cellar ageworthy wine yourself, than if you try to buy mature wine that is 10-20 years old!Start a wine group with friends: Get together with a small group of wine lovers and plan a wine dinner every month. Ask each participant to bring a different wine and to tell the group something about it. You’ll get to try a lot more wines than you could afford on your own and you’ll have fun doing it!
- Read about wine: Though reading is not essential for the simple enjoyment of wine, it does help in developing genuine appreciation. You can subscribe to magazines and get hold of some good books. With reading, both your wine knowledge and your ability to appreciate truly great wine will improve dramatically.
- Attend a professional tasting event: Try to find and attend professionally lead tutored wine tasting events. This is where, with the help of a professional, some serious wine learning and enjoyment can happen. Unfortunately, these are not very common in India as there are very few qualified sommeliers and wine professionals in the country. I organize such wine tasting events in Delhi. You can subscribe to the newsletter on the Wine Forays website to hear about future wine tasting events, and you can also follow us on our Facebook page.
In the end, wine appreciation is all about developing your own taste, and learning to form your own judgments. As with all good things in life, wine can also be disappointing but that too is part of the appreciation process.