The clique of wine drinkers

Wine in India is very much an urban phenomenon. The people who drink wine live mostly in the metro cities —just Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru curently account for something like 75 per cent of all imported wine sales. 

This skewed ratio is due to a combination of disposable incomes, lifestyles and, of course, availability and prices of imported wines. These prices suffer both customs duties and multifarious state excise levies (by other names) and, hence, are two to three times more expensive in India than overseas.

Interestingly, while Bengaluru has nearly five groups of wine and food societies or associations that meet regurlarly, Delhi has only two and Mumbai none at all. I wonder what this says about the “wine-minded” denizens of these three cities. Is it that Mumbaikars are just too busy to bother with being part of a wine club, as compared to Bangaloreans? What do the existing associations do when they meet and how easy (or difficult) is it for someone to join one of these? Let’s start with Bengaluru, which has the most wine groups.

Then there’s the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the Indian branch of an “International Association of Gastronomy” that had been resurrected in Paris in 1950 and traces its history back to the 13th century. With monthly meetings, membership includes many people from the hospitality industry. 

The Wine Connoisseurs is perhaps the most exclusive, consisting of only about 24 people. Founded comparitively recently, the emphasis here is on the wines (which have to meet quality and price criteria), with food being paired to wine rather than the other way round. TWC is organising a “100-pointer” wine evening this weekend for the first time in India. I will write about this in my next column.

The Bangalore Black Tie (TBBT) was started by ex advertising person and present bon vivant Stanley Pinto about 10 years back. It meets monthly for very elegant dinners, both in India and abroad — as presaged by its title, gentlemen have to sport a tuxedo.

The Rotarians’ Wine Fellowship of India was started in 2008 by Devesh Agarwal. This group is open to all Rotarians and is affiliated to the Rotary Wine Appreciaton Fellowship programme overseas.

The Wine Society of India, which started in 2006 and shut shop in 2016, was more in the nature of a wine-buying organisation, whose members were offered three to six bottles of wine every quarter. It had been set up with the backing of the United Spirits, but present owners Diageo must have declined to continue funding this loss-making company.

In my next column, I’ll explore wine clubs in Delhi, and speculate about why no such organisations seem to exist in Mumbai.

Wine I’ve been drinking: A feast of seven Chilean wines at Sommelier India editor Reva Singh’s house in Delhi, at a soirée attended by the Chilean Ambassador Andres Barbe Gonzalez and members of the SI Wine Circle. 

I loved the 2012 Casa Silva Quinta Generacion (50 per cent Cab, 30 per cent Carmanere, 10 per cent Syrah and 105 Petit Verdot). It is a big muscular red with complex aromas, soft tannins, well-integrated oak and a good finish. Let’s hope some importer gets the label down to India.

/> Alok Chandra is a Bengaluru-based wine consultant