With all this hoopla surrounding wine and so many new consumers coming into the fold, it is important from time to time to debunk some of the myths surrounding the product.
Wine is big business in India. Wine sales are miniscule (about 3 million cases) in comparison to either spirits (350 million cases) or beer (250 million cases), and making any profit or importing wines takes time, money and luck. Yes, volumes have been growing at 15- 20 per cent annually, but doing business here is challenging as alcoholic beverages are a state subject and it is like operating in 29 different countries.
Red wines would be served at room temperature. Yes, the room temperature of Europe, which would be about 16 degrees centigrade. In India where temperatures are much higher, it is always better to cool the reds - whites should, of course, be served chilled.
Red wines will "breathe" once the bottle is opened. That miniscule air pocket does nothing to add some oxygen to the wine, and it is always recommended that you decant the wine 10 to 15 minutes (at least) before serving or use a Venturi Aerator when serving. Most reds will benefit from some aeration.
Wine and cheese is a great combination. This is not necessarily true. Cheese coats the palate and makes wines appear softer than they really are, and some cheeses (like Gorgonzola or blue cheese) will completely "kill" any wine you are trying to pair. Classic combinations are Stilton with Ruby Port and cheddar with a red Bordeaux.
Food pairings - red wines with red meat, white wines with white meat. This combination may have been relevant a hundred years ago, and that too, only for Continental cuisines. These days the variety of cuisines available and their sauces - what would you pair with prawn xacuti? - require a very different approach where light (and light-flavoured) foods are paired with light wines, and heavy cuisines with heavy wines. And yes, you do get light reds and heavy white wines.
The older a wine, the better it gets. I am sure many wine enthusiasts have taken out that bottle of wine stored in their cupboard for years to find its turned to vinegar! First, a wine has to be capable of ageing. Second, how a wine is stored - ideally at 12-14 degrees centigrade, in a vibration-free wine chiller - makes a huge difference. Lastly, all age-worthy wines will plateau after some years (which differs from wine-to-wine) and start declining thereafter. My advice is unless you really know your wines, open up all those bottles of imported wines squirreled away and have a party.
Good wines always have corks. Most producers in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa have moved from corks to screw caps to escape having their wines getting cork-tainted, though European producers are stubborningly holding out. The biggest argument against screw caps - they don't allow oxygen to get through to the wine - has been thoroughly debunked, and it is basically consumer conservatism that ensures that most better and age-worthy wines have corks rather than screw caps.
Wines I've been drinking:
Wine made from apples is called cider, and I quaffed a delightful bottle of a the Bhai (as in brother) Apple Cider produced in the United Kingdom by Aspall, one of the largest and oldest cider houses in England, on behalf of Himalayan Cider Breweries. This uses Indian apple juice (and a "secret ingredient"). A pale yellow and lightly fizzed, with an aroma redolent of apples (what else) and a taste that balanced good acidity with a sweeting palate, this is an unusual niche product that will be popular with the ladies when introduced in India.
Alok Chandra is a Bengaluru-based wine consultant