There are very few real connoiseurs of wine in India, simply because good wines are rarely available here, and when they are to be found (generally in five-star hotels), they are too pricey to warrant frequent consumption. Unlike the heart, frequent consumption of wine does make the palate (and the nose) stronger - many wine experts abroad sample (not drink) 30 plus wines daily, which enables them to develop a keen sensitivity to the good, the bad, and the ugly.
But there's hope: small groups of wine lovers have sprung up in the metro cities of Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, who know their wines and get together frequently to understand and appreciate wines from different parts of the world. There's Sanjay Menon in Mumbai, whose knowledge of wines is second to none, and who has been hosting tastings at his elegant home for the last 15 years. There's the Sommelier India Wine Magazine wine panel in Delhi that gets together about once a month to check out wines from both India and overseas. And then there's The Wine Connoisseurs of Bengaluru, who meet once a month at different establishments to sample and discuss the wines each person brings for the evening: they pair food with the wines (rather than the other way round), and the table is limited to eight participants - never mind that by the end of the evening each person would have quaffed a full bottle!
The Wine Connoisseurs of Bengaluru actually started some years ago, when Anthony Corbaz came down from Argentina on transfer and managed to bring in enough good wines to last him his expected two-year tenure. The others in the original group included Devesh Agarwal, Abhay Kewadkar (the head of Four Seasons wines), and yours truly.
The group was revived a year ago by Agarwal and foodie Chetan Kamani. The new model involves getting together at restaurants where wines are the focus, and whose chefs are asked to develop the menu around the wines - which is more difficult than it sounds. The first few events were at the Sanctum Club, whose partner Baba Chandok generously laid out 5-course meals at a pittance to help get the group going; other locations have included the Novotel hotel, Caperberry, Hunan Chinese restaurant, and even the signature Le Cirque PDR at the Leela Palace hotel.
Each wine should not cost below Rs 3,000 at retail, and the person bringing the wine is expected to make a presentation on the winery and the wine - which is discussed and analysed by all before the food course paired with the wine is served.
So the next time you have a wine, tarry a while to sniff/ sip/ savor the stuff - who knows, you might have the makings of a connoisseur inside!
Wines I've been drinking:
The Vietti Tre Vigne Barbera d'Alba 2011 (Rs 3,800 in Bengaluru) at the last Wine Connoisseurs' dinner at Caperberry restaurant, last Thusday, paired with Smoked Belgian Pork Belly. Located in the Piedmont region of north-west Italy, the property has been growing wine grapes for over two centuries, but started making their own wines only in the 1940s. The Barbera grape gives a soft, fruity, medium-bodied wine with cherry and vanilla aromas, while the 12 months on oak results in an integrated taste with some complexity and a good finish that completely disguises the 14.5 per cent alcohol level. Lovely!
Cin Cin, as the Italians say.
Alok Chandra is a Bengaluru-based wine consultant