Wine snobs

It’s well known that many people equate price with quality: the expensive wines have to be good and the inexpensive ones are definitely not.

But if one was to put a “not good” wine into a fancy bottle, most of the very same people would extol the wine’s virtues and quaff it happily.

That’s what a wine snob is: a pretentious wine drinker with little knowledge or understanding of wine, and who uses wine as a tool for social advancement rather than enjoy wine for its own sake.

This tendency repeatedly comes up when comparing Indian to imported wines. Imported wines cost two to three times more in India than in international markets, due to a 160 per cent custom duty — in addition to local duties and taxes. So an imported wine costing, say, Rs 2,000 per bottle here would retail for only about $10 in the US; our worthies would still rate this wine as being superior to an Indian wine priced at, say, Rs 1,000 just because it’s imported and more expensive.

Take an event I was involved with recently: a “Wine Fiesta” at a Bengaluru restaurant (1Q1) for the Bangalore Wine Club, with Grover Zampa Vineyards providing their La Reserve red and white for quaffing — along with a great range of wine cocktails using their Sante wine as the base, and Karishma Grover flying in from Mumbai for a tasting of select wines, including their Vijay Amritraj Reserves.

Grover’s Vijay Amritraj Reserve Collection Red 2016 (Rs 1,450 in Bengaluru) has a pronounced aroma of berries and spice and a full-bodied mouthfeel and soft tannins
The event seemed to be a resounding success with about 90 participants showing up, but for feedback that some “did not think the wines were good enough”, while others seemed to think that Sante (which retails for a lowly Rs 450 per bottle) should not be used for making wine cocktails.

In fact, the quality of Indian wines has been improving steadily, to the point where the top labels are routinely rated better than imported wines in blind tastings. Of course, the better-quality imports still outshine the local drop, but catching up is a matter of time, even though we’re unlikely to ever make wines as good as the best wines internationally — our climate and viticulture practices are too different.

While Sula remains the market leader by a wide margin, wineries to watch out for include Fratelli, whose J’NOON collection is priced at around Rs 4,000 per bottle; Krsma Wineries (North Karnataka), whose flagship Cabernet (Rs 2,000) has been winning awards all over the world; SDU wineries (from near Bengaluru), whose Winemaker’s Selection 2014 (Rs 1,500) has been acclaimed by anyone who has tasted it and the La Reserve and Vijay Amritraj Reserves from Grover Zampa, India’s oldest winery. There are also excellent wines being produced by Maharashtrian wineries like York, Vallonne, and Vintage — all of which (unless the price-tag was high enough) our wine snobs would dismiss as “not good enough”.

Pity. As I said in my last article, a little learning is a dangerous thing, and nowhere does it apply so readily as in wine.

Wines I’ve been drinking: Grover’s Vijay Amritraj Reserve Collection Red 2016 (Rs  1,450 in Bengaluru), a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz with a touch of Viognier (a white grape), matured in French oak barrels for 12 months.

The wine has a pronounced aroma of berries and spice and a full-bodied mouthfeel and soft tannins. Karishma (their winemaker) took us through a tasting at the event above and emphasised the approachability of the wine, which is now being relaunched with Vijay Amritraj endorsing the wine all over again.

Alok Chandra is a Bengaluru-based wine consultant


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