The wine park


May 20, 2013 12:23:16 PM

Foreigners coming to India for the first time get briefed on “Indianisms”: cultural traits that are distinctive to us Indians.

For example, in South India there is the HEAD WAGGLE, a side-to-side motion that is not ‘No’ but not necessarily a ‘Yes’- merely an indication that the other person has heard you (although sometimes it may signal an enthusiastic affirmation of the proposition!).

Then there is the propensity of some to say ‘yes’ when they really mean ‘no’ but are too polite to say so. This perhaps reflects our educational system where one never questions the instructor as that is seen as ‘challenging’ authority, so we “never say no” (and never mind James Bond).

In wine terms, our Indianism is best personified in the ‘KHAYE-PIYE-KHISKE’ (Drink-Eat-Move) behaviour exhibited at dinner parties: all drinking is done before the meal, standing up, with snacks washed down with copious amounts of whatever you are drinking. Dinner is always served as late as possible – by which time many are already stuffed with the snacks guzzled with the aperitifs – and is generally in the form of a buffet and so eaten standing up. As this precludes holding a glass as well as the plate and eating (which would require three hands) few people drink anything with their food. And since its already late and people are ‘fed up and fulfilled’ the guests leave immediately after the meal.

Ergo, most of the wine consumed in Indian parties is in the form of an aperitif rather than with food – which in turn implies that the entire effort of experts to pair wines with Indian food (or food for Indians) is possibly a waste of time. It also has profound implications for the sort of wines that would appeal to such consumers: the whites should be a little on the sweeter side (rather than dry), while the reds should be soft and fruit-forward (the classic New World style) rather than tannic or too subtle. So a Chenin will do better than Chablis and Bordeaux better than a Burgundy (and an Aussie or Chilean red would be even better).

Where does that leave Indian wines and winemakers?

Indian wines are afflicted with another ‘Indianism’: we tend to value imported wines as being better than domestic wines, and are prepared to pay more for the former. This may partly reflect empirical evidence that Indian wines lack consistency, but I am sure there is a fairly large dose of xenomania there – after all, why should an entry-level wine selling for US$ 5.00 overseas be rated better than a Reserve wine produced here?

The solution perhaps lies in doing more blind tasting, and for the media to get engaged in changing perceptions of Indian wines a la The Judgement of Paris (1976). Otherwise, we’ll just go on saying “We Are Like That Only”!

Wines I’ve Been Drinking: The Chocolate Block, a Syrah-Grenache-Cab blend from South African winery Boekenhoutskloof (yes, that’s a bit of a tongue twister) whose owner and winemaker Marc Kent was in Bangalore recently. This 90-point wine is aged for 15 months in French oak casks and then another 6-9 months in the bottle before release – it’s a complex and aromatic red wine (berries, pepper, dark chocolate, soft tannins, oak & vanilla) that is a delight to savour, and would be completely unsuitable for anybody afflicted with any of the ‘Indianisms’ mentioned above!

Alok Chandra