Wine is becoming increasingly trendy and increasingly popular the world over. In countries like France and Italy, wine is as much part of the culture as good food. It is talked about and drunk with all meals (except maybe breakfast!). Much fuss is made about the bouquet, the vintage, the finish, the palate and body.
Why should Asians, unaccustomed to drinking wine, change their brew unless it triggers off some expectation, some aspiration, some sought after lifestyle? In Asia wine is neither cheap, accessible nor part of our culture. Neither is whisky, brandy or beer, but we drink plenty of those. Wines have suddenly become popular in India and wine drinking per se has also evolved into a trendy pass time. People are drinking more wine in a much more casual, unorthodox fashion – before dinner, after dinner, at parties. This is the first step to making wine drinking a habit. The second is pairing them with Indian food. There was a time when it was considered “appropriate” to drink wine with European food only, preferably French. Each course would be carefully matched or “married” with the correct wine, which is fine if, like the French, you eat in courses. In India and in fact all over Asia, we generally eat family style, with all the dishes appearing on the table at the same time. How on earth do you match this to any wine? And how on earth can you tell people what they should drink if there are several things on their plate. Things have come a long way since “white wine with fish and red wine with meat”. I have personally found that successful pairing is more effective when you try and pair predominant herbs, spices and sauces in a dish. There are obvious clashes when pairing wine with any food. Indian wine & food is no exception. But don’t let people tell you that you can’t eat Indian food with wine. That’s nonsense. I find that most kebabs and mild “curries” can happily be accompanied by wine. Biryanis and coastal seafood are “naturals” with wine. Just avoid excessive chilli, dishes with lime and tamarind and yoghurt.
1. What should I serve wine in?
Glass for sure. It is odourless, taking away nothing from the aroma of the wine. Glass also being clear, allows us to see the colour of the wine. Most wine glasses require a stem and a decent size glass so that you can twirl the wine. The twirling movement opens up its bouquet. At the moment, Riedel is considered to have the best glasses in the world.
2. How should I hold the glass?
Traditionally, always from the base or the stem so that the warmth of your hand doesn’t affect the temperature of the wine. This however has been broken by Riedel who have come out with stem less glasses which look like whisky tumblers. The irreverent Venetians have been using exquisite fine glass from Murano the shape of a water glass, for wine for years.
3. Entertaining Tips
Starting a meal with bubbles always ensures a sparkling mood. After this, it’s white wine before red and lighter- before fuller- bodied. Depending on how long lunch or dinner is going to take and the capacity of your guests, a safe guide is half a bottle for each person
4. What kind of glasses should I serve different wines in?
Generally, bigger glasses for reds and tulips (standard wine glasses) for whites. Champagnes can be served in flutes (tall, long, thin wine glasses) or tulips. Never serve champagne in champagne saucers. This is completely outdated and does nothing for the champagne. Cut glass and cut crystal are not for real wine drinkers.
5. How should you store a bottle of wine?
Try and store in a cool, dark place (like the bottom of a cupboard) wrapped in newspaper to keep the temperature constant, without moving them around too much. If they have corks, lie them down horizontally. A huge asset if you intend to buy expensive wines is a temperature and humidity controlled wine cooler or wine conditioner, both now available in India.
6. Must I finish the whole bottle once it is opened?
The latest trend world-wide, initially started by brave wine makers in New Zealand and Australia, is screw caps on wine bottles. Studies have indicated that there is much less spoilage with screw caps than traditional corks. Once you open a screw capped wine bottle, you can empty left over wine into a well washed small glass bottle with a tight screw cap leaving no gap for any air. The wine generally lasts a week or so like this in a fridge. With a traditional cork bottle, you will have to consume the wine very quickly after opening.
7. What does ‘Room Temperature’ mean?
To find out more about what this blessed ‘room temperature’ is, we have first to locate the room! It was in all probability in Europe about 400 years ago, during winter, without modern electric heating. The temperature would have been around 16 – 20º C. So red wines should be served cool (18 C) not in our tropical room temperature, which is around 30º C. To coax the red wine down to this temperature, simply put it in the lower part of the fridge for an hour; or if you have left it there overnight, take the bottle out an hour before serving. White wine and sparkling should be served cold but not chilled to the bone, a few degrees away from freezing, and kept chilled in an ice bucket. If you have to chill champagne or white wine really quickly (ie you’ve forgotten to do it earlier – happens to the best of us)…prepare a large bucket filled with ice and cold water and dunk it in there for 20 mins.
8. What does a good vintage mean?
A vintage where wine is concerned means production in one particular year and usually bottled in a single batch so that each bottle has a similar taste. Climate affects wine producing areas enormously to the extent that occasionally wines are not made in certain areas if the producer feels that the vintage won’t be good. Wine from a good vintage can fetch much higher prices than the same wine, from the same area or even the same producer another year.
9. How do you know when a wine has gone off?
Many first time wine drinkers are put off drinking wine for life by bad wine. Wine is a living thing. There are several things which can make a bottle of wine go bad. The most common problem is a “corked wine “. This results in a musty, mildew smell and is often caused by compounds in the cork which react with compounds in the wine. It often also occurs with poorly made corks. Oxidization is another common fault. Your white wine will change to amber in colour and the wine will smell like a bad dry sherry. This is often caused by bad handling and poor storage. The first thing to look out for when tasting a wine is the colour – the hue and intensity. Then smell it. This requires some amount of experience. If at this initial stage you feel something is wrong and you are not enjoying the experience, don’t drink it.
10. What is old and new world?
New World: Generally implies accessible, bold, often extrovert (in terms of fruit and use of oak). Countries of the New World include Australia, South Africa and the U.S.
Old World: Embraces terms like subtle, complex, oaky, more varied and generally more vinous (than fruity) refers to France, Italy and Spain
My pick of an Indian wine worth talking about…Reveilo
I am constantly on the look out for good Indian wines. I like to support our own wine industry and the efforts of our winemakers and as a member of the Indian Grape Processing Board, it is also my duty and something about which I am passionate. Our wines aren’t French or Italian and therefore can’t be compared with them. They are warm climate wines from a country relatively new to wine making and which therefore should be judged as is. The trouble with Indian wines is consistency. You taste something great one day and the next bottle you buy is quite different. I have been drinking Indian wines for over 25 years and they have really come of age. From Bosca in the 80’s to over a dozen drinkable wines from Nashik and Bangalore. It’s been a stunning journey. One wine I find is getting better and better is Reveilo. Managed by Yatin and Kiran Patil with the help of Italian know how and technology and an Italian winemaker, Mr. Andrea Valentinuzzi. They produce an army of red and white wines that are young and tropical in nature and an excellent representation of the new generation’s aspirations. I also discovered that the secret to their consistency is that they are one of the very few wineries to transport their wines in their own refrigerated vans. Two of my favourite wines from their stable are their white, Grillo made from a Sicilian grape grown by them in Nashik and their red Nero d’Avola, another Sicilian grape. Sicily has a warm, arid climate with a long long history of wine making and I am not surprised that grapes from this region suit our soil and environment better than many French varietals. The Nero d’Avola is a medium bodied red wine with strong fruity aromas of cherry, some spicy notes of pepper and cinnamon and is almost sweet on the palate. It is a young wine with a long finish and is great with kababs. I use any left over to marinate dried figs. Grillo has a bouquet of citrus, lemon, orange and grapefruit. It is a medium bodied wine with crisp acidity and a long mineral after taste. Lovely with any fish and Indian vegetables. I have recently tried their Reserve collection. Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is Barrel Aged in French oak. The fruity notes of cherry, raspberry and blueberry are enriched with the spicy notes of pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg. On the palate, the structure is extremely full. The body is velvety, harmonious and it finishes like a good Bordeaux. I look forward to more little mysteries from their wide repertoire.