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Magandeep Singh
Magandeep Singh
The author is India’s first French-certified sommelier (wine taster).He has also been involved in the organisation of Vinitaly India 2007 and 2008, a spin-off of the largest wine exhibition in the world held annually in Verona.

Approaching Wine

05 - jun - 13

Many moons ago, upon my return to India, I had started a column titled, “Wine Wisdom”. It had decent run and I got my fair share of comments and queries. Today, almost a decade has passed to that moment of glory in personal publishing, I have written many more for many more, and even the overall wine quotient seems to have risen, there remain questions that seem to never die. Or, otherwise put, there seem to be questions that seem to reinvent themselves, queries whose validity is independent of the passage of time or the amount of information shared.

One such question pertains to what are the wines that one should look forward to purchasing and then, how should they be stored, till one fine day, or evening, they are uncorked and let to flow forth, whence it becomes crucial to concern oneself with how to consume them, enhancing enjoyment by precisely juxtaposing besides carefully appointed bites.

The reason that such a question never loses relevance is simple: wines are always changing. New wines are constantly making their way to Indian shelves and among some that exist, vintages can often affect the flavour profile thereby making it relevant once more to visit the wines in the bottles.

Another concern can often be not chronological but regional. India is indeed a vast country and availability is not always a given. Laws change with each state thereby affecting the wines available in any city as also their retail price, which can fluctuate quite noticeably.

But it is exactly situations like these that make a sommelier like me happy. It gives us an opportunity to take this up as a veritable problem of logistics and legislations and try to find wines which are still available, affordable, and drinkable. This trifecta is not an easy one to crack but every now and then when a wine makes the cut, the joy in delivering it forth to people is immense.

Without any further preaching then, here are a few wines that I have found to be quite enjoyable. Some of these may be reserved for restaurants and hotels in certain states but most of them are equally available through retail. Here then are some great value-for-money (VFM) buys.

French wines are dominated by Champagne, Bordeaux, and Burgundy. They are also often expensive. Languedoc is a good region to look for deals and unique wine styles.

Italy rules the European range, mostly with its reds. Chianti is a good middle of path. Amarone, Brunello, and Barolo are the expensive power-houses. Other wines from the regions of Friuli, Veneto, Marche, and Umbria are simpler stuff but also shippable.

Speaking of sippable, I am yet to find an Australian wine that I didn’t like. At the entry level they make very reliable drinkable wines (simple blends), and at the top end they make wines that are seductively silky and yet grippingly tense with great ageing potential (think Adelaide Hills Chardonnay, Barossa Shiraz and Margaret river Cabernet). New Zealand is a bit more posh so, while one can safely say that they make no bad wine, one has to add that they also make not many low-priced wines either. But given their size, it is natural for them to be in demand. Austria is similar in such respect and GrunerVeltliner is a must-try at all costs, no pun intended. Germany has some unmatched Rieslings (Mosel, Pfalz) but very discrete in their distribution and one can only wonder why.

Spain and Portugal in general are really undervalued zones with great red wines. Add Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania to that list but for the time being it would take a lot of effort to make them popular. Moldova is trying here and they have some excellent white wines (Sauvignon Blanc) but the consumer is sceptic about them.

South America is a leader in VFMs, both reds and whites. Chile and Argentina, after having conquered the US market have made a good impact here with volumes of sales in the top five wine countries represented in India.

Once you have these wines, remember that they aren’t all meant to age and anything within 3-5 years of their being produced is ideal to consume them although some may last upto 6-7 years too. When in doubt about the temperature, serve them cooler than you think – it is easier to warm them up than the other way round. And, once opened, always keep refrigerated and try to finish in the three following days. Wines, when unopened (and especially those with a cork) need be stored on their bellies, else, standing them upright in a fridge is fine.

The opening up of retail outlets, not just ‘thekas’ but proper places where one can buy a bottle of wine without feeling like they compromised their dignity just by stepping foot in the store, has truly helped make wine accessible to people. A decade ago, my writing focused more on where to buy wine rather than what to buy. Since then, the bootlegger has declined a fair bit. People who appreciate fine wine understand how important the concept of provenance is – where a wine comes from – and then equally pertinent is how the wine makes its way to you. A planned route with climate control ensures quality, a bootlegged bottle is pure palate Russian Roulette.

So walk into a wine shop in your neighbourhood and see what they have to offer. Consult a wine advisor if they have one. You are never under any obligation to buy but you must be open to learning. Just remember this simple rule when purchasing wine: there are only two ways to swing on this – Either opt for comfort and get the bottle that you have previously enjoyed, one that is a constant assured satisfier. And why not, as the old advice goes, “ If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.” Why switch when one knows where happiness lies? The other contrasting way is to go for something new and unknown, try the untried, and plan a little adventure for your dining table. Get a bottle from a region or from a grape that you have never tried, never heard of, or, tried from a different producer but not entirely understood or liked. There is no harm in attempting to decipher something that is new, experimenting can good or bad but it always involves child-like curiosity and that can be quite exciting. The joy in discovering new pleasures is equal, if not sometimes greater, than the joy of revisiting old habits as that is how new ones are acquired. And if still hesitant, repeat to yourselves this personal adage of mine, “Monogamy begins and ends with romance. Outside of love, loyalty is for dogs!”

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