Enjoying Wine at Home : Five Easy Tips to Get Started

I am often asked by friends and acquaintances if wine is an expensive pursuit. Expensive being relative, I always encourage them to stock up on basic ware before they jump to any conclusions.

So here are 5 things you need to do at home to enjoy drinking wine, just like you would do in a hotel or restaurant.

Stock up on Glasses

Duh, that’s obvious, you may say. But wine glasses are a bit special in how they look. We wine professionals call them stemware. Why? Simply because all wine glasses come with a thin, long stem needed for all practical, and in some cases, cosmetic reasons. This is one cool image which perhaps covers all different shapes and sizes that you are likely to come across.

Promise us, you won’t use your fine, Bohemian crystal meant for your Lagavulin 16, ever again for a glass of wine. Okay, still confused? You might wanna watch our debut video to get started. Click here

Buy a Corkscrew/ Waiter’s Friend

How you wish you had it all easy with opening a wine bottle; isn’t it?

The corkscrew is one of the simplest yet most effective inventions by mankind. Buy one and see how simple mechanics enhance your bottle opening experience! For those in mood for some adventure – your old Oxfords might come in handy but hey, we never told you that! Have a look at this video for some inspiration.

File:Limonadier (Tire Bouchon).JPG

Natural corks are being replaced by screwcaps in many parts of the world. A request to my winemaker friends reading this – you might take away a few faults in wine by using screwcaps, but please don’t take away the romance of opening a wine bottle by using a corkscrew!

Invest in a Decanter

A decanter is one of those basic wine accessories that many of us wait to invest in, maybe because we think of it as a special apparatus meant for the best wines. Think of it like a big vessel/ jug that not only helps wine breathe but also keeps away extra sediment from being poured in a wine glass. Keeping practical reasons aside, it looks very cool too.

It’s not only your old Barolos and Bordeaux first growths that deserve some oxygen but also young wines that must be decanted before they reveal their complexity.

A simple decanter like the one below from Riedel is ideal to be used whenever you are hosting your next home party.

 Riedel Decanter

 

Use a Wine Aerator Pourer

This one is a no brainer – it’s all in the name!  Pour in style while the wine gets some fresh air. So what you leave behind is a good impression than wine drops that drip shabbily onto the label.

Vintorio Wine Aerator Pourer

Build a Dungeon

Relax. We are not putting non wine drinkers here.

If you have the luxury of space and are willing to ensure fair treatment to your wine beauties, try to create a space with a dungeon like conditions.

Find a corner of your house that is away from direct sunlight and extreme temperature variations. If you live in a tropical country like India, please save your wines from getting “cooked” in summers and find a permanent air conditioning facility that can maintain temperatures all year long.

You’ll be surprised to know that houses in France still have with what they call a ‘cave’, an underground cellar dug deep enough for wines to rest and age with grace!

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Things get fishy in Indian Waters: Caviar House & Prunier Comes to India

There are comfort foods and there are luxury foods. There is good and then there is best. There is fish roe and wait for it… there is CAVIAR. Yes, the salt treated eggs of sturgeon fish that are little pieces of treasure, the best of which are found in the Caspian and Black Sea.

Oscietra Caviar

So, when invited to a caviar and salmon degustation organized by Indo-French Chamber of Commerce, it was an evening not to be missed. Set in the ballroom of the spectacular Dusit Devrana, the recently opened New Delhi resort property of the Thai hospitality chain, the evening was a treat for fish loving, wine connoisseurs like me.

Paired with Drappier champagne, there were Baeri Royal, Oscietra and Prunier Malossol caviar for one to choose from. Just like fine wine, each deserves its own set of tasting notes and this is how Sonia Baeriswyl, GM, Lux en Bouche, defined two of them,“ Baeri Royal is a pleasant caviar with light and woody flavours where the grains are loose yet firm with a black ebony colour. Oscietra Prestige on the other hand is festive caviar with subtle and nutty flavours. Its amber grains are a regular good size and are completely loose with an anthracite bronze reflection”.

My pick of the evening has to be the Oscietra – one little spoon in my mouth and it gratified a deeply rooted fantasy of my subconscious! Sigh. If the description doesn’t convince you, you must have caviar, at least once, for its nutritional goodness as it is rich in proteins and vitamins, confirms Sonia.

Sonia & Steve

Steve & Sonia from Lux’en Bouche sharing spoonfuls of caviar goodness

Besides the caviar, there was Balik Salmon for tasting. I tried the Balik Sjomga Tradition and Balik Sjomga Orange, both of which were simply divine – really difficult to have chosen a favourite here. According to Sonia, it is the crisp alpine air in Toggenburg, a small village in Switzerland which hosts the company’s facility, coupled with the quality of firewood and the craftsmanship involving minimum mechanization that makes Balik salmon stand out. The company also claims to use a traditional method of manually smoking its salmon, just the way it was done at the time when the Russian imperial court existed.  (Quick trivia: the name Balik comes from the Russian word balik, referring to the back fillet of the salmon fish, considered to be the most noble of the cuts).   

One might doubt whether Indians are willing to shell out exorbitant amounts for such luxury foods but Sonia remains optimistic. She has followed the Indian luxury market closely and is positive that the affluent Indian economic classes will take quickly to caviar.  While the company remains tight lipped on the volume it aims to generate through the Indian market, expect them to be aggressive in their marketing endeveaours as they intend to start selling online soon and will also be promoting their products through social media.  Goes without saying, hotel chains and restaurants will be one of their key customers but they also have plans of selling through premium retail locations.

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Wondering how to enjoy that caviar lying in your fridge? Just simply smother the left over naan (Indian flatbread) with some whipped cream or cream cheese, add a morsel of salmon and top it with the caviar. You wouldn’t have felt this pampered in a long time, you have my word here!

naan salmon caviar

Image Courtesy: Lux’en Bouche

Lux’en Bouche, a Reunion Islands based enterprise together with their Indian partners, Empire Foods, are exclusive suppliers of Caviar House and Prunier products to India.

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Do the CHEW!

I was recently invited for a tasting of a special Thai menu at Chew-the Pan Asian Café, located in the fast becoming food hub Connaught Place in the heart of India’s capital city. I had been to the restaurant earlier and quite liked the vibrance in the air with their bright and fun interiors.

Chew 1

Speaking of décor, Chew plays well with an effective use of white, beige and yellow color tones highlighted by dark walls with graffiti like text. The rustic, beige stone on the wall adds a nice texture and a subliminal feel to the restaurant.

Talking business- the food at Chew, I must tell you, is not for those seeking a completely authentic experience. The intention I feel is not to be authentic but give diners a good overview of the diversity of pan-Asian cuisine. The restaurant manages to execute that intention through minor tweaks and fusions of varied Asian flavours.

The menu served to us that day had a focus on using Thai food ingredients.  The meal began with platters of vegetarian and non-vegetarian sushi rolls being served; the veg option had a nice crunchy texture with a sweet touch of the Thai sauce used but I feel the tempura batter should have been lighter. The non-veg option however, had nice depth of flavours with an earthy sesame sauce layered inside and the creaminess lent by coconut milk used in seasoning the chicken dices.

Chew 2

The Som Tam salad (vegetarian) was mildly hot and was wholesome and tangy with papaya shining through. I have my reservations about the Indian palate appreciating the same. The mixed salad on the other hand was delectable with a good balance of starch and protein and whenever it seemed too heavy, the chestnuts would nicely cut through the palate and provide a clean finish; peanuts could have been better done and made crispier.

Determined to withstand the food assault on the stomach, we moved on to soups with the Tom Kha which I found a bit too salty and overwhelmingly sour. It seemed to have been too boiled (reminds me of my hotel school days when my chef instructor would say – a soup boiled is a soup spoiled!)

There was of course the standard Thai affair in the form of Pad Thai, Thai red and green curries, the Penang curry with sticky rice, all done well but the quality bar can definitely be pushed further upwards.

Chew 3

Desserts at CHEW are definitely something I will re-visit the restaurant for. Whether it was the innovative Mangofie Pie or the classic Creme Brulée (no Asian rendition this one), the sweet stuff is worthy of the calorie indulgence.

Chew 4

How could one not talk about the drinks? The Thai herb induced red wine Sangria was the only vinous element that day. However, I would prefer their gin and kaffir lime based cocktail that one can find on their regular drinks menu. I am anyway not a big sucker for Sangrias and rather have my wine neat! 😉

Chew 5

So how would I rate my experience at CHEW? A big thumbs up to the overall feel but it’s surely a place where you need to leave behind your critic’s hat and formals back home. Just dive in to those well portioned dishes from the word go and you’ll find yourself merrily eating and singing on one of the restaurant’s swinging chairs! 🙂

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The Month in Wines Gone By

As we head closer to the season of selling wines in India, there are enough activities that have kept me busy in the past few weeks.And there’ll be many new exciting tasks at hand as I glance through my calendar.
While writing about each of those activities might take a few pages, there are some that are worthy of sharing here on the blog.

Champagne, Rhone and Hunter Valley
Got to taste Champagne Demilly de Baere NV, a Chardonnay dominated blend. Had high hopes from this one. On the surface, seemed like the bottle was subjected to bad storage and the cork also had dried out. Bubbling was also minimal. Having said that, the wine inside showed some vibrancy with a green apple and citrusy character. Good that it was consumed but would like to re-taste this one to judge its real character.

Demilly de Baere
Had my second last bottle of Paul Jaboulet Parallele 45 Rouge 2006. This is one wine which never disappoints – still lively and bursting with dark fruits! However, the wine has starting going down the evolution curve and I shall soon exhaust the last remaining bottle in a couple of weeks’ time.

Audrey Wilkinson Winemakers Selection 2010. Coming from one of the oldest wineries in the Hunter Valley, this was a blend of Merlot (from McLaren Vale) and Cabernet grapes . The wine with its silky tannins and a mouthful of ripe plums gushing on the palate, swept me away. However, the wine had a short finish and had me asking for more on the acidity front.

Sexing up the label!
If you ever thought designing the ‘right’ kind of wine label was a breeze, you are probably as disillusioned as I was a few weeks ago. It’s a label that triggers a wine buying decision (at least the first time) when a bottle is lying helpless on the retail shelf amidst the ocean of wines which shall otherwise remain untested in a consumer’s lifetime. So hats off to those designers who’ve helped winemakers sell their wines in the market!

Label Designing
When I sat down with a team of designers to figure out the identity of what could be the next best wine coming out of India, there were long discussions and deliberations on how the final label should be. After enough back and forth with no consensus, we decided that procrastination is the best solution. Designing was deferred but we are confident that we’ll reach resolution in a few days’ time.

Interaction with Chef Ritu Dalmia
Exchanged pleasantries with chef Ritu Dalmia of the Diva restaurant fame and had a chance to hear her entrepreneurial journey in the demanding hospitality industry. I came back home with some of her recipes and really eager to try the ‘Far Scarpetta’ very soon.

Ritu Dalmia


Gnocchi with a Chilean Cabernet – adventurous but not ideal

One of the days when I decided not to be too critical with my wine and food, I tried matching the lovely Errazuriz Cabernet Sauvignon with Gnocchi in tomato basil sauce finished with baked Parmesan on top. The wine dominated the dish and came across way fuller than the delicate dish itself. The acidity just got more pronounced with every sip and the tannins became more apparent too.

Erra Zuriz

 

 

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Yours Socially,Wine

Courtesy: Source

Courtesy: Source

If you can excuse the mild profanity in the image above, you’d agree how the humour here effectively captures wine’s intrinsic ‘classist’ or ‘elitist’ nature. At least that’s the treatment wine gets in societies where it is lesser explored and seen. Such situation presents a contrary image to the otherwise super ‘social’ drink that wine is.

Here in India, things appear to be changing fast (like in many areas) and wine finally seems to be getting more ‘socially’ accepted. Here’s a proof – the first edition of the wine social initiated by our organization, along with help from an external agency, was quickly sold out in a couple of days of the event going live on the internet.

The debut version had media and PR professionals (and also some restaurateurs) hijack the wonderful Pan Asian restaurant at Welcome Sheraton that churned out a long list of scrumptious finger food complemented by ITC’s ever so prompt service.

The agenda? Unwinding, socializing and networking over wine. Just what wine is about! Isn’t it?

A few pictures (Courtesy: Image Quotient) from the event follow with the talented photographer making me look more bearable to your eyes! 😉

Image 2 Img 3 Img 4 Img 5

While alcohol in India is yet to fully come out of the closet, it is wine that is making its own space with more and more people taking to this beautiful beverage. As an eager beaver, I half-sit waiting as wine transcends the realms of the elitist glass pyramid and truly becomes a social drink. In that hope, let’s raise a glass, or two!

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Will Restaurant Chains Become Wine Culture Catalysts in India?

 

If you were born in the Delhi of 80s/early 90s, names like Nirula’s would invoke nostalgia of a childhood when fast food had a different definition. One would make special trips just to have those Indian style pizzas and burgers, finishing the meal with hot chocolate fudge. While in Bombay (and not Mumbai), iconic Irani joints and standalone stars like Mahesh Lunch Home were flocked by visitors in numbers galore. Eating out was mostly a family pursuit with numbered options.

Fast forward to 2013 and you’re likely to frequent a KFC as much as you would go to the neighbouring Spaghetti Kitchen; or Hakkasan when seeking a fine experience outside the confines of a 5 star hotel. The big names in Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) formats like McDonald’s, KFC and Domino’s have made offerings such as pizzas & burgers not only affordable but also acceptable to many.

On the contrary, fine dining chains are trying to attract an audience that besides being well versed with different cuisines is also unafraid of spending. These brands aim at filling the gap between average standalone restaurants charging more than they’re worth and hotels known for being consistent in high quality & premium pricing. As these chains set up shop with conformance to international standards, it is likely that the wine scene will also gain momentum in India.

The last big entrant in this game was La Tagliatella that opened earlier this year in an upmarket Delhi mall followed by another restaurant in Bangalore. Although the wine list is largely Indian, the restaurant is already seeing high demand for wines from its guests. As Gaurav Malik, the head of Training at AmRest, the company that owns and operates the brand, pointed out, “8 guests out of 10 that walk into the restaurant prefer to have wines over spirits.”  The demand is more expat driven but Indians are equally willing to have a glass or two with their meals, Malik added.

The above is an encouraging phenomenon against the pretext that average Indian drinking habits incline towards hard liquor only.

A strong balance sheet allows international chains to invest in good infrastructure for wines and putting together a wine list at par with their outlets in other markets. Like food, a standardised, familiar wine menu instills confidence in the consumers, particularly well travelled patrons. This familiarity and comfort translates to larger numbers of wines sold since guests have fewer apprehensions about what they are being offered.

Source: Trip Advisor India

Source: Trip Advisor India

As catalysts of the wine scene, one must also acknowledge the efforts of indigenous chains like deGustibus Hospitality and Impressario. Besides making fine, gourmet food more accessible, these names have also treated Indians to some delectable wines at their establishments. Award winning wine lists and consistently high accolades exhibit the commitment of these chains towards bettering the wine scene in India; a journey that started about a decade or so ago.

But it’s a little too soon to be overly optimistic for a radical change, cautions Prasanjit Singh, Managing Director with HVS, a food and beverage services consultancy firm. According to Singh, the average Indian drinker likes to tank up before he concludes the day with a late night meal. “This is reflective of their habits and will be a deterrent to the spreading of wine culture that’s already marred by central and state government policies and the complex issue that is alcohol”, Singh continues.

Some of the concerns voiced above present a reality that disheartens many industry professionals and wine lovers. High custom duties and forever changing state policies pose logistical limitations that hinder a consistent supply of wines. However, where drinking habits are concerned, these are bound to evolve as people grow weary of rinsing their stomachs with high potency alcohol and opt for wines instead.

So the question remains, can organized restaurant chains become catalysts for the much needed stir in the wine scene? Both Malik & Singh are positive that these chains with their sophisticated wine programmes will be a success. They also predict a lacklustre performance by hotels in the area of wines in the coming days.

As these chains raise the quality benchmark, the others will have no choice but to entice the consumer with an even better offering in wines. This would mean not just competitive pricing but also a large choice for the consumer in the long run, a phenomenon that’ll only strengthen the case for a widespread wine culture in the country.

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The edited version of this post originally appeared as an article for the print magazine Spiritz.

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Could Wine have become the Scotch Whisky in India?

Earlier this month, I was asked to present to some young Indian entrepreneurs a topic that traced the history of wine. Considering the literature available on the subject, it would have been an easy ride, right? Not as much. The topic came with a twist-the subject had to be linked with the evolution of wine in India and trace the beverage’s past in this history-laden country.

History never quite fascinated me as a child but when it concerns wine, I am always willing to dig up juicy facts and finding answers to questions like the title above. Here, I use my own theory with a very brief historical background on why I feel India never really embraced this beautiful beverage.

Image

While many Indians, me included, have seen the devas imbibing some mysterious beverage in silver glasses on innumerable adaptations of the scriptures on television sets, I still wonder if this magical potion was any sort of wine. One thing is clear though-it had intoxicating properties or it would have shown differently in the mannerism of those enacting TV artists.

Thousand years passed by and we had everybody from Aryans to Mughals to the English making an impression on what India is today including our drinking habits. Speaking of the English (especially Scottish), it is them who Diageo owes record sales of their key blended whisky brand. If there was a third religion in India after Cricket and Bollywood, it has to be Scotch Whisky!                                                                                                                               (Disclaimer: Views are personal and have been offered uninebriated)

So if the Maharajas could also endorse ‘patiala’ of a slick dram, how come wine exited the country so quietly? There are hardly any chronicles of the British wine experiences while in India and whisky was clearly the relevant drink for the upper Indian class. As per my hypotheses, two factors would have adversely affected wine in becoming a mass Indian phenomenon:

–    The average Indian palate that had grown up on rich, complexly flavoured food, would have found wine somewhat unappealing due to a completely different spectrum of flavor profile and nuances. Also, the Indians weren’t traveling the way they do today. So appreciating those wines was even more difficult. Moreover, whiskies especially single malts would have sufficed the need of a complex rush of flavours, with a good alcohol potency backing it. Thus making many patrons on the way. This holds true to a large extent even today.

–    The greatest wines would have never reached India that could pull the locals into drinking wines. And when I say locals, I daresay elitists since wine by no means could have been a mass drink in a politically and economically divided colonial India. Wines, if any that reached us would have probably been spoiled in transit. Also, let’s not forget that even the greatest of the wines would have lacked the quality and consistency a couple of centuries ago unlike what they are known for today.

Also, wine in India had neither been an economic mainstay nor a way of life as was the case in our European counterparts. Probably the only wine that defied any of the above theories was the great Cos d’Estournel from St. Estephe, Bordeaux. But then again, it remained an elitist pursuit and couldn’t have alone governed a mass wine scene in India.

It is also believed that the best of the Indian wines were showcased in an exhibition in the late 1800s but again, it didn’t create enough ripples.

Like with Indian cuisine, we lack recorded evidence that can tell us about the kind of treatment wine was subjected to in this glorious country with a rich past. All we know is that the clock kept ticking away and wine only got further pushed into obscurity as the country battled for freedom and more macro-level issues gained centrestage. One had to wait till the early eighties in the 20th century for wine to finally see a revival.

While wine may have missed the train in becoming as successful as whisky, there have been positive developments in the recent past that might make bring the two beverages at par very soon. Wine imports are rising and local production has seen a surge like never before. Quality is getting better and wines are finding new markets and patrons. The good work must be carried on and a new chapter should be added in the history books.

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