A masterclass is much more than a regular wine-tasting session. It’s a soirée on steroids
RECENTLY, WHILE organising the Indian Sommelier Championship, we had the opportunity to host some of the world’s top winemaking crew, including a few reputed names from India. It was a lovely platform for both winemakers and enthusiasts—they were able to interact one-on-one in an atmosphere that couldn’t get any geekier.
The questions weren’t as much about price, as they were about fermentation cycles, clarification processes, ageing of oak and the general guiding philosophy behind each blend.
Winemakers couldn’t have been happier. This is the sort of crowd they wish to play to all the time. A regular consumer session is like teaching a one-year-old to walk, whereas this, by comparison, was an advanced class in downhill slaloming! What I observed was that the general wine quotient of the average Indian server is increasing exponentially from one year to another, thanks to such initiatives.
And this brings me to deconstruct what lies at the very crux of these initiatives: the masterclass. For most parts, a masterclass is like a regular wine-tasting session. However, it is a lot more. Imagine a simple wine soirée on steroids. Everything about a masterclass is amplified—from the depth of the details covered to the range of wines tasted. It is also a lot more focused, as the essence of a masterclass is not to provide a general idea or a panoramic overview of a subject, but to delve into the folds of a tiny minuscule topic and then try to take it apart layer-by-layer.
For example, a simple wine session may talk about the wines of France, or how to taste wine in general, but a masterclass would be specific to the point of tasting wines from only one grape from different sites, or the same wine from different vintages. Certain sessions I have attended were so specific that we had to read up for a good hour or two in order to be at a level to understand what was about to be presented. As one may have deduced by now, these aren’t sessions with large cheese platters placed besides tasting glasses. An ample supply of bread is all the luxury one can expect to get—and water, of course.
In India, conducting masterclasses is one helluva task: a population that is only just warming up to the idea of wine is further dumbstruck when we serve it thimblefuls and then expect them to spit that out too! Not to mention the seemingly unending monotonous rant that accompanies these sessions—only momentarily interrupted by a slide change on the screen—which adds to the woes. It’s all too much to take in for a consumer. A lot of wine will have to pass their lips before they are bored and curious enough to wish to explore more even if it means sitting through what were hitherto considered long and boring educational seminars on alcohol!
Thankfully, the trade is a lot more attuned to the idea now and, this year, I saw over 100 people eagerly and quietly sit through nine hours of gruelling masterclasses a day. Such an intense mental workout can leave one’s perceptions altered forever and that metamorphosis is what is needed to make a sommelier out of a server.
So next time you meet your local sommelier, ask him about the masterclasses he/she may have attended and the information they managed to precipitate from them. Such discussions are as much a part of wine enjoyment as the stuff in the glass.
The writer is a sommelier