In a country plagued with high taxes and other barriers, beverage competitions go a long way in keeping the dialogue alive.
The recently-concluded 11th Indian Sommelier Championship was yet another milestone for the Indian beverage industry. The idea behind the competition has always been to reward meritorious service of beverages, both alcoholic and otherwise, in a setting that is not necessarily a bar. This year saw 40-plus candidates in Delhi, Mumbai and (for the first time) Bengaluru come together to learn the finer aspects of wine service and tasting. From this pool of 140 candidates, six finalists were chosen to compete in the finals in Delhi on September 2. Finally, the winners were announced over a gala dinner later in the evening.
While the competition has come a long way in the last few years, a lot remains to be achieved. For one, the gender ratio remains highly disproportionate, with men outnumbering women almost 10 to one! Another problem they face is in finding enough variety of wines, brews and spirits to keep things intense yet interesting.
Last year, the Indian sparkling wine masterclass was a top draw, with all the local bubblies from our land being tasted blind. This year, it was the turn of gins and 10 gins were lined up for a very heady blind masterclass. Monkey 47 came out a universal favourite, followed closely by T10, Stranger & Sons and Hapusa. It was particularly heartening to see Indian gins (the last two in that list) perform so well, going toe-to-toe with much more established international brands. Other noteworthy gins were Jodhpur, The Botanist, Gordons, Greater Than and Beefeater, which fared rather well too.
The wine portfolio comprised a mix of Indian and foreign brands, with a special class on Pinot Noirs, which featured some very coveted bottles, from a Corsican version to a 1996 Burgundy!
All done and dusted, the regional rounds were conducted, followed by small dinners in each city. The Leela Bengaluru and The Sofitel Mumbai chipped in with support to host these events, while The Pullman Aerocity in New Delhi was the spot for the preliminary and final showdown.
Outside of things heady, there was Perrier and even TWG teas. Maybe a tea masterclass could be on the cards next year. And then there were glass tastings with Schott Zwiesel, which showed just how changing the glass (shape, material) can change the way the wine is perceived on our palate.
Even if that is put down to placebo, there is something that can’t be discounted: how glassware affects our drinking experience.
All in all, there was learning aplenty to go around, not just for the candidates, but also for the brands and importers who participated to see just how the professionals who sell their product perceive them.
ISC number 12 will happen next year, and we hope it is as resounding a success as the previous years. We look forward to a new jury and new masterclasses, and a renewed interest among the F&B community that serves alcohol to turn up and further the cause of fine beverages. In a country plagued with high taxes and other barriers to access, such competitions and learning exercises are all the connect we have to keep a culture alive.
The writer is a sommelier