Here are some top plagues that could be festering at a wine experience near you
BEING IN the company of some very enlightened tasters—even as I write this—has imbued me with a certain euphoric epiphany, showing to me in one panoramic second, the breadth of just how we vinos, as a collective, are getting it wrong. Mind you, some of these concerns may be too premature for a market as nascent as India but no better time to get things right than when the foundation is being laid. Here are some top plagues that could be festering at a wine experience near you:
Overpriced: A recent visit to Le Bordelais wine bar in Shanghai further reinstated something I have always believed in: sensible pricing drives volumes and this is the best way to ensure sustainability. The current pricing trend of 3-5 times of the buying price is ridiculous in the West, and in countries like India where the taxes are already astoundingly abominable, it is suicide. And yet we find that hotels and other prestigious establishments refuse to see the light, keeping wine far from the reach of the average consumer. This bar was selling only Bordeaux wines and at prices no higher than their retail price in France. Considering that China has 100% tax on wines, this was very impressive. Hotels in India pay a lot lesser tax and yet their prices are nowhere close.
Glass obsession: While I do understand and even purvey the idea of using good stemware, I also feel that some people take the obsession too far. Yes, the experience can alter between thin-edged lightweight crystal and something that resembles a stubby ice cream cup but no more. So ditch the brigade that advocates having as many glasses as there are wines in your cellar.
Cork debate: ‘Cork-vs-screw cap’ is an endless debate and a touchy topic for some. Which ages wine better, does the use of one make wine “low-end”, is one archaic or the other too modern, there are no right answers to any of these questions. And opinions are always infinite; so to indulge in a debate, no matter how civil to start, risks turning unhealthy and ruining a good wine experience. Enjoying a good wine should not be about the merits of its packaging. Even a bag-in-box can be good provided it comes from the right-minded winemker.
The hippie wine-ster: First it was organic, and then came biodynamic, and as it that wasn’t hippie enough, we finally got natural wines. While the first two still have some relevance, the last one is like throwing darts in the dark and claiming to hit bullseye every time. It is important to respect nature and to see to it that good wines can be continually made long after we are gone. So to extract more than the land can provide is not a good thing. But to obsess it, to try and balance energies, or find the equivalent of ‘vaastu’ for a vineyard is perhaps pushing the envelope a bit too far into the hocus-pocus zone. Sustainable is the word that advocates the best path forward, to minimise dependance on chemicals while ensuring longevity for all that is natural. As long as this can be sensibly applied, one needn’t get touchy about whether the insects were allowed to breed in the vineyard from where our current Pinot comes.
Vintages: There was a time when we didn’t know who to harness nature as well as we do today. A time when everything around us influenced wine more than the hands that made it. And times when money being scarce, wineries had to churn out the maximum they could often at the cost of quality. Today, while nature can still throw a curve ball, we are in a better position both financially and in experience to know when to harvest and when to let the crop hang. All these decisions have led to little influence of vintage and consequently there are fewer bad vintages today. And in case a year does have awful weather, most wineries make less wine there preserving quality. Therefore, to refuse wines from certain vintages because they don’t measure up is becoming less relevant. It was more of a concern for wines dating back to the 80s and earlier but the new millennium is largely vintage-free.
I can think of many other aspects of wine that we let hold us back from enjoying wine. The trick is to start with an open mind and to keep checking from time to time, lest we shut it off to some aspect. I am a good decade and a half into the subject and yet remind myself to approach each wine with the same bug-eyed curiosity that I first had. And that perhaps is the only way to ensure that the enjoyment never dies.
The writer is a sommelier