THE PERFECT BOTTLE OF WINE?

I always considered wine to be an older man’s drink. In the 90s, people in India barely drank the stuff… we were a beer and whisky hub. As markets opened up and the Indian palette expanded, so did the number of wines on our restaurant wine lists. And today we as customers are spoilt for choice.

Lockdown has been an enigmatic time for many of us. There are new habits we’ve picked up, slight changes to the lives we never thought would have otherwise happened. Yes, there’s the more obvious alterations – the masks and sanitizers, but then there are new workout habits, eating preferences, even the way we dress has gone through minor adjustments. My belts tightened, and my shirts are looser.

Amidst all this upheaval, I’ve seen a newfound penchant for red wine develop. No longer able to stomach regular doses of anything stronger, I’ve taken a shine to the red stuff, consuming two, maybe three bottles of it a week. This wine ‘phase’ of mine has been particularly healthy for me. I’m no longer as dehydrated as I usually get with the 40% plus alcohol content liquor, and in appropriate quantities red wines actually supposed to be healthy for you. With all that in mind, I went on my little wine-hunt across the city. Trying and experimenting with different varieties before I found – the one!

Before all that, though let me take you through my journey of discovering this magical elixir. The first bottle of red I bought was back in university. With advice from a snobbish Englishman who lived next door, I was directed towards a tiny wine-store that was situated in the suburbs of Cardiff in Wales. A twenty-minute walk from my dorm got me there, and I left with a bottle of French Merlot. This, to me, was enough information to register in my mind regarding the bottle back then. It was also the start of what I can only describe as a decade-long love affair with Merlot. For the longest time, I drank nothing else. Sure, I’d taste other grape varietals, but when it came to ordering my own glass, I’d always choose Merlot. It didn’t matter which Chateau or vintage it came from; French Merlot undeniably did the trick.

The Oenophile in me was till then still maturing. And preferring a safe bet rather than experimenting, I stuck to this formula for what I can only now consider way too long. When I began working as an editor in Mumbai, one of the main perks that came with the job was travel. We went everywhere, sometimes for shoots, other times for trips that we called junkets – to experience different parts of the world and then pass our judgement on them in the pages of our magazine. This was when my understanding of wine truly developed. One of the first wineries I visited was the Domaine Chandon in Victoria, Australia. It was here that I learned of food and wine pairing, how somethings went better with the reds than they did with the whites. A futuristic winery, this was probably where Chandon experimented with new techniques in wine-making, liberties they could never take in France. Helicopters were used to fan away from the cold air, phylloxera was avoided using revolutionary methods, and the winemakers actually produced a sparkling red, adding bubbles to a glass of full-bodied red wine. This act would possibly be considered a crime in some parts of Europe.

Subsequent visits to wineries across the globe expanded my knowledge. I visited the Okanagan wine country in British Columbia, Canada, where the vineyards were particularly known for their Merlots and Pinot Noirs. What the vintners did with their grapes here was leaving it on the vine long enough for the sugar to naturally form during the winter months, when the grapes actually froze to the consistency of glass marbles. The wine they produced was the sweetish Ice Wine that Canada is today world-renowned for. The Summerhill Winery I visited in Kelowna there had constructed an actual pyramid, under which they aged most of their wine, claiming that the centre of energy the structure created was in some ways responsible for the magic behind their blend.

As the years passed, my brother trained himself to become a sommelier when he was working with the Four Seasons at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in LA. In him, I now had an endless encyclopedia of wine-facts that I could readily access whenever the mood to do so arose. We visited Napa Valley together, where I marvelled at the amount of art The Hess Collection had on its walls. This was also the first place I saw my first Francis Bacon painting (a triptych of the same artist recently sold at auction for US$ 84.6 million at Sotheby’s) and was introduced to the famous Laughing Man series by Chinese painter Yue Minjun. The tour of the collection culminated in a long-drawn wine and food pairing where my tea-totalling parents found themselves palming off their drinks to my brother and I.

Like other wine-lovers, I too watched Somm 1 and 2, followed by Red Obsession on Netflix. Docuseries on wine became favourites, Sour Grapes was one such movie that showed the story of Wine conman Rudy Kurniawan. An Indonesian crook who sold counterfeit wine worth millions to billionaires across America, including even industrialist Bill Koch. Something about wine traps a man’s imagination and lets him float free for just a few hours; I concluded post all this entertaining research. Further trips to Hunter Valley in Australia and Stellnbosch in South Africa only cemented my understanding of the subject. On the bucket list next are the regions of France and Italy, maybe someday when travelling is kosher again.

It was with all this baggage in my mind that I found a red that has me currently in its grip. A blend from France, this particular bottle has a black sheep on its label that’s written entirely in English (a sure shot way to label a bottle of wine for the export market claims my brother). This wine, which I shall leave nameless to avoid any commercial endorsement, was found at one of our fancy liquor marts in Jubilee Hills. Nothing overly spectacular in terms of taste, it can magically transport me into a state of euphoric happiness, forgetting all the woes of corona and the drudgery that comes along with it. Which, in the end, is the true magic of wine – an instant pick-me-up that is what the doctor has ordered for now.      -- Vishwaveer