FOOD AND DRINK: THE HINDU SUNDAY MAGAZINE/ ON BANGALORE`S WINES

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A spirited trend


PHOTO: K. MURALI KUMAR
PHOTO: K. MURALI KUMAR
It was just a matter of time before someone woke up to the fact that Bangalore’s rich, loamy soil, warm days and cool nights, its temperate climate was good, maybe even ideal, for producing the best varietals of grape. Then, of course, there was no looking back.
When you think about it, it isn’t the least surprising. Given that Bangalore’s strong liquor links date back to well before the IT hordes came swarming in, today, the fact that there are many flourishing vineyards and wineries  on the outskirts of the city and many a Bangalorean, fourth- generation or fresh off the plane/ train, is  drinking wine most happily,  will elicit only one response: salut!
The figures look good. The city holds second place in the list of wine producing places  and third place in the wine-drinking cities list. In the period from June 2012 up to June 2013, Bangalore consumed 45,000 cases which translates to 40, lakh litres of wine. Further broken down, sales of red wine constituted  the larger share of that pie, at 55 per cent, while white wine stood at 40 % and rose,  at a paltry 1-2 per cent. However, given that wine sales have been  leaping by as much as 30% in the last few years, Pub City may well become Wine City, at some point in time.
Wine renaissance
This is actually a wine renaissance. The first wave came like an elegant surge,  grandly heralded and more than a wee bit pretentious, trailing in its wake a whole new sub-caste: the wine cognoscenti, people who compared Cabernets, Merlots and Shiraz, sniffed, sipped and spat, and dispensed patronising doses of appreciation for the ambrosia under discussion. Wine and cheese evenings were all the thing. The media went mad and there was much talk of smoky aftertastes, intermixed with oak, wit and irony. Paeans were sung over many  marked- up wines, cognitive connections were made with the blushful Hippocrene. 
The hoi polloi, meanwhile, watched with a lot of interest. They then headed for the shops, picked up a bottle of whatever looked good and didn’t cost too much, (premium wines retail at upwards of Rs 500) and headed home. Sometimes they remembered to chill it, most times they drank it at room temperatures. So much for telling your rose from your blanc.  
Somewhere in all the hype, we had lost sight of the fact that basically, wine-drinking was and is, an intensely tactile experience: you drank what looked good to your eyes and tasted even better on your tongue.
Also, we were trying too hard. Unlike in parts of the West, particularly in Europe, India does not have a wine-drinking culture, notwithstanding the legends surrounding soma. If Indians drank wine, they drank it like they drank hard liquor: before sitting down to a meal.  Of course, port wines and fortified wines (sherry, Madeira, and the like) had and continue to have their own niche.
However, the times they were a-changing and naturally, things had to change too. Indians were going abroad in droves, for business and pleasure , and many of them came back with a bottle or two of wine nestled alongside the Chivas  and Glenfiddich in their duty-free bags. It was just a matter of time before someone woke up to the fact that Bangalore’s rich, loamy soil, warm days and cool nights, its temperate climate was good, maybe even ideal,  for producing  the best varietals of grape. Then, of course, there was no looking back.
Bangalore is today the third largest wine consuming city in the country after Goa and Mumbai. There are 22  and counting wineries around Bangalore across the Nandi valley, Krishna valley and Cauvery valley areas, big names like Grovers, Red Hills, Four Seasons, Heritage and the latest crimson gleam on the Bangalore horizon, the SDU Winery. The wine growers and vintners have their grouses but on the whole, a supportive government, the  licensing path made fairly tangle-free and a spatial history of being particularly sophisticated vis-a- vis liquor, all work in Bangalore’s favour.
And so, Bangalore’s vineyards  today can boast of producing Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot noir, Merlot, Pinnotage, Shiraz, Zinfadel, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc.  The Grovers are old vets, credited with having planted wine flags in Bangalore 25  years ago. Their Viognier,  made  from  Rhone  valley grape, is a perennial favourite with serious  wine drinkers. Heritage Wines produces a variety that spans Cabernet, Shiraz, Chenin Blanc, bubbly wine, even a sweet red wine, and claim to have cornered 75 % of the city`s wine market sales.
Says Kapil Grover, ``There are really only two states, Karnataka and Maharashtra,  which are important producers of wine. Of course Maharashtra leads;  they declared a wine policy almost seven  years before Karnataka, which includes subsidies to the farming community to encourage them to establish wineries. But in my opinion,  Bangalore is already a serious wine drinking city .``
Huge potential
 While some of the wineries host grape- stomping fetes, wine festivals, take groups of the curious down wine trails, hold wine education seminars, SDU’s Shambhavi  Hingorani  has decided on the straight and direct course: to stock the city’s wine shops with bottles of their Deva wine,  and let the good word get around. SDU has a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Syrah out on the shelves, 5,000 cases of easy-drinking wine made from international grape, with an Italian vintner to oversee things.  
Andréa Valentinuzzi , their wine man, hands out the bouquets and the brickbats in equal part. He scoffs at the amount of `garbage` that is sold as wine in India; even fruit vinegars which have no grape in them are labeled fruit wines, he says in a pained manner. Then he goes on to aver that wine could all too easily be the next big thing, for Bangalore and for the country, given the huge potential everyone is looking at.  
This time round, wine has acquired an exciting cache and lost all traces of intimidation. Shambhavi Hingorani of SDU says categorically, ``Bangaloreans are serious about the wine they drink. `` Indeed, Bangaloreans, young and old, are turning enthusiastic as well as discerning wine drinkers, helped along by smartphone apps and websites like Poshvine. Wine clubs there are aplenty, all of them flourishing. Wine plays a vital role in many are guided food walks. Many restaurants  and some pizzerias too, have a comprehensive wine menu. Chef Manu Chandra, Executive Chef, Olive Beach, Bangalore, LikeThatOnly and Monkey Bar,  says, " It's almost a given now for Bangaloreans to head to a nice restaurant and enjoy a few glasses if not bottles of wine, with your meal. The trend is still heavily in favour of reds over whites. This is puzzling because whites are better suited to the Indian climate, pair with a large variety of cuisines, and also perfect aperitifs, something that fits into the Indian way of drinking far better than food pairing does. Then again, the popularity of reds gives a restaurateur greater variety in terms of what he/she can add to the wine list and serve by the glass. ``


Here to stay
In its second coming, wine is  here for the long haul and Bangalore is quite definitely in  the vanguard of the movement. As Andrea says, it takes more than a decade to get a winery up and running. The elements of nature like heat, fluctuating humidity and sunlight could well play havoc with the wine-making process. Storage and transportation, too, are fraught with risks. But the vintners are learning fast on the job and the city  is cheering them on.
So,  while wine is still a market-driven drink, it is now acquiring an individual character all its own. Not as the ideal gift to give your host at a dinner party, or to serve to the ladies while the men sip their single malts. Not something to drink when you know that breath analyzer device awaits you out on the road. This is bottled effervescence, something to pour into a glass and enjoy with a dish of pasta el olio or kadai chicken.  
Indeed, Keats may well have been talking about namma Bangalore when he penned the immortal lines:
O  for a beaker full of the warm South
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim.
BOX
Wine etiquette:
Do gargle with that first mouthful so that the wine fills  the entire mouth.
Thereafter, sip, don’t gulp.
Hold the glass by the stem.
Chill your white wines. Bring it out of the fridge one hour before pouring.
Cool your red and roses.
Wine is best had with food. Better still, wine is best ordered after food is ordered.
Just drink it all up. Wine really cannot be stored too well in our climate, three months maximum.


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