So there’s this tale about a Brigadier from the Indian Border Security Force who suavely asked for a glass of wine with his meal. “White or red?” the waiter asked, as waiters do. “Red,” he said, adding helpfully, “with ice and soda.”
The story, told by Arindam Kunar, General Manager, at the glittering launch of ‘Terroir: The Madras Wine club” amid sparkling glasses of Kir Royale, fresh oysters and Casino Royale-style dressing, evoked a ripple of laughter. After all, in just about ten years India’s swish set’s moved rather rapidly from the whisky-soda/rum-and-coke route to the rarefied world of oaked complexity, where the finish is crucial and appellation isn’t the name of a heavy metal band. A world where strawberries can be forward, vanilla elegant and in which smoke, minerals and herbs commune within a single glass. Where it’s essential to swirl your glass and use your nose to really savour the romance of a product that manages to capture sunshine, soil and rain, and distil them into a vintage with more than a hundred descriptions, a dozen flavours and a single, distinct personality.
Which is why Terroir is such an appropriate name for a club that’s dedicating itself to unravelling the complexities of wine. Captain Arjun Nair, president of the club, said the club grew out of an informal discussion between friends over glasses of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Terroir, he added, denotes the characteristics that geography bestows on wine. The club, he said, is a loose association of individuals who will be meeting for lectures and wine-tasting to learn, share and develop information on wine.
Over a glass of elegant Chateau Belair Saint Emilion 1999, resounding with big flavours and rich fruits, Sudhir Rao, treasurer, added that the club’s objective is to really develop a culture of leisurely appreciation of fine wine in the city. Secretary Sabu Balagopal, in many ways the catalyst for its formation, hoped that this launch would provide the platform for the club to grow in strength.
After all, as Reva Singh, Editor of Sommelier India, who came from Delhi for the event, pointed out, wine clubs are gaining momentum and popularity across the country. There currently are three in Delhi, and one each in Chandigarh, Bangalore and now Chennai. Some are exclusive, some commercial. She’s even a member of a wine club exclusively for women.
Aman Dhall, Executive Director of Brindco (India’s biggest wine importing company) swirled glasses and compared notes with the gathering, as they flitted between France, Italy, Australia, Chile, Spain and Portugal tasting 37 high-end wine labels, of which 12 were Grand Cru — all supplied by Brindco.
While no one could have possibly tried the entire range, which stood in alluring clutches grouped according to country, under lush decorative grapes, pretty cheese arrangements and suitably swish canapés, it was certainly a fabulous opportunity to compare flavours, pick up some appropriately impressive wine terminology and learn about vintage.
Among the staggering good wines were the two dark and brooding Bordeaux (Chateau Belair and Dourthe AOC Range: Margaux), a stunningly sensuous Pinot Noir (Maison Louis Latour Pommard), a vibrant and fruity Super Tuscan (Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi ‘Mormoreto’) and an astonishingly powerful Amarone (Speri) suffused in the aromas of chocolate and dark spice.
Discussing how India has been opening up to wine over the past ten years, Aman mentioned that India has some 55 wineries apart from well known names such as Sula and Grover.
While some of these players are essentially “dream makers — farmers turned winemakers who don’t really have the technical know how” — he maintains that the best Indians wines can now hold their own in any blind tasting, with entry level international brews.
Have a problem with knowledgably swapping notes on pepper, bark and the feisty spirit of lemons in a glass? Arindam Kunar promised to make wine more accessible by eventually introducing it at the Coromandel, priced like Coke, or mineral water. Which prompted a member to call out, “And can we quote you on that?” Apparently, we can.