Life is too short to drink bad wine!
Alok Chandra tracks down some good wines that are also affordable.
Good wines tell a story of the land where the grapes were grown and of the winemaker's skill in turning those grapes into something memorable.
A wonderful anecdote about this comes from Aesop's fable of The Old Woman and the Wine-Jar.
'An old woman found an empty jar, which had lately been full of prime old wine, and which still retained the fragrant smell of its former contents.'
'She greedily placed it several times to her nose, and drawing it backwards and forwards said, "O most delicious! How nice must the Wine itself have been, when it leaves behind in the very vessel which contained it so sweet a perfume!"'
What constitutes a 'good' wine?
I prefer reds, and an inky colour presages a good wine.
The aroma should leap out of the wineglass and seduce the drinker with its complexity: Fruit, nuts, spice, and wood, all blended together into something evocative of both the grape and wine-making.
It should allow you to plumb new depths after swirling the wine, allowing it to breathe.
Sipping it should confirm what the nose has already told you about the wine: That it's a full-bodied libation, dry, with the complexity translating to the palate, and lingering there long after you've actually swallowed the liquid, leaving you yearning for more.
The 'goodness' of wines is measured in various ways, ranging from a simple five point scale (ordinary, good, very good, excellent, outstanding) to the 100 point rating used by Wine Spectator where anything below 80 points is considered undrinkable; 80 to 84 points is considered 'good'; 85 to 89 points is 'very good'; 90 to 94 points is 'excellent'; and 95-100 points is 'outstanding'.
Quite a few wines get 100 points (my search turned up 23 Bordeaux 100-pointers, including a 2005 Chateau Ausone St Emilion priced at $2,000, but only four Burgundies -- with the 2005 Romanée-Conti is billed at $3,000!).
It's unfortunate that we rarely have good wine -- many people settle for low-priced mediocre wine, opting for fiscal prudence over hedonistic gratification.
But life is too short to drink bad wine.
While I don't advocate spending an arm and a leg for Premier Cru Bordeaux at every occasion, there are a host of good wines available at more reasonable prices.
So, what are the highest-rated wines available in India?
Some of the top hotels have terrific wines at terrific prices, so let's see what's available in retail stores.
Here we're faced with a conundrum: since ratings vary by vintage, and few of the winelists at retail carry vintages, how does one determine quality?
The only importer I know who indicates both vintages and ratings is Mumbai-based Wine Park, so I'll list some of the 'good' wines from their portfolio:
- Man Family Wines Skaapveld Shiraz 2014 (South Africa): Wine Spectator -- 87 points. Rs 1,733 in Bengaluru.
An open, easy style, with soft-edged plum and blackberry fruit, carried by hints of anise. Shows modest toast on the finish.
- Querciabella Toscana Mongrana 2012 (Italy): Wine Spectator -- 88 points. Rs 3,017 in Bengaluru/
Shows richness and well-defined black cherry, blackberry, leather and tobacco flavours. An intertwined mineral element persists on the finish.
- Saint Clair Pinot Noir Marlborough 2014 (New Zealand): Wine Spectator -- 90 points. Rs 3,297 in Bengaluru.
Creamy, with cola and clove details to the plum and wild blackberry core.
Rich, fleshy tannins and a sarsaparilla note gain on the finish, accented by a touch of chai tea.
Alok Chandra is a Bengaluru-based wine consultant.