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Blog : Need of an Oenosanctuary for Wine Lovers

Posted: Tuesday, 23 February 2016 18:20


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Blog: Need of an Oenosanctuary for Wine Lovers

Feb 23: The excise laws for storage of liquor in the house have been restrictive in India because of correct reasons so far as the low-end booze is concerned but they need to be much more liberalised in case of high quality wines which invariably mature in a bottle and are a thing of beauty not only for the palate but also a joy for Collectors of all types for whom they may be like pieces of precious jewellery

Click For Large ViewThe current edition of L’Écho du Moulin, the print newsletter sent regularly to me by Champagne Cattier, producers of the iconic Armand de Brignac Champagne,  talks of ‘Oenosanctuary,’ warning that this is not a term in the dictionary- but has an obvious connotation.

The Article writes about a wine connoisseur named  Michel Jack Chasseuil who collects prestigious wines and spirits. Stored in a labyrinth of his underground cellars containing appellations from all over the world, the rare and old vintages and bottles of all sizes, he has a stupendous collection- and all this he has managed to collect during the last  35 years out of savings from his salary in a senior management job.

It all began in the early 80s when Michel Chasseuil, who worked for an aviation company, used one of his bonuses to buy a few cases of Petrus, which was still affordable in those days. His passion soon  turned into obsession for buying the best vintages of the finest wines and spirits.

Today, he’s the proud owner of the finest private cellar in the world, containing over 40,000 bottles, claims the article. Thousands of cases of inestimable value stored meticulously, in ideal conditions, in an underground labyrinth. Michel knows the story of each bottle. A tour of his treasure is a fabulous journey through the most wonderful vineyards, whose story he tells with great passion.

Needless to say, he also owns Armand de Brignac from Champagne Cattier- a Jeroboam (Double Magnum) of it. That is the crux of the Article. However, there is no such thing as an Oenosanctuary-neither the word not what it is supposed to imply, in India.

In the takiyanoossi  (old fashioned) India,  most States still follow the policy based on liquor storage and with no special consideration for wine storage as a collector’s item for passionate people like Chasseuil.  In Mumbai one is allowed to keep only two bottles of liquor in the house. The excise minister of Maharashtra is kindly considering to increase the number allowed to 12 according to a recent report in the press-of no consequence to him.

According to a newspaper report,  ExciseMinister of Maharashtra Eknath Khadse concedes,  "So far, we have allowed storage of only two bottles at home. We found that due to this stringent restriction, people were illegally storing liquor at home. Now, we are in the process of enhancing the limit from 2 to 12 bottles. In addition, against the permitted capacity of 750ml, we have enhanced it to 1 Liter since most imported liquor is sold in 1 liter bottles," said Khadse. (Apparently there is no differentiation between liquor or wine bottles for the government as he refers only to liquor and the size of 1 liter. Wine is generally available at 750 mL bottles or magnum only).

Our Capital City Delhi is much more liberal and  allows the storage of 18 liters of alcohol. But the categorisation is  not very clear. If you look at  it allows:

  Foreign liquor whether imported or made in India :   18 litres
  Beer/wine (mild drinks) whether imported or made in India :   36 litres
  Cider :   9 litres
  Country liquor :   3 litres

It does not clarify whether wine and liquor are separate entities. One may reasonably assume that 18 liters of liquor AND 36 liters (48 bottles of wine- or the equivalent beer) are allowed to be kept at the residence of one family. Again it is not clarified if an earning adult son or a daughter living in the same house and married (or unmarried) counts as a part of the same family or has an independent status. Very likely Michel Jack Chasseuil would not be a happy person living even in Delhi with his huge collection.

Click For Large ViewThe neighbouring Haryana allows individuals to stock 6 bottles of country liquor; 18 bottles of IMFL including 6 bottles that may be of foreign origin, 12 bottles (650 ml) of beer, 6 bottles of rum, 12 bottles of wine and 6 bottles of vodka/gin/cider. For details, you may check out a related Article in Indian Express or the excise website of the State.

Nearby, Punjab allows households to stock only 2 bottles of liquor, 1 case of beer, 2 bottles of imported liquor, 2 bottles of country-made liquor and a bottle of brandy. It’s amusing that there is no mention of wine but Brandy is allowed to be stored-at least that solitary bottle.

Of course, if you want to store more quantities you may apply for a license and store as many as possible without any penalty, provided you buy the annual license which must be applied for through a licensed outlet. What I find amusing is that there is hardly any mention of wine and that the license applicant has to submit the annual Income Tax Return with the application every year, along with a less intrusive affidavit of not having been convicted of specified crimes in the previous 5 years.

We need to revamp the laws in order to allow a liberal storage of wine. There can be checks that it was purchased either abroad and brought as a duty-free item or a present or from the Indian producers as a present. There should be proper receipt as evidence of purchase/ personal baggage from an overseas trip. It might be worth mentioning 2 liters of liquor/wine. With wine being in 750 mL packs, there is always some ambiguity with 3 bottles in the suitcase. (Customs are quite decent about it and allow that).

Fortunately, there is no law about storage (like it must be stored at room temperature-certainly applicable for whisky, rum, gin and other liquors). Irrespective of which state you store your wines in, or the colour and style of your wines, it is best to store them at 13-15˚ C. If you don’t have a wine cooler, keep in a cool corner of the house, away from light, and in any case not over 25˚ deg C when the wine starts deteriorating fast- or under 5˚C when you might find the cork popping out soon.

The increased number of wines if allowed to store might give you your very own Oenosanctuary, with 2 bottles, 20 or 200!  On your next visit overseas you could also bring a bottle of Armand de Brignac Ace of Spades Champagne from Champagne Cattier for $345 and feel like the well-known rapper –Jay Z who bought the label to rival Cristal that he once popularised and later fell out with and drinks the moniker as his first choice.

Subhash Arora

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Tags: L’Écho du Moulin, Champagne Cattier, Armand de Brignac Champagne, Oenosanctuary, Michel Jack Chasseuil, Armand de Brignac, Eknath Khadse


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