Dec 27: You may not need a Ph.D. in excise laws to understand them in Delhi but it needs a person with an attuned brain to comprehend or make sense of local wine policy, with just one example to illustrate that if one organises a wine and spirits festival or Show in an exhibition ground one needs to apply for P-11 license for display and tasting only for the labels not registered but if you organise it in a hotel, only the labels already registered may be opened for tasting, diagonally apart, says Subhash Arora
At a Show held recently in town to showcase wines and spirits, the big dilemma came to the forefront when the excise department expressed its inability to give the license to showcase and taste wines that were registered already in Delhi. That precluded over 60% of the wines that could have been presented and tasted!! The reasoning given was rather unpalatable. The Exhibitions are not booze parties where wines and spirits that are already selling in the city should be present!
In fact, ‘tasting’ has not been defined in the policy precisely and has been left vague, leaving it to the discretion of the excise personnel. I was shocked when I saw some excise officials opine that the wine served was too much for tasting. This when I was complaining that the quantity served was too little to do justice to the tasting and enabling the taster to get the full story about the wine in the bottle.
Let me explain a bit about wine tasting. Having tasted at 65 international tasting competitions, representing India at many places, might not qualify me as a top level international taster but I know enough about the process of tasting to judge the quality. The quantity served varies generally from 20 mL to 60 mL. The taster/wine judge is expected to take a big sip in the mouth (perhaps 15-20 mL) swirl and swish on the palate, in order to note the aroma/bouquet, flavour, alcohol level, sweetness, complexity and other characteristics like the ageing potential and most importantly the balance of various components before spitting out in the spittoon. If the full nuance is not recorded, the same process has to be repeated with another sip. For an experienced taster not more than 2-3 drops should go through the gullet! I have often tasted 100 wines or more in a day with no problem.
It is also natural that a lot of wine is wasted in the process. Spitoonfuls are thrown away at such tastings in the international wine shows with professionals tasting several wines in each stand, the producer tasting along and discussing various aspects. It is also explicit in wine tastings that different vintages have different characteristics because of different climate conditions during the growing season. There are even Vertical Tastings where different vintages for the same label are tasted to evaluate and compare the same wine in different years. I remember an important tasting in Piedmont where the producer opened over 12 bottles just for me and the market value of the bottle was collectively above Rs. 400,000. But the producer did not hesitate as he wanted me to taste the complete range. The rest of the wine could be used for tasting the same day or perhaps finished at the dinner table!
Compare this situation with a similar exhibition if it were held in a hotel where a different license P-10 is required to display and taste wines. Here ONLY the wines that are registered to be sold in Delhi may be presented at this event! This precludes new producers in India and overseas. Since wine buying is a process that includes tasting, the smaller producers who have not yet registered their labels are excluded. How would they be able to sell their wines in Delhi…ever?!
The two situations are extremes and clearly incomprehensible and unpalatable to any wine professional. But this is Delhi Excise- an enigma! Of course, as I have always maintained, the government dealing with the laws comprises people who are perhaps not yet fully aware of the nuances of wine drinking and how the market operates and how things work internationally for a product that has a living history of hundreds and even thousands of years.
Let us hope better sense prevails and things get more rational at the Excise office and like a few slow welcome changes in the recent past, the things do get better….and this excise department is not an enigma any more.
I would raise a toast to that day and say Jai Ho!!
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