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Delhi Wine Club

Young F&B Professionals Discover the Wonderful World of Wine

SOURISH BHATTACHARYYA reports about an IFE-India 2005 workshop where upcoming F&B decision-makers got a taste of the United Nations of wine

For the first time in Delhi , 60 young F&B professionals from 18 hotels and restaurants, and importers from Delhi , Mumbai and Chennai, got to hear seven international speakers articulate their thoughts on the wine business and the wine regions we know little about. At the end of the workshop, organised by the Indian Wine Academy at IFE-India 2005, the participants made interesting discoveries.

One of them, who works at the Radisson's flagship Indian restaurant, The Great Kebab Factory, for instance, found out that a Napa Valley white zinfandel (the wine we call, thanks to Sula, zinfandel blush) from Trincheros Family Estate is a perfect match for kebabs and curries. The style is drier than Sula's and the wine is a great pick-me-up. “Zinfandel is to us what Shiraz is to Australia ,” said Sarle.

Others attending the workshop, discovered the simple joy of drinking German sparkling wine ( sekt ), thanks to Renate Ferring of Herres Sekt. Said Ferring: “We drink sparkling wine when we have to celebrate and we drink it when we feel low – it helps us regain our sense of well-being.”

If selling wine is all about “selling knowledge and culture,” as Cesar Moran Merchan , one of the speakers from Spain , chose to describe his job, then, surely, in the wonderful world of wine, it's never too late to make a discovery. America , we were told by Steve Sarle of Trincheros, discovered its love for wine because restaurants actively promoted new wines by selling them by the glass. “The huge surge in consumer interest in wine is driven by the culture of wines by the glass,” Sarle reported. The US market today quaffs 300 million cases every year. And if an increasing number of young people are moving away from hard liquor, it's because American producers are using traditional European varietals to make “fruit-forward, easy-drinking, low-tannin wines.”

Likewise, Britain, to quote Nish Kotecha , whose curry-friendly Spice Trail wines topped the popularity charts for the second consecutive year, transformed from a beer-drinking to a wine-loving nation after Britons discovered the “snob factor” of wine, just as they had fallen in love with pinot grigio, “the trendiest grape variety today in the UK.” Not surprisingly, over 1,000 wine importers are serving a thirsty nation of 60 million. And there's a bigger market waiting to open up, especially for curry-friendly wines, when UK 's 8,000-plus ‘Indian' restaurants, which rake in 3.2 billion pounds sterling every year, move up the evolutionary ladder from lager to wine.

The idea behind the workshop was to address a problem that importers invariably come up against in India . Because they operate in a young wine-drinking market, Indian F&B professionals are wary of introducing new labels or promoting regions they know little about. And if they don't show much interest, importers, whose portfolios are normally crowded with labels, push some at the expense of most others.

In an increasingly crowded marketplace, where wine consumption is small but growing nonetheless, wine producers have to invest in brand recognition by their end users. As Olive Delhi's Executive Assistant Manager Anirban Sarkar reminded us the previous day, a mere 5% of guests at a fine-dining restaurant know exactly what wine to order with their meal. For the remaining 95%, the waiters double as friend, philosopher and guide.

Befittingly, the workshop was flagged off by Fritz Hasselbach , the man whose famed Rothenberg Riesling TBA scored a perfect 100 in Wine Spectator in 1992, 1996 and 2001, thereby setting a record in the wine world. The same wine got a 99 in 2003, so Hasselbach clearly doesn't believe in basking in past glory. Hasselbach's wife, Agnes, is the owner of the estate, Gunderloch in Nackenheim, 25 minutes south-west of Frankfurt Airport . It was bought by her great great-grandfather – a banker named Carl Gunderloch – in 1890.

Riesling and Germany are synonymous, but, as Hasselbach explained, you can't grow Riesling anywhere in Europe 's northernmost wine-making region. You need the right micro-climate to get the balance right – Gunderloch's wines, for instance, are low on alcohol (12%) and high on acidity, so they deliver the right amount of freshness. He made some other interesting points about his country and his wines:

  • In Germany , wines are classified according to the sweetness of grapes at the time of the harvest. The sweeter they are, the higher the quality classification.
  • Each bottle of wine carries an AP No. It signifies that the bottle has cleared by government inspectors after a blind tasting. The norms are so rigid that it took Hasselbach ten years to get the inspectors to accept oaky wines.
  • Elsewhere in Germany , most wineries subject the Riesling must to 10-12 days of fermentation in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. At Gunderloch, the time taken is 80 days to prolong the must 's contact with yeast in order to let the young wine retain the aromas and flavours of the Riesling grape. Thereafter, the wine is allowed to mature in neutral German oak barrels to enhance the aromas.

Speaking after Hasselbach, Maureen Kerleau , an Englishwoman who made France her home 30 years back, dwelt at length on Burgundy . Kerleau was most qualified to speak on the subject because her vast portfolio included an impressive selection of wines from family-owned estates in Burgundy .

Kerleau said Burgundy is a vast geographical area, stretching from north to south across 300 km from Chablis (100 km south of Paris ) to Lyons via Dijon and Beaune. The soil is mainly limestone (at Beaujolais , it is granite) and the wine styles are a lot dependent on the quality of limestone. “ Burgundy is the best example of terroir , or the correlation of climate, soil and exposure to the sun,” Kerleau said. “ Terroir is the essence of Burgundy . It is the magic mix.”

The best example of how terroir influences wine can be seen in Clos de Vougeot, the vineyard planted by Cistercian monks in the 12 th century. Today, these 50 hectares of vineyards, enclosed by stone wall ( clos ), represent Burgundy 's finest grand cru . The plots at the top of the clos , however, are finer than the ones in the middle, which are better than the frequently waterlogged clay soils at the bottom. Still, every bottle from Clos Vougeot is eligible for the same grand cru status, which, because of the French inheritance laws, is shared by 80 individuals owning tiny parcels of land. The average production per owner is just 200 cases, with a third of them producing fewer than 75 cases of wine every year.

Cesar Moran Merchan , Export Area Manager of Bodega Vina Extremena, chose to speak on behalf of Vade Mecum Bodegas as he unveiled the idea of Vinos de Autor, Wines of Author, which is being promoted by a wine house in Extremadura , Spain 's youngest Denomination of Origin (DO).

Wines of Author have certain distinctive elements of style, presentation and taste. The grape varieties aren't originally from Spain; the wines are aged for six or 12 months because “the less time wines spend in casks, the easier they are to drink, which suits young people just fine”; the two-dimensional labels are designed with care and have Braille lettering at the back for the sake of blind consumers. Clearly, these are wines designed for a new generation of aficionados, fulfilling the promise implicit in the meaning of the words Vade Mecum – ‘come with me'.

Cesar's counterpart from Vina Santa Marina, Isabel Calvache , spoke very knowledgably about Extremadura, which came as a revelation for the workshop participants, who knew little about Spain beyond La Rioja. Extremadura translates into ‘extreme and hot', which best describes the region located to the south-west of Spain on the country's border with Portugal – the harvest has to be completed in early August before the summer becomes unbearably hot. With 87,000 hectares of vineyards sprawling across six wine-producing areas, “the DO is very new, but its wine-making tradition is very old,” Calvache said. An ancient wine press has been unearthed from the Roman ruins that date back to the second century. Their unique position in Spain allows the wine-makers of Extremadura to combine the old with the new. Manual fermentation continues to be in vogue in the region. At the same time, ultra-modern technology is employed to pump water from a source 8 km away. This seamless combination of technology and tradition seems to be paying rich dividends. As Calvache pointed out, Extremadura's wines are being exported to more than 60 countries – Japan is the second-biggest market after Spain – though they have been in the world market for just three years.

Markets grow when people discover new wines. The IFE-India 2005 workshop was just the kind of first step that Indian professionals needed to take to discover a richer world beyond the crowd of entrenched labels.

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