Thursday, December 10, 2009

The grapes of wrath

Recently I made myself unpopular by spurning a bottle of Grover’s La Reserve as “singularly undrinkable”. What I meant of course was that I didn’t like it, but in the manner of wine-drinkers dangerous with little knowledge, I made it a problem with the wine. That’s just the tip of the personality disorder.

I can’t remember when wine, for me, went from being the thing you drink at Christmas in the wrong glasses to being what you drink, period. For that matter, I couldn’t tell you when or why my “hard drink” of choice became rum and coke or gin and tonic. I’ve never been a vodka person. Then one day it was all about wine.

I didn’t even have the excuse of being in the thick of the “wine revolution”; it just happened. Suddenly I had wine racks and bottles that meant more than “red or white”. I spent ages in wine boutiques picking them out. I courted eviction by rearranging bits of my landlord’s kitchen so I could store them properly. I worried about them in Dubai’s summer humidity. I changed my food habits to accommodate them. I did a lot of research and became insufferable on the subject, especially after a few glasses of it. I got caught up in it all for a while, until the sheer number of moving parts tired me out.

When you thought you’d finally grasped the grapes, you discovered unpronounceable Hungarian varietals. Just as you got some insight into the intricacies of France’s wine-growing regions and untangled them from the broader strokes of Napa Valley, along came an Argentinean Malbec, a Spanish Rioja or a German Riesling. Australia is even larger than France and New Zealand may be small, but it’s prolific. Then India joined the fray. When South African and Lebanese friends threatened to stop inviting me, I decided to give it a rest. They gave really good parties.

There was also the constant guilt that no wine enthusiast will admit to, the feeling that if you really liked the taste it had to be sub-standard. Whenever I started feeling particularly affectionate towards one – a certain South African Pinotage comes to mind – I would abandon it in a hurry without looking too closely at my reasons. Come to think of it, that bears close resemblance to other parts of my life as well, so perhaps I shouldn’t try shoving it off on to all wine-drinkers.

I now work with the fundamental truth of “I like it, I like it not”. The fancy language work I can do all on my own, and with a glass of water if necessary. Sometimes I just drink the syrup that somebody’s uncle made from apricots. I’m a better person for it, too. Occasionally, the snottiness I imbibed with the more difficult Bordeaux and horrifyingly mature Burgundies gets the better of me and I annoy a few friends, as above, but mostly I’m very relaxed, scrupulously agreeing with whatever my hosts think of their wine.

My fascination with the deliciously metaphorical concept of terroir has endured, though. And wine glasses, I love them, particularly the large works of art in which ruby liquid can swirl like dervishes, releasing entire Impressionist landscapes. I love that bouquet, the first multisensory tasting. A fresh bottle of wine is the calm of my flat before a party, warm light on wood, the pure sound of Leonard Cohen on my Linn before it turns into something louder, tea lights burning in a Zen holder that makes them look like they’re floating in the air, just as I am suspended in the solitude. This then, is probably the attraction for me. The rum and coke is always a noisy night out, but wine is personal. All the more reason, I suppose, for keeping my judgmental reflections to myself.


Gautam said...

Heh heh. I didn't know you'd got "into" wine so much. I don't know what it is about wine... it brings out the worst in *everybody*, not just the wine drinker.

Strange co-incidence, just yesterday I'd put this snippet down:

“The chicken curry needs to be warmed up a bit more.”

“Ew, the beer’s too warm.”

“This wine needs to be chilled a little.”

All these sentences contain identical ideas: that the items we eat or drink are at their best at certain temperatures. Yet, each gets very different reactions in the living rooms of my world. The first two get no more than a quick correction—nothing thought of it. The wine request though immediately causes hackles to rise. You automatically become an “insufferable wine snob”. Why don't I become a chicken curry snob?


Also puzzling is how many self-titled wine aficionados go on about "peppery finishes" and loamy soils and then serve you slopping glasses of red wine that's literally at room temperature... in summer in Bangalore. Heck I don't even like wine, but how long does it take to look up how cold it should be when you serve it??

Me Again said...

I have no idea why I hypenated coincidence!

the real nick said...

unpronounceable Hungarian varietals
surely you don't mean 'vörös bor 'Egri Bikavér'?
(the red wine 'Bull's blood') - which, actually, is quite drinkable!

I personally stopped whoring around for ever new olfactory sensations and have stuck to one or two varieties that I like. It's more like smoking your brand.

Anonymous said...

For me rum and water cold or uncold is always welcome. That does not mean that young people take to the habit,after a certain age, is correct, any thing taken in,(into the ailementary canal,in the human body,not the Coovam of Chennai)has to be checked first. Rum if it has come out of a known distillery is OK, meaning its healthy....Of course if taken in moderate doses like me. dont any of you say "ha ha ha " love, achan

kavita adhikari said...


I didn't know you were so much into wines... Robin (my bf) is a wine tater.. someday we could have a wine tasting session with him:) and also Nasik has a beautiful bungalow amidst the vineyards, which has a tasting room in it! :) maybe next December holidays ;-)

Anonymous said...

Are you confusing being a wine expert and a wine lover ? Its pretty straightforward really: a wine expert is able to recognize notes a non-expert is unable to...and why not, they are trained and have trained themselves to do so. A wine drinker/lover on the other hand drinks the wine he/she likes and discards the rest. After all taste buds on the edges of my tongue will never be the same as anothers.
What one should avoid being is, and this is true of all things, what one is not.
Here's a recent discovery; Monastrell/Shiraz blend, from Barahonda (Spain), recomended. Don't really care if anyone else likes it...but will listen to responses.

Purnima said...

So, I took a wines class at Cornell's hotel school (arguably the finest hotel school in the world, save the one in Lausanne). Anyway, the essence of the course, as put by the instructor, was to introduce us to different wines around the world so that we could find what we liked, and like it with confidence. So, there you go - you have it from the wine gurus at that hotel school - "drink what you like because life is too short to drink what someone else thinks you should like". :-)

Me, I love my riesling, sauvignon blanc and lighter reds, and unoaked chardonnays from France. And I hate California chardonnays for most part, and so life goes...


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