From: J U G U L A R V E I N
Just for kicks
My friend Reva – editor and publisher of Sommelier India, the country’s first and, so far only, wine magazine – is puzzled. So, presumably, is Sharad Pawar who, according to popular report, owns acres and acres of grape-producing vineyards in the Nashik region. And so would have been Thomas Jefferson, who remarked that no people who drank wine and beer in preference to hard liquor would ever find themselves in dire need of applying en masse for membership to Alcoholics Anonymous. All these very different people are – or in Jefferson’s case, were – advocates of the civilised practice of enjoying the occasional glass of wine. To them, and many others like them, wine does not represent the demon drink. Far from it. Wine is a lyric in liquid form, music turned into moisture, a rhapsody played on the palate. So, how come, they ask, don’t more Indians drink wine? Dry days, punitive excise duties and economic downturns notwithstanding, the sales of whisky, rum, vodka, gin and brandy show no signs of decline. On the contrary, they get higher and higher, as presumably do the customers of these products. But, by and large, wine remains a no-no among India’s drinking glasses.
And the reason for this is simple: the idiom of wine is all wrong. When asked to ‘nose’ a wine you aren’t meant to snort the stuff up your nostril, like snuff, but rather to inhale its ‘bouquet’, or the smell it gives off. Or when your host urges you admire the ‘legs’, don’t gawp around looking for the young female in the micro-mini; the ‘legs’ are the streaks of wine which adhere to the side of the glass when you tilt it. A wine said to have an ‘excellent finish’ is not an invitation to grab the bottle by the neck and swig it down till empty in record time; ‘finish’ denotes the lingering aftertaste that the wine leaves in your mouth. ‘Well-structured tannins’ don’t refer to generously endowed bikini-clad sunbathers bronzing themselves on a beach but to the acidic elements, which add complexity to the wine. And no, a ‘complex vintage’ is not a senior citizen in need of psychiatric care but a wine which has matured and gained subtle nuances of taste with age.
In short, wine talks too much. Or rather, people talk too much about it. This was brought home to me succinctly some years ago at a Haryana liquor vend when i was buying a bottle of Bosca (which in Haryanvi is pronounced ‘Bose-ka’). In those days Bose-ka was the only Indian wine available, and which, as a wine, made for an admirable varnish remover. A fellow customer buying an Auntie Kooty (not a female relative but a brand of local whisky, namely Antiquity, the second most preferred drink in Haryana after Arkoolis rum, known to the outside world as Hercules rum) looked at my bottle of Bose-ka and asked ‘Usme kick-shick hai?’ (Does it have kick-shick?)
In a single sentence that unsung Haryanvi had summed up the fatal flaw in the wine marketing strategy in India: never mind your noses, and legs, and fruity bouquets and rare vintages. Where was the kick-shick quotient? If Reva, and Sharadji, and others, are serious about popularising wine culture in India, they have to address the issue of the kick-shick, which is the main – some would say the only – reason why people drink in India, or at least in Haryana, where men are men, and don’t care who knows it. Tanninsshannins. Show us the kick-shick.
To be a success, in Haryana anyway, wines should be rated by the kick they provide. A mild, low-kick wine should be given a ‘One Mule’ rating, a stronger wine be given a ‘Two Mule’ grade, and a real pehalwan super-strong wine be accorded a ‘Three Mule’ status. And an appropriate name for them? What else but Chauteau di Khachchar ki Laat?