Availability of good imported beverages has been consistently improving, not just in hotels and restaurants but even our ine shops. Yet, certain delights of the segment are taking far longer than expected to arrive here. Importers blame the F&B professionals who do not stock these.
Those in the power to place orders with importers say good imported wines do not move well enough and keeping a consistent supply chain is difficult. The consumer – those who are aware of the goods being denied just bring in their own, somehow; and others are not aware of what they are missing.
No Taste for Sweet Wines
Often that is the refrain one gets to hear. And another often repeated one is that it is difficult to pair Indian food with sweeter wines. However, in my personal experience, when a bottle of good sweet wine is opened among even moderate wine drinkers it is gone before you have a chance to even appreciate its pairing ability with food.
For those who have traveled around the world and tried different options, learning to appreciate and differentiate between excellent or good, mediocre or rubbish,
it is easy to know their palate in the wine segment. Rest of us have to learn it right here, even though wines are expensive in India. Maybe the various wine clubs and societies have to do more in this field.
Indian palate is more tuned to the sweetness and we appreciate quality as well, but lack of appreciation cannot be blamed for non availability of a particular segment. And as for pairing ability of sweet wines with food – it’s not everyday that we consume a bottle of wine on a table of four with butter chicken, seekh kebab, daal and raita! But we do think of a wine while ordering salads, entrée, main course consisting of duck, pork, cheeses, lamb and all kinds of antipasti.
Styles of Sweet Wines In rapid fire rounds where one is expected to respond to a question without taking time to consider their response, if an informed wine lover is asked to identify ‘Sweet Wines’ chances are they would say: Sauternes, Tokaj, Ice Wine and the German style (TBA) or Trockenbeerenauslese from Austria.
Premium grade dessert wines are often sold in smaller 375 ml bottles but Sauternes and Tokaj are available in the usual sizes because they are often enjoyed as an aperitif and or paired with dessert too. While each wine maker may add their individualistic touch to the way they make the wines, (a Tokaji may range from dry to intensely sweet dessert style); the aromas and complexity of these wines comes from not just the grapes but the style followed. Ageing ability of some of these wines is unbelievable, making a good vintage worthy of being kept at the right temperature for decades.
The beauty lies not just in their colour, aroma and texture but the freshness they retain despite being at times (not always) almost viscous with sugar content. The lighter versions of even late harvests of aromatic grapes like Chenin Blanc, Semillon or Sauvignon Blanc are easier to enjoy with more manageable sugar content.
Technical Bare Essentials
Irrespective of the grape used, the sweet wines need higher levels of sugar and alcohol and this is done by former leading to the latter. Removal of water from the grape to intensify the sugar and flavours is done by air drying the grapes when the climate is warmer, freezing out the water in cooler climates of in damp conditions using noble rot to desiccate the grapes. Essentially the sugar content of the grape is decided in the vineyard.
Addition of sugar or alcohol does not happen in better qualities and standard wines. Most appellations declare the various doctoring if undertaken by addition of sugar for fermentation or addition of brandy.
One of the best selections of sweet wines in Delhi is with the Imperial hotel. It is not just a coincidence that the resident Head Sommelier, Stéphane Soret, is French. With over a dozen options, it is heart warming to note the list has a fair balance between the very exclusive, expensive and a more affordable range.
A 1982 vintage of Château d’Yquem Lur-Saluces is priced at an impressive 23,500 rupees but they also do a ‘by the glass’ option of the more affordable but impressive Château Jolys Petit Manseng Jurançon. And they offer the affordable version in a measure of 75 or a 150 ml. As Stéphane emphasises ‘this is an excellent Sauternes-style wine at a fraction of the cost of a Sauternes with delicious be getting the ‘second cousin’ treatment, being almost add on for a comprehensive look. Even Brindco has five labels in their otherwise rather large wine list. Importers with smaller portfolios also tend to include at least one or two sweet wines but promoting them is another matter.
Mumbai based company, FineWinesnMore, has my personal favourite Ben Rye from the house of Donnafugata in Sicily. It is one of the five they have in their portfolio and Dharti Desai, CEO & Founder, is in agreement that given the exposure to dessert wines, Indians will understand and desire sweet wines more as, ‘our palate when it comes to spirits is conditioned towards the sweeter taste, that is why we prefer to add coke, other soft beverages or juice to our spirits.’ a wine glass with strawberries and then poured his wonderful Rosetta Malvasia! The experience and the ceremony will forever remain etched on my mind,’ she concluded.
I too remember the Vin Santo I enjoyed in Chianti with almond biscotti. And a Gewürztraminer tasted in France, though it had no dramatic ceremony but the quality was exceptional. And another one was the 1942 vintage of Chateau Belingard Monbazillac (80% Semillon with Sauvignon and Muscadelle) again in France at the winemaker’s home after a gracious dinner.
There are others including offerings from South Africa and Ice Wine from Israel, enjoyed and remembered. Their arrival and availability in India is awaited.