Misha Dave is consulting as a wine enthusiast with Polo Club, The Oberoi, Bengaluru for two months and you can catch her with some fantastic insights into wines and some great deals too every Wednesday evening at The Oberoi.
What is your opinion of wine in India?
It is an exciting time for wine in India, both from a consumer and production perspective.
Indian vineyards are now starting to experiment with grape varietals and techniques –with some interesting wine coming from Hampi, the Solapur district of Maharashtra, and from right here in Karnataka. It is a capital intensive endeavor to cultivate vineyards and pioneer wines in a country which is not traditionally a wine producing region – but that is the promise of New World wines – yes it will take years for the industry to mature, but it has much promise, and has already grown so much.
As consumers we should be supporting local– local agriculture includes wines – it is good for the environment to support local, and is the primary way we will help shape the industry to respond to our fine and diverse palettes and help it grow in positive directions.
As Indians are experimenting with different cuisines, traveling, living around the world, their understanding and experience with wine is increasing dramatically. I do not believe in an “Indian palette.” I often hear this term, that Indians appreciate very sweet, full, bold, and heavily oaked/spiced wines– people around the world have diverse palette, and Indians are no exception – we can easily appreciate delicate flavours, crisp, more acidic Old World style wines as well as the sweeter/heavier ones - so the wine and hospitality industry needs to respond to that diversity.
Indian food and wine: Dos and Don'ts?
There are certain styles of wine that do pair more harmoniously with spicy Indian cuisines – the key is to select wines that enhance the flavours in your dish, and not overpower it and vice versa.
Spicy cuisines do not lend well to very tannic or spicy wines – instead, opt for cleaner, crisper, less tannic, lighter wines; or wines with a certain level of sweetness/honeyed finish that will balance out spice.
I once won an award at a food and wine pairing competition, where I was competing with more meat and cheese based euro-centric pairings. I paired a very spicy aloo tiki with mint-coriander chutney, and tamarind sauce (both sweet and spicy) – with a beautiful honeyed late harvest Riesling from the Mosel region in Germany. It was a gold match – the sweetness of the wine balanced out the heat from the dish, and the heat and layers of flavours really enhanced the wine.
Other suggestions for grape varietals to pair with Indian cuisine: off-dry Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer (interesting pairing because of rose aromas from the wine and its sweetness), and Pinot Noir.
Pinot Noir is my go to red wine for Indian cuisine pairing. Last night at our Wine Wednesday’s at the Polo Club at the Oberoi, we had a flight that included a smokey, forest floor fragrant Chinkara Pavillion Pinot Noir from South Australia. This is an example of a light bodied, fragrant and delicate wine, low in tannins but well structured – which pairs nicely with most Indian cuisines – do try it next time you are at the Oberoi, it is lovely. Take a deep sniff and be transported.
How did you first get interested in wine?
I have always been interested in all things fermented – wine, beer, spirits, even kombucha!
Having been raised in the beautiful and diverse city of Montreal, known for good food and wine, I was lucky to have access to fine wines from around the world from a very young age (don’t tell my parents but I started developing my Sommelier “nose” at 16). I also spent years traveling the world, taking wine courses, experimenting and experiencing local cuisines, hosting countless wine and dinner parties, so my appreciation for wine went hand in hand with a passion for travel, food, wine knowledge and people.
To build on that passion, I moved to India, where the potential is limitless. I am immersing myself in the wine community, building a community of friends and oenophiles and have started The Polished Thief (thepolishedthief.com), a consultancy to be able to work in my passion, curate wine and spirits tastings, events, design cellars, train stewards and help enhance wine appreciation in India.
How can a novice recognise good wine. Any tips?
Firstly, try to identify what flavours (e.g. fruits, florals, spices, tannins, acidity) you appreciate in wine, and what are the styles that appeal to you the most – spend time recognizing what wine characteristics you like. Then research the benchmark regions of the world for those grape varietals and styles, and select wines in those styles accordingly. For example, I rather enjoy a good Malbec. A Malbec from the Mendoza region is an excellent benchmark Malbec – and so the next time I shop for a bottle, I keep that in mind.
And of course, taste, taste taste! The more you taste wines, attend tastings events, the more your nose and palette recognizes and retains wine memory of flavours and styles. This wine “memory” will be key in identifying a poorer quality wine as well.
Aromas: if your wine smells like wet dog, or has an “off” aroma – it may likely be corked (spoiled wine).
Ideally what you smell should translate beautifully into what you are tasting – for example, the fruits and florals and spices you sniff should showcase through or be enhanced in the taste and finish.
Balance: Good wine has good balance or structure. That is none of the aspects of alcohol, acidity, tannins, or sweetness of fruit should be at the forefront and take over the entire show – it should be well balanced, with each component going well with the other and together producing a harmonious flavour.
Depth and Finish:
A good wine will have flavours that are layered, and often complex. I still appreciate a clean single varietal that is not over oaked or “treated” but even a classic clean varietal will have delicate layers of fruit, floral, and other components of flavour and aroma. A good test is to be able to identify the number of aromas of flavours – if you are only recognizing 1 or 2, and if those flavours are only fruit, then it may not be a good sign. Also depth of wine is showcase as the wine breathes and is sipped over the night or over the course of a meal – a good wine will develop more or different aromas and flavours over the evening as you swirl and sip, and drink it with your meal.
And lastly the length of finish is a good indicator of quality. The finish should not only be pleasant but should extend for a period of time. If the flavours of the finish dissipate quickly in seconds after a sip, then it generally is not a good wine. If you can still taste the wine after a while – what we call a medium or long finish – then it is likely a good wine.
So recognise your style and grape preference, research benchmarks, taste taste taste, identify pleasant, complex or off aromas and flavours, recognize good balance, depth and a medium to long finish.
Polo Club, The Oberoi, MG Road, Bangalore