The author looks into the wine renaissance in Bangalore.

This is actually a wine renaissance. The first wave came to Bangalore like an elegant surge, grandly heralded and more than a wee bit pretentious, trailing in its wake a whole new sub-caste: the wine cognoscenti. People who compared Cabernets, Merlots and Shiraz, sniffed, sipped and spat, and dispensed patronising doses of appreciation for the ambrosia under discussion.

The hoi polloi, meanwhile, watched with interest. They then headed for the shops, picked up a bottle of whatever looked good and didn’t cost too much, (premium wines retail at upwards of Rs. 500) and headed home. Sometimes they remembered to chill it; more often they drank it at room temperature. So much for telling your rosé from your blanc.

When you think about it, it isn’t the least surprising. Bangalore’s links with strong liquor date back to well before the IT hordes came swarming in. So the fact that today, there are many flourishing vineyards and wineries on the outskirts of the city, and that many a Bangalorean is happily drinking wine, will elicit only one response: salut!

The figures look good. The city holds second place in the list of wine producers and third place among wine-drinkers (after Goa and Mumbai). From June 2012 up to June 2013, Bangalore consumed 45,000 cases, which translates to 40 lakh litres of wine. Further broken down, sales of red wine constituted the larger share of that pie (at 55 per cent), while white wine stood at 40 per cent and rosé at a meagre one or two per cent. However, given that wine sales have been growing by as much as 30 per cent in the last few years, Pub City may well become Wine City, at some point.

Somewhere in all the hype, we lost sight of the fact that wine-drinking was, and is, an intensely tactile experience: you drank what looked good to your eyes and tasted even better on your tongue. India does not have a wine-drinking culture, notwithstanding the legends surrounding soma. If Indians drank wine, they drank it like they drank hard liquor: before sitting down to a meal. Of course, port wines and fortified wines (sherry, Madeira, and the like) had and continue to have their own niche.

However, it was just a matter of time before someone woke up to the fact that Bangalore’s rich, loamy soil, warm days and cool nights, its temperate climate was good, maybe even ideal, for producing the best varietals of grape.

There are at least 22 wineries around Bangalore across the Nandi valley, Krishna valley and Cauvery valley areas; big names like Grovers, Red Hills, Four Seasons, Heritage and, the latest, SDU Winery. The wine growers and vintners have their grouses but, on the whole, the government is supportive, the licensing path fairly tangle-free and a spatial history of being particularly sophisticated vis-à-vis liquor, all work in Bangalore’s favour.

And so, Bangalore’s vineyards today can boast of producing Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot noir, Merlot, Pinotage, Syrah, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc. The Grovers are old vets, credited with having planted wine flags in Bangalore 25 years ago. Their Viognier, made from Rhone valley grape, is a perennial favourite with serious wine drinkers. Heritage Wines produces a variety that spans Cabernet, Syrah, Chenin Blanc, bubbly wine, even a sweet red wine, and claim to have cornered 75 per cent of the city’s wine market sales. “There are really only two states, Karnataka and Maharashtra, which are important producers of wine,” says Kapil Grover. “Of course Maharashtra leads; they declared a wine policy almost seven years before Karnataka, including subsidies to the farming community to encourage them to establish wineries. But, in my opinion, Bangalore is already a serious wine drinking city.”

While some of the wineries host grape-stomping fetes and wine festivals or take groups down wine trails, and hold wine education seminars, SDU’s Shambhavi Hingorani has decided on the straight course: stock the city’s wine shops with bottles of their Deva wine, and let the word get around. SDU has a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Syrah out on the shelves, 5,000 cases of easy-drinking wine made from international grape, with an Italian vintner to oversee things.

Andréa Valentinuzzi, their wine man, hands out the bouquets and the brickbats in equal part. He scoffs at the amount of ‘garbage’ that is sold as wine in India; even fruit vinegars that have no grape in them are labelled fruit wines, he says in a pained manner. Then he goes on to aver that wine could all too easily be the next big thing, for Bangalore and for the country.

Shambhavi Hingorani of SDU says categorically, “Bangaloreans are serious about the wine they drink.” Wine clubs are aplenty, all of them flourishing. Wine plays a vital role in many are guided food walks. Many restaurants and some pizzerias too, have a comprehensive wine menu. Chef Manu Chandra, Executive Chef, Olive Beach, Bangalore, LikeThatOnly and Monkey Bar, says, “It’s almost a given now for Bangaloreans to head to a nice restaurant and enjoy a few glasses, if not bottles of wine, with your meal. The trend is still heavily in favour of reds over whites. This is puzzling because whites are better suited to the Indian climate, pair with a large variety of cuisines, and also perfect aperitifs, something that fits into the Indian way of drinking far better than food pairing does. Then again, the popularity of reds gives a restaurateur greater variety in terms of what he/she can add to the wine list and serve by the glass.”

In its second coming, wine is here for the long haul and Bangalore is definitely in the vanguard of the movement. As Andrea says, it takes more than a decade to get a winery up and running. The elements of nature like heat, fluctuating humidity and sunlight could well play havoc with the wine-making process. Storage and transportation, too, are fraught with risks. But the vintners are learning fast on the job and the city is cheering them on.

So, while wine is still a market-driven drink, it is now acquiring an individual character all its own. Not as the ideal gift to give your host at a dinner party, or to serve to the ladies while the men sip their single malts. Not something to drink when you know that breath analyzer device awaits you out on the road. This is bottled effervescence, something to pour into a glass and enjoy with a dish of pasta el olio or kadai chicken.

Indeed, Keats may well have been talking about namma Bangalore when he penned the immortal lines:

O for a beaker full of the warm South

Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,

With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,

And purple-stained mouth;

That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,

And with thee fade away into the forest dim.

Wine etiquette:

Do gargle with that first mouthful so that the wine fills the entire mouth.

Thereafter, sip, don’t gulp.

Hold the glass by the stem.

Chill your white wines. Bring it out of the fridge one hour before pouring.

Cool your red and roses.

Wine is best had with food. Better still, wine is best ordered after food is ordered.

Just drink it all up. Wine really cannot be stored too well in our climate, three months maximum.

kumar.sheila@gmail.co