Before MetroPlus Weekend was launched in February 2008, I frantically tried to locate a wine writer. All I could come up with was a very short shortlist. A few names on it were already wine columnists for other newspapers. There were doubts whether the rest on the list would be able to deliver regularly.
Fine Wine began in the belief it would exist for a fleeting two or three months, or until a wine columnist could be found. But that never happened, and largely I think because of the paucity of wine writers in the country. The column’s unintended longevity never ceases to surprise me since the column seems continuously as if it is on life support. The search for new subjects is a constant struggle.
The feeling Ian Jack, the Guardian’s weekly columnist described as “pure freezing terror” in an interview with this newspaper, is familiar to all columnists as the deadline approaches. What can I write about? Would it be interesting?
If anything, this feeling is even worse when it comes to wine in India. Subjects are not easy to find — how many tastings, for instance, are organised in a year in any Indian city? Not a lot. What access does one have to the world’s best wines? Very little. From the wine corner, the current affairs space looks spaciously unproblematic –— it is in the very nature of politics and politicians to feed off controversies and, in turn, provide fodder for columns.
Still, it’s been fun to write this accidental column, which has been a constant process of learning. You can master your single malts in a couple of years, but wine is a lifetime’s education.
In its short span, the column has received an award, has provided the confidence to initiate the moves to found a wine club, and has earned an invitation to be a judge at the Sommelier India Wine Challenge in Mumbai. Last fortnight, I spent an entire day tasting many flights of wines on a panel headed by no less than Steven Spurrier — an experience that was tiring but instructive.
But what has been the most gratifying is that new friendships that have been struck and old ones renewed. In a way, the fiercest critics — those that savage the column and then appear horrified when you tell them you are planning to give it up — have been its best friends.
I received a dressing down from one reader who believed a particular column rubbished Zinfandels and was “distressed” enough to advise me to “recalibrate my Zin palate.” We meet for the odd drink now (but he is still to deliver on his promise of gifting me an unforgettable bottle of Sonoma Zin).
Another reader emailed me a list of columns ranked in three categories (indifferent, middling and good) — a classification that was revealing and, in a way, very comforting, as it showed there was at least one thorough reader. Yet another, who lives with her husband in New York, picks it off the web and is sometimes ready with a response even before the column is in print. She can be blunt, but she is always fair. Closer home, my friend Arjun seems to believe he knows the mood and spirit in which each column is written. Typical SMS responses go something like this — ‘Obviously, written in haste’, ‘Too much to drink last night?’
The responses to the column have been mixed, but at least there are responses — something that have helped to keep Fine Wine going. The column is still in search of a wine writer. Meanwhile, it will have to make do with me.