Choos­ing the right la­bel

There are new pre­mium wines on the mar­ket. Choos­ing them can be tricky, un­less you know how to

Business Traveller (India) - - CONTENTS - WORDS PETER McCOMBIE

Wine is such a ver­sa­tile drink, pro­duced all over the world, from hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent grape va­ri­eties, made in a myr­iad of styles and drunk by peas­ants and bil­lion­aires alike. The sheer range of styles and prices can make it hard to know what to choose. If you want to drink the best wine, it is not easy to know from where to start.

The qual­ity of wine can­not be judged un­til the wine bot­tle's cork is pulled out, which is rarely pos­si­ble be­fore pur­chase. So con­sumers are left to rely on ex­trin­sic cues, like coun­try, re­gion of ori­gin and grape va­ri­ety. Price cat­e­gories can also help; al­though “pre­mium” sounds promis­ing, in re­al­ity that could eas­ily mean a wine cost­ing US$12/`784, “su­per-pre­mium” for maybe US$18/`1,176, and “ul­tra pre­mium” wines would start at around US$35/`2,287.

A higher price is of course, not a guar­an­tee of higher qual­ity; the wine’s qual­ity re­flects a com­plex set of fac­tors apart from vine­yard ori­gin, such as viti­cul­tural prac­tice and wine­mak­ing process amongst oth­ers. Af­ter these con­sid­er­a­tions, the la­bel’s rep­u­ta­tion and the scarcity of the wine be­come more im­por­tant de­ter­mi­nants of price. How­ever, we might pre­sume that over time, his­toric pric­ing is in fact a rea­son­able marker for qual­ity.


The fa­mous 1855 Bordeaux Wine Of­fi­cial Clas­si­fi­ca­tion is prob­a­bly the old­est wine rank­ing sys­tem. It was based on the idea that con­sumers would pay more for wine if it was of bet­ter qual­ity. It es­tab­lished a rank­ing of Crus (or growths) for vine­yards of recog­nised qual­ity. Bordeaux wines con­tinue to this day dom­i­nate the lux­ury end of the wine mar­ket. The Liv-ex Global First Growths clas­si­fi­ca­tion is a mod­ern at­tempt to es­tab­lish a hi­er­ar­chy of fine wines from any­where in the world, based on ac­tual trades on the Liv-ex plat­form over a year. Cur­rently, France dom­i­nates the wine mar­ket with 12 Burgundies, ten Bordeaux, one Cham­pagne and one Rhone. There are two Aus­tralian reds, one Amer­i­can, and one each from Italy and Spain.

Such wines are some­times touted as in­vest­ment wines, but what if you want to just drink them. In the lower tiers of the clas­si­fi­ca­tion we still find plenty of Bordeaux and Bur­gundy but there is more di­ver­sity and af­ford­abil­ity too. By def­i­ni­tion, such wines are usu­ally made in lim­ited quan­ti­ties, so not widely avail­able. The wine-lov­ing trav­eller may have to ac­tively seek them out.


Brows­ing duty-free at JFK or Heathrow will not set the keen wine drinker’s pulse rac­ing. Nor can she or he ex­pect much use­ful ad­vice from the staff. Amid a fairly unin­spir­ing wine se­lec­tion, there is some high-end red Bordeaux, with a smat­ter­ing of Napa wines at JFK and a few Aus­tralian reds at Heathrow. The in­quis­i­tive seeker of fine wines needs to leave the air­port to find ex­cite­ment and real di­ver­sity. In London, head to He­donism Wines (open Mon­day-Sat­ur­day 10am-9pm, Sun­day 12pm-6pm; +44 20 729 078 7037; he­ or in New York, Cham­bers Street Wines (open Mon­day-Sat­ur­day 10am-9pm, Sun­day 12pm-7pm; +1 212 227 1434; cham­bersst­ or Brook­lyn’s Smith and Vine (open Mon­dayThurs­day 11am-9pm, Fri­day-Sat­ur­day

Bordeaux wines con­tinue to this day dom­i­nate the lux­ury end of the wine mar­ket

un­til 11pm, Sun­day 12pm-9pm; +1 718 243 2864; smithand­ Here are knowl­edge­able and en­thu­si­as­tic staff who can of­fer ad­vice on how to choose wines, from ex­pe­ri­ence.

He­donism’s Alis­tair Viner points out that Bordeaux and Bur­gundy are “al­ways go­ing to be the best­sellers,” de­spite “never be­ing avail­able in large enough quan­ti­ties”. So his cus­tomers have had to turn to al­ter­na­tive op­tions. In the vi­nous Old World, Ital­ian clas­sics like Barolo, Amarone and Brunello are start­ing to gain in price as col­lec­tors and se­ri­ous drinkers look for value and the ac­tual abil­ity to pur­chase. Yet, by and large they re­main good value. From Tus­cany the so-called “Su­per Tus­cans” are al­ready es­tab­lished and in some cases be­ing re­badged (with ap­pel­la­tion la­bels) so they are not strictly speak­ing “Su­per Tus­cans” any­more. These are some­times San­giovese­based wines, or of­ten Bordeaux blends. In Spain there are no­table wines in par­tic­u­lar from Rib­era del Duero and Pri­o­rat, while Rioja seems to be repo­si­tion­ing it­self. Long dom­i­nated by in­tra-re­gional blends and a rep­u­ta­tion for af­ford­able, re­li­able drink­ing, there is a grow­ing em­pha­sis on sin­gle vine­yards and vil­lage sta­tus. High scores from crit­ics are help­ing to in­crease prices and de­mand, but again most of these wines rep­re­sent real value for money.


Then there are fine wines emerg­ing from all cor­ners of the globe, from Bordeauxstyle blends in Chile and Ar­gentina to Rhone-in­flu­enced styles in South Africa and Australia, and cool cli­mate reds and whites from New Zealand. Viner ob­serves an “ever grow­ing de­mand for the top end Cal­i­for­nian wines, with lim­ited sup­ply and high scores driving both col­lec­tors and drinkers alike”.

There is a price for ev­ery pocket: at He­donism prices range from £10 to £10,000 (927-`9,27,155) per bot­tle. From Italy they are sell­ing a large amount of wine – like Barolo, Brunello di Mon­tal­cino and Amarone della Valpo­li­cella – in the £200-£500 (`18,543-`46,357 range whereas the Cal­i­for­nian spend tends to be higher.

Rel­a­tive val­ues can also be found from lesser known, or un­justly ig­nored wine re­gions in Europe. ere are de­li­cious white wines from Italy like the se­ri­ous Soave Clas­sico for ex­am­ple, and white va­ri­etals and blends from north-east­ern Italy’s Fri­uli and Alto Adige re­gions that are very good but cost less than £100/`9,271. Else­where, old and for­got­ten ar­eas like Etna in Si­cily are ex­cit­ingly resur­gent, and one-o s like Tenuta di Tri­noro, in an un­fash­ion­able part of Tus­cany are wow­ing ad­ven­tur­ous drinkers. In Ger­many, new style Ries­ling and even Pinot Noir (called Spat­bur­gun­der) are prov­ing very suc­cess­ful.

To help nav­i­gate this cor­nu­copia of choice, good re­tail­ers will en­sure they have a di­verse team of ex­perts on the shop oor who have the op­por­tu­nity to taste many of their ne wines. He­donism o ers a wide spread of wines util­is­ing Eno­matic machines (sys­tem for pre­serv­ing and serv­ing wine by the glass) to al­low cus­tomers to taste ex­pen­sive wines, just for the plea­sure of it, or to help make a pur­chas­ing de­ci­sion.


An­other key op­por­tu­nity to taste is in restau­rants. His­tor­i­cally, ne wine has not been as­so­ci­ated with In­dian cui­sine, but in both London and New York, there are am­bi­tious In­dian restau­rants, which take wine se­ri­ously. At London’s uilon, wines are se­lected for its wine list, based on their abil­ity to work across the menu, rather than as “per­fect pair­ings” with speci c dishes. ere are some iconic wines listed for those guests who want them, but they are not al­ways suc­cess­fully matched with the menu. As Ed­win Dav­ila the head som­me­lier at New York’s In­dian Ac­cent points out, wines that

His­tor­i­cally, ne wine has not been as­so­ci­ated with In­dian cuisines, but in both London and New York, there are am­bi­tious In­dian restau­rants, which take wine se­ri­ously

work well with com­plex In­dian spices are se­lec­tions with “less oak in uence, lower to medium al­co­hol con­tent, con­cen­trated/ fruit for­ward, and wines with lees con­tact giv­ing richer styles”. He nds his In­dian guests, whether ex­pats or trav­ellers, o en opt for “the old stand­bys” of Ries­ling and Pinot Noir, but are also reach­ing out to old re­gions for new wines, such as Kavak­lid­ere Kale­cik Karasi from Turkey (US$55/`3,595) and Orgo Saper­avi from Ge­or­gia (US$70/`4,575). And it turns out, Madeira is also an “amaz­ing match” with In­dian cui­sine.

e lessons are clear: to nd great “new” wines, the wine drink­ing trav­eller needs to get o the trav­e­la­tor and into the city, seek out re­tail­ers and restau­rants with keen, knowl­edge­able sta and ask for ad­vice. All the same, not for­get­ting to think about what you like and why.

PRE­VI­OUS PAGE: vine­yards LEFT AND RIGHT: red wine; and Bordeaux and Cham­pagne vine­yards

ABOVE: a vine­yard with ripe grapes

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