For the love of wine -By Supriya Sa­muel

IN­TER­VIEW WITH ALOK CHAN­DRA, WINE EX­PERT

The Luxury Collection - - Contents - -By Supriya Sa­muel

It’s not ev­ery­day that you sit down in con­ver­sa­tion with a renowned wine ex­pert and som­me­lier to dis­cuss the finer nu­ances of wines. Well, that’s pre­cisely been my ex­pe­ri­ence hav­ing met Alok Chan­dra.

An ab­so­lute gem of a per­son – witty, smart and hum­ble – Chan­dra wears many hats. Apart from be­ing one of the most renowned wine ex­perts in the city, he is also a reg­u­lar columnist for a lead­ing pub­li­ca­tion and runs his own wine con­sul­tancy called Gryphon Brands. With years of ex­pe­ri­ence be­hind him in the in­dus­try there isn’t much Alok doesn’t know about how to get the best out of dif­fer­ent wines in the world.

We caught up with Alok Chan­dra to get his thoughts on the ex­pand­ing In­dian wine sce­nario and his many years of ex­pe­ri­ence in the in­dus­try.

Your start in the wine In­dus­try

“In early 1987, when I was in the Cor­po­rate Plan­ning Cell of the UB (United Brew­eries) Group, I had an epiphany which I com­mu­ni­cated to my then boss, Mr. Vi­jay Mallya. UB was al­ready the No.1 Spir­its and Beer Com­pany in In­dia and was well placed to also be­come the No.1 Wine Pro­ducer, a cat­e­gory which I pre­dicted would have phe­nom­e­nal growth over the next 20 years,” he ex­plains.

While noth­ing came of his ef­forts to buy Cham­pagne Indage (the only In­dian wine com­pany), in 1995 Chan­dra was in­vited to head the wine di­vi­sion of IDV (In­ter­na­tional Dis­tillers & Vint­ners) In­dia by Deepak Roy, who was privy to Chan­dra’s vi­sion of tap­ping into the wine in­dus­try. “I went on to launch Cin­zano ver­mouths in In­dia, and have con­tin­ued as a Wine Con­sul­tant since leav­ing IDV (now Di­a­geo) in 2000,” he adds.

New Gen­er­a­tion of Wine Drinkers in In­dia

As com­pared to back in the day, young­sters to­day have a wider choice of wines for vary­ing palates and are ex­posed to wine on a daily ba­sis. They also have ac­cess to a plethora of in­for­ma­tion which is widely avail­able on­line. “There are mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tions such as Vivino which makes the un­der­stand­ing of wine fun, ac­ces­si­ble and easy to use. There­fore, young peo­ple are more aware, clued in and don’t get taken for a ride when it comes to buy­ing a good bot­tle of wine,” he points out.

For those as­pir­ing to be wine ex­perts or to those still ex­plor­ing wine, one should worry about noth­ing else other than whether they like it or not. “Drink more wine so as to un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate it or join wine cour­ses or groups to help im­prove your knowl­edge of wine as you jour­ney ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it,” ex­plains Chan­dra.

Pair­ing wine with In­dian Food or any other spiced cui­sine

“It’s no won­der why so many peo­ple in­stantly reach out for a beer or cold wa­ter to go with In­dian, African or Caribbean foods. While beer or wa­ter go best with spicy food, wine can be a sur­pris­ingly new and in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” says Chan­dra. He sug­gests pair­ing white wines like Chenin Blanc or Ries­lings with tan­doori and Mugh­lai food and for those who like the reds, to in­vest in lighter red wines that are fruitier in style and bold enough to stand up to the food they are be­ing paired with.

Tech­nol­ogy in the wine in­dus­try

While the ab­sence of com­plete con­trol has been one the most charm­ing as­pects of wine mak­ing and grow­ing, the qual­ity of grapes have started to take more prece­dence for grow­ers. Chan­dra fur­ther adds, “Tech­nol­ogy has brought in a new gen­er­a­tion of sen­sor driven viti­cul­ture tools which are giv­ing grow­ers the abil­ity to mon­i­tor and mea­sure their vine­yards like never be­fore, thus giv­ing them health­ier and bet­ter qual­ity grapes.”

In­dia’s bur­geon­ing wine scene

The cul­ture of wine drink­ing is still at a very nascent phase in In­dia but there is great po­ten­tial in the coun­try to pro­duce good qual­ity wine. “With the grow­ing num­ber of wine tast­ing events held ev­ery year in In­dia, or­ga­niz­ing of wine work­shops and tours of spec­tac­u­lar vine­yards, and also the com­mer­cial avail­abil­ity of lo­cal wines, con­sumers are be­ing lured to ex­plore this scrump­tious drink even more,” Chan­dra ex­plains.

Chan­dra also strongly be­lieves that In­dian wines need to im­prove their pres­ence in and out­side In­dia - more states need to adopt wine-friendly poli­cies like what’s be­ing done in Ma­ha­rash­tra and Kar­nataka. “In­dia will also need to re­duce taxes/du­ties im­posed on In­dian wine brands so as to make wine more af­ford­able. In­ter­na­tion­ally we need to find a grape that could be made the ‘sig­na­ture’ wine of In­dia – like Pino­tage in South Africa, Mal­bec in Ar­gentina and Shi­raz in Aus­tralia,” he adds.

Most mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence as a wine ex­pert

In 2011 Chan­dra at­tended The World’s Long­est Lunch at the Mel­bourne Food & Wine Fes­ti­val – which refers to the length of the ta­ble (not the time taken).

“This was a sit-down pre-plated white­gloved ser­vice for about 1,000 peo­ple in the gar­den of the City Hall – It was an amaz­ingly well-or­ga­nized af­fair, con­sid­er­ing that there were 5 cour­ses, each served with a dif­fer­ent wine (all from the Yer­ing Sta­tion win­ery, the old­est win­ery in the state). The food was gourmet, served pip­ing hot; the am­bi­ence was ex­hil­a­rat­ing, with jug­glers, fire-eaters, and ma­gi­cians keep­ing us en­ter­tained. Par­tic­i­pants paid AUD 110 per head (then about INR 6,000) for seats, with groups stylishly dressed for the oc­ca­sion,” he re­calls. Which 4 peo­ple would you in­vite to a din­ner you’re host­ing?

“I would call Manu Chan­dra, Chef & part­ner at Olive Beach, Fatty Bao, and Toast 7 Tonic, for his un­par­al­leled tast­ing palate. There would also be Ruma Singh – wine afi­cionado and blog­ger, who knows her wines, hav­ing trav­elled to all the key wine-mak­ing re­gions of Europe. Lastly (to make it 4 peo­ple, in­clud­ing my­self) I would in­vite the at­trac­tive & knowl­edge­able Made­line Puck­ett of Wine Folly, who has done more in the field of wine ed­u­ca­tion than the next 10 peo­ple to­gether,” he shares.

The In­dian wine in­dus­try is pick­ing up in pace and de­spite the many chal­lenges, we have come a long way. We are now pro­duc­ers of ex­port qual­ity pre­mium wines like Sula’s Rasa Shi­raz and Fratelli’s SETTE, so here’s a toast hop­ing the world gets to taste more of the In­dian Grape!

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