Just before leaving Santiago for my current assignment in Delhi, a friend warned me not to raise my hopes about promoting Chilean wine here. “Indians,” he said, “do not drink alcohol.”
It would be fair to say I have discovered that proposition not to be universally true, and one of the pleasant surprises of my Indian sojourn has been to witness the growing local interest in wine and matters related to wine, with many of the elements of a thriving wine culture in the making. Wine clubs, sommeliers and some good wine lists at hotels and restaurants (I am thinking especially of restaurants such as Olive, La Piazza at The Hyatt and Westview at the Maurya Sheraton, all in New Delhi) are a part of it. They are helping to dispel many of the enduring myths that had kept wine away from Indian shores for so long—like the one that Indian food and wine don’t mix.
As Chilean wine becomes more and more popular in India, I am asked many questions on how to best enjoy wine, something that, for some very good reasons (including health), has become so much a part of contemporary lifestyle. Let me attempt some answers on what we might call the “household” side of wine enjoyment:
Buy it by the case: To be savoured, wine must be available, and few things are more frustrating than having to rush to the store before lunch or dinner to replenish one’s stock. Given the features of the local retail system, this advice is especially valid here.
Maintain a good selection at home: There is a wine that goes with almost every occasion, and while you don’t need to compete with Rick’s bar at the Taj Mahal Hotel, Delhi, you will want to have at least some variety. Wine is also a great gift, and it will come in handy many times.
Store it properly: Heat, noise and alien odours are great enemies of your wine (a living product), so try to store it, if at all possible, in a basement (hence the term “wine cellar”), away from the sun and the maddening crowds, and certainly not under the stairs or next to your stock of motor oil.
Keep it cold: Admittedly, not everybody has a spacious cellar available. Yet, the Delhi summer is something to behold, and if no basement is available, at least try to store it in the darkest, least noisy room of the house. The recommended temperature for storing wines is between 10°C and 15°C, which may not always be possible.
Get a humidifier: In my own case, the room I use as a wine cellar here in Delhi did not take an AC, and my wife came up with the idea of a humidifier, which would both cool the room a little bit and, more importantly, dispel the dryness.
Watch your corks: The weak link in the wine bottle is the cork and it will be some time before it is replaced by a screwcap, despite the efforts of some (I myself do not believe in screwcaps, as I don’t in wine in cardboard boxes; part of wine enjoyment comes from its traditions and rituals). In an excessively dry climate such as Delhi, corks over time will shrink, let air in and kill the wine. To keep the cork in good condition (at least for some time), there needs to be sufficient humidity in the air. At home, despite the lack of an air conditioner and the 45°C of three Delhi summers in a row, our wines have stood up pretty well, though I know they are ageing fast.
Much as soldiers on the front were told to “keep their powder dry”, my advice to wine lovers is: Keep your corks humid.
Jorge Heine, the Chilean ambassador to India, loves wine and Indian food, especially Peshawari cuisine.
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