Unless you are in the company of oenophiles, the problem with wine talk is that no matter what you say, it sounds pretentious. You can wax eloquent on about the aroma of a good Barolo or the greatness of the 2009 vintage. For the average person you might as well be talking about Einstein’s theory of relativity. Terms like bouquet, mouth feel, tannins, finish, and terroir mean specific things to wine connoisseurs but are meaningless to the general population. How then to decode wine talk?

In India, the problem is compounded by the fact that storage is shoddy.  Imported wines are stored and transported in warehouses that have no concern for temperature-control. Red wines can end up too tannic and white wines too sweet or “baked” as some call it. How then to figure out the original bouquet of the wine?

Consider Chilean Merlot. Most people say that New World wines are young and ought to be drunk fairly quickly. With Indian wines, you would think the same rule applies.  Well, that depends. Some of the blended reds that wineries in India sell are too raw, leaving the sandpaper edge in your tongue. They have to settle down for a few days before you can drink them. Of course, you can decant. But what if you are the only one drinking? I found a solution. You open an Indian wine bottle, pour yourself a glass and leave it in a cool place, in the back of your cupboard (if you don’t own a wine frig). I find that it ages well while in the bottle so that it tastes best three days after opening the cork. My brother opens the bottle and puts it in the fridge for a day before actually drinking the wine. A friend’s solution has been to decant it for 3 hours; pour the (Indian) wine back into the bottle, and drink a glass or two the following day, after it has calmed down. 

Palate is a term that sounds pompous but really isn’t. In fact, it is the simplest way by which you can decide what wines you like. Some of it is practical or logical and some of it is just you. Being vegetarian, my taste veers towards aromatic, dry and off-dry, cool-climate wines. Low alcohol content (under 12%) is nice to have but not always possible, particularly in New World wines. After trying out several, these are my current picks. Torrontés, Viogniers, Alsatian Rieslings, Vouvrays from the Loire Valley, and Pinot Gris (Navarro Vineyards of Mendocino if you can get them). These in my view go well with light vegetarian food. I used to like Gewurztraminer but haven’t had a decent one lately.  Like most people, I am picky about my chardonnays, perhaps the most ubiquitous of white wines.  I liked unoaked Chardonnays. I haven’t met a Chablis or Sancerre I haven’t liked, perhaps because its alcohol content hovers around 10%.

The opposite too must be true. If you relish a heavy juicy steak or a rich complex biryani, I imagine that your palate veers towards heavy-bodied French, Italian and Spanish wines made from grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tempranillo.

Tolerance for bitterness is an underrated aspect of your palate. If you are one of those who can tolerate karela or bitter gourd and revels in 85% dark chocolate, then it opens up a whole range of wines that have a tinge of bitterness. Austrian Gruner Veltliners are a start, as are some Italian reds. I drank a wonderful Amarone at a dinner at the ITC Grand Chola’s Italian restaurant in Chennai. It was high in alcohol (14%) but had a delicious tinge of bitterness. Wine wisdom says this bitter tinge is due to the phenols in wines and otherwise moderate people have devoted reams of prose supported by chemical equations to describe exactly why wine becomes bitter (and they say this as if it is a good thing). Most people describe Cabernet as bitter but the Sauvignon rounds it off. Another quixotic phrase is “minerally with hints of asphalt”, which is akin to saying that you are drinking concrete. Somehow, this is viewed as a positive by wine critic Robert Parker and his acolytes. A phrase and type of wine I like is “dry wine”. To me, this means that the wine is not sweet. Then again, I don’t have a sweet tooth and if I had to pick between gulab jamun and bhujia sev, the latter would win each time.

  1. Cook your comfort food – rasam, or maa ki dal, or khichdi or butter chicken. Mix it with rice. Add lots of ghee. Eat with your hands. Smack your lips. Repeat.
  2. Look through old photos. Stare at the one of you with bangs or bell bottoms. Shake your head with wonder at the person you used to be. Feel happy that you made it past that stage.
  3. Organise your photo albums. Find that letter from your ex buried in the middle. Read it one last time. Tear it up. Set it on fire. You know you need to.
  4. Read all the books you’ve been wanting to read. Begin with Little Women – book first and then movie. Or Love in the Time of Cholera.
  5. Repot your plants, especially the tulsi, curry leaves, mint, and brahmi. Tear five leaves off each plant. Wash and pop into your mouth along with some turmeric and pepper. Helps immunity.
  6. Promising research from Singapore and Boston suggests that zinc gluconate taken in a 50 mg dose daily may help prevent the infection. Try it.
  7. Yes, your business is suffering. Yes, your funding is on hold. Yes, the market is in a free fall. Yes, the whole thing sucks. Give yourself permission to feel the pain. Wallow in anxiety, self-pity, rage, frustration or whatever it is that you are feeling. Take an hour or four. However long you need. Then realise this: you are alive. Some others all over the world are not so lucky.
  8. Talk to a therapist on the telephone, especially if you are running a restaurant or any other business that is losing income and livelihood due to enforced closures.
  9. Wash your hands, and hug your loved ones at least five times a day.
  10. Cuddle up with your sweetie and binge-watch Madam Secretary, Game of Thrones, Narcos or whatever it is that rocks your boat.
  11. Throw a ball at a wall. If possible, throw three balls. Juggle.
  12. Sing as you walk up or down the stairs. Get out that karaoke machine. Play old film songs. Sing along.
  13. Listen to Ave Maria sung by Renee Fleming. It is a call for grace. Play it loudly at twilight.
  14. Wear perfume. Even to bed. Especially when you feel the funk.
  15. Make infused ice. Put some cucumber water in an ice cube, put diluted lemon in another, crush rose petals into the third, add some mint or ginger into the fourth. Buy a lovely brand of gin – maybe Botanist or Greater Than. Buy Fever Tree or Swami tonic water. Sit on your balcony in the evening with a tall drink and a magazine. Watch the sunset.
  16. Try drawing something, whether it is a rangoli or a cartoon. If nothing else, doodle. Draw out your mood with a drawing.
  17. Play board games with the kids. They are driving you nuts anyway. Begin with the ones that you played as a child. Introduce your kids to your childhood. Play cards. Teach them bridge or poker.
  18. If board games aren’t your thing, play online games with people in other continents.
  19. Be kind – even to the judgy ones who populate your WhatsApp groups with their sermons.
  20. Resist the urge to get on a moral high horse when your neighbour does not follow your social distancing rules.
  21. Realise what Carl Jung said when you get triggered by something someone said or did: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
  22. Begin that online class that you’ve been meaning to. Remember the archeology one you signed up for? Remember how you told yourself that you were going to brush up on your math from Khan Academy? Well, what are you waiting for? Now is the time.
  23. Learn to code, especially if you are a woman.
  24. Bake bread. If you do, send a loaf to your neighbour. Or to me.
  25. Keep a journal, especially if you are below 20. It is perhaps the first time you have ever experienced anything like this. Even H1N1 and SARS were not on this scale. They didn’t cause this level of shutdown. Realise that you are witnessing history in the making, however uncomfortable it may be. As the quote says, “Your grandparents were called to war. You are being asked to stay in your room.” Get some perspective.
  26. Do the plank at home. Your gym maybe closed. But that doesn’t mean you cannot exercise. At the very least, try walking 10,000 steps inside your home or around your neighbourhood. You feel like climbing the walls anyway.
  27. Learn the novel sensation of feeling bored. The simplest way to do this is to lie in bed without keeping a device nearby.
Stay Safe
Stay healthy

(This column addresses the issue of parenting our parents and other unique facets of This Indian Life and our culture. If you have stories about the weird and wonderful relationships that enrich or enervate your life, write in.)

This Indian Life appears every fortnight

From HT Brunch, March 29, 2020