Abhay Kewadkar was the first “wine person” I met in Bangalore. I still remember the event even though it occurred over a decade ago. It was organized by the Bangalore Wine Club (BWC), which currently has about 110 members. The event was held at the Taj West End. Kewadkar had set out a series of vials which held various aromatic compounds. We were to smell the compounds and call out what we smelled. I liked Kewadkar instantly because he didn’t posture. He spoke in his earthy Maharashtrian accent interspersed with a French one when he talked about wine.
I am a member of two wine clubs here in Bangalore: BWC and TWC or The Wine Connoisseurs. The difference between them can be counted in the air-time that wine gets. TWC is a small group. Typically, about 12-15 people meet once a month at different restaurants. We spend about 3 hours talking only about wine. Non-drinking spouses do not accompany us because as one spouse said, “How can you people babble non-stop about wine like this?” We take wine seriously, is the somewhat smart-alecky answer. It doesn’t make us popular at home.
BWC events are held at glitzy five-star hotels. The wine is decent in terms of value-for-money. There is a lot more socializing which makes it easier on non-drinking spouses. BWC is run by a rotating committee and the quality of events depends on the committee. They do some interesting things– because they have a large membership, they can partner with folks who want to access their membership. Visiting wine brands typically want to do something with BWC– Penfolds showcased their wines at the Ritz-Carlton in a BWC event, Chilean wine brands offer tastings before launching their wines in the market. Things like that.
I remember an event that BWC did with Reidel, the wine glass brand, for instance. There was a lovely five-course degustation dinner followed by a presentation by a visiting European salesman from Reidel. He talked about how the shape of the glass would make a difference to the taste of the wine. I went in rolling my eyebrows, sure that it was all sales hogwash. To my shock, the same wine smelled different when poured into different glasses– Burgundy glass versus Bordeaux– all Reidel of course. Naturally I bought a case after the presentation. Now they are all broken. If I could, I would buy Zalto wine glasses for everything that I drink but they are too expensive. Farmlore has some very nice wine glasses from Nude– I believe they are the stem-zero ones. I use Lucaris, a Thai brand at home.
The biggest problem for Indian wine-drinkers is the punishing import duties, which makes accessing good wine difficult. We have a lot of importers who supply to Bangalore, ranging from Wine Park, Sonarys, Aspri, Tetrad, and Brindco. I buy from them all. We all know that we are paying more than double the price for the wine, but there doesn’t seem to be a way around. Founded by a young couple, the third wine club, Bangalore Wine Trails, offers great value for money at their events held at different restaurants.
The Karnataka Wine Board lists 16 wineries on its website. Grover’s website is rather clunky but their Reserve wines are good. Their latest range, Signet, has five wines that have been aged in all kinds of new-fangled yet ancient ways: foudre, amphora, and concrete. Haven’t tried them yet. Kadu is big-Daddy Sula’s local wine made in Karnataka. Kadu, which means forest in Kannada, promises to donate a portion of each bottle sold to tiger conservation so wildlife lovers should buy Kadu Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Shiraz. Big Banyan has tastings for around Rs. 850 in their winery just outside the city. While you are there, buy their excellent Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc, which are hard to find in retail. SDU’s Winemakers Reserve is what Devesh Agarwal, current BWC President and TWC founder recommends as a great home-drinking wine. KRSMA always tries to raise the bar with their hard-to-get Shiraz and Sangiovese wines.
If you are new to Bangalore and have some interest in wine, it is a good idea to join these wine groups because it introduces you to an ecosystem. Trippy Goat restaurant on Cunningham Road is a good place to start because Vishal Nagpal, who runs the place knows the wine ecosystem from multiple points of view. Abhay Kewadkar, who now runs Tetrad Global Beverages, with Rishad Minochar, has an office in the same complex and often drops in. The French consulate is down the road and I have seen the French consul-general there for lunch.
In terms of wine-friendly fine-dining restaurants, I am afraid I cannot think of too many. The problem is that the markup at five-star hotels for wines is just too high, with a bottle starting at Rs. 6000 at The Oberoi, The Leela and the Taj group. Smaller independent restaurants offer better deals.
Whiskey is the beverage which has Bangalore in thrall. There are many whiskey clubs here with Amrut and Paul John whiskies being the Indian contenders. Amrut’s Greedy Angels sells globally for $1912 a bottle (on wine-searcher.com), if you can get it. The erstwhile Israeli consul-general to Bangalore told me that he would have paid double that after tasting it in the Amrut factory. For a Bangalore brand that is run by the 3rd generation, that’s a great thing.
Gin is the drink of the moment. Sipsmith gin has launched in India but most of the Indian brands like Greater Than and Stranger & Sons are based in Goa.
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