Delhi’s top wine destinations – part two

This is the second part of the story and features restaurants in five star hotels with exceptional wine offerings. A version of this was published in Time Out Delhi’s special wine edition ‘The Grape Escape’, under the title Veni, Vidi, Vino. I am posting the original and unedited version here for the benefit of the readers of this blog.

The first part which featured standalone restaurants can be accessed here. I recommend you read the first part before continuing here, as it sets the overall objective of the entire exercise of writing about these wine destinations for Time Out Delhi.

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San Gimignano, The Imperial

Janpath Lane, Connaught Place, New Delhi

San gimignano
Imperial’s San Gimignano offers an idyllic setting for food & wine enjoyment

There are very few restaurants in Delhi that can boast of playing a trendsetting role in the city’s food and wine and fine-dining landscape. Imperial’s San Gimignano not only occupies the top echelons of that list but is also recognised for maintaining extremely high standards of food and wine offerings over the years.

Named after the eponymous hill town of Tuscany, San Gimignano epitomises the region’s world-famous wine and gastronomic heritage. A well-crafted wine list packed with the choicest of labels complements the best of Italian cuisine. Out of the 390 odd labels, unsurprisingly, a bias towards Italian wines is evident, although many other classical wine regions also feature prominently. From the ubiquitous Chianti to the cult known as Ornellaia Masseto, the Italian wine selection is a perfect match with the signature items on the menu, some of which are apparently made with generous additions of premium Italian wines.

The quaint and private, yet highly sophisticated interior of the restaurant is ideal for an indulgent food and wine experience. But if you enjoy a livelier, alfresco experience, opt for a seat in the snow-white and blemish-less courtyard outside, aptly named the ‘Paradiso del Vino’ or the ‘Paradise of Wine’.

The wine list:

Main Feature: Carefully chosen Italian wine selection.

Strengths: Top names from Bordeaux, Burgundy and of course a vast selection of Italian wines from all the country’s wine producing regions.

Wine-by-the-glass Selection: 12, across types and styles. For those new to the restaurant, this may seem to be too limited but apparently it is a conscious decision as most guests prefer to order bottles of wines to enjoy over a long meal.

What to look out for (specials): Alfresco dining at the Paradiso del Vino and Chef special menu paired with wines.

Food & wine recommendations: Try out their Tagliolini Con Salsa Di Frutti Di Mare Champagne (homemade tagliollini pasta with a delicate champagne seafood sauce). Pair this with a crisp cold-climate Chardonnay/ Ribolla Gialla blend on the list from the Friulli-Venezia region, like ‘Livio Felluga Sharis delle Venezie IGT’.

Another signature dish, Scallopine Di Pollo (crumb fried chicken breast with parsley butter sauce and capers), is a good partner with the light to medium bodied and fruity Allegrini Valpolicella.

Price range: Expensive. A meal for two with wines on an average costs about Rs. 15000 plus taxes, where the price of wine considered is in the range of Rs. 7000 to 8000.

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Threesixty° & Enoteca, The Oberoi

Opposite Delhi public School, Dr Zakir Hussain Marg, New Delhi

threesixty
Threesixty° at The Oberoi offers the most complete wine experience in Delhi

Any mention of Delhi’s food and wine destinations is incomplete without the special reference to Threesixty° at The Oberoi. A melting pot of delectable world cuisine complemented with a selection of wines to crave for, this iconic address has always been on top in the itinerary of the city’s diners.

The restaurant has many distinguishing factors which separate it from its peers in the industry. Most will agree that the prime among these are the sheer variety and quality of food on offer, in addition to the superb service so intrinsic to Oberoi hospitality. But wine also plays a major role in shaping up the restaurant’s overall profile. In fact many would argue that the wine-friendly setting of Threesixty° is its main draw.

Enoteca – the wine bar, wine library and tasting room – all rolled in one is a customised and climate-controlled wine cellar strategically located at the entrance of the restaurant and acts as the centre stage of all its wine activities. It is perhaps the biggest visible cellar in town, consisting of over 1200 bottles and over 150 labels of wines. An ideal place to tickle one’s vinous senses, it is legendary as a hub for wine tastings in a setting nowhere else to be experienced in the city.

There are many other reasons why Threesixty° carries the worthy distinction of a genuine food & wine destination of the highest order. Some of the most notable among these are; one of Delhi’s most lavish spreads in Sunday brunch accompanied by choicest of Champagnes, a private dining experience for groups at the glass-encased private dining room, customised wine dinners, and many more.

The wine list:

Main Features: Vast selection of cuisines and wines from around the world. Interactive dining experience. Wine sampling at the Enoteca.

Strength: A carefully designed list with healthy representation from almost all the major wine regions of the world.

Wine-by-the-glass Selection: 12 across types and styles, including two sparklings.

What to look out for (specials): Sunday brunch with choice of Champagnes. Wine sampling at the Enoteca.

Food & wine recommendations: For appetizer, you can try their famous ‘Thai Pomelo Salad’ paired with a well-chilled Henri Bourgeois Sancerre. Among the many choices for the main course, the ‘Threesixty Baluchi Raan’ is a highlight. You can pair this signature dish with the Rupert Rothschild Merlot.

Price range: Expensive. Average cost for meal for two with wine is around 10000 plus taxes assuming two glasses of wine are consumed per person, during a 3 course meal (appetizers, main course and dessert).

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Masala Art, Taj Palace

2, Sardar Patel Marg, Diplomatic Enclave, New Delhi

Masala art
Masala Art is one of the very few Indian cuisine restaurants in Delhi where wine plays an important role in the overall dining experience

Food and beverage has always been a prime focus at the Taj Group of Hotels, aptly demonstrated by the myriad of highly sought-after brands across their properties in India. Delhi accounts for a fair share of these restaurants, with some deserving special mention owing to the incorporation of effective wine programmes in their overall F&B offerings. Masala Art at the Taj Palace is one such restaurant which stands out for its commitment to promote wine as the beverage of choice for diners. Whether it is the wine-focussed happy hour with its one is to one offer on specially chosen wine bottles, wine paired dinners, or on-the-table recommendations of chosen wines with the restaurant’s signature dishes, the dining experience in the restaurant is enhanced with the inclusion of wines.

The group’s long standing focus on its wine programme also appropriately reflects in Masala Art’s wine list, which scores highly on key parameters like depth, variety and exclusivity. It features in excess of 450 labels from almost every major wine region of the world, including more than 20 competitively priced wines-by-the-glass. The knowledgeable staff is always at hand to suggest wines based on your preference as well as the combination of masalas (Indian spices) and cooking style.

The restaurant’s contemporary take on presenting rustic Indian cuisine with a western-style interactive food preparation is a welcome change for the city’s Indian food lovers. And the judicious addition of wines to its repertoire has only underlined Masala Art’s endeavour to offer its guests the very best in fine dining experience.

The Wine List: 

Main Feature: Vast selection of international wines presented in a neat, user-friendly design.

Strengths: Equal focus on every style and type of wine representing all major wine regions.

Wine-by-the-glass Selection: 22 well priced wines specially selected with the compatibility to food in mind.

What to look out for (specials): Wine paired set menu. Interactive kitchen where you can get your dish custom made. Happy hour between 6.30 pm and 8 pm where there is a one-is-to-one offer on international wines.

Food & wine recommendations: The ‘Chatpata Crab’ is an interesting dish to try. Made with tangy and aromatic spices, an equally zesty and flavourful Riesling comes to mind as a worthy partner. Try the glass of St. Urbans-Hof Riesling Kabinett from Germany’s Mosel with this item.

Staying with seafood and an equally strongly aromatic dish, the ‘Jheenge ka salan’ is also worth sampling with a Kessler Gewürztraminer Grand Cru 2006.

Price range: Expensive. Average cost of meal for two with wine is around 10000 plus taxes assuming two glasses of wine are consumed per person.

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Le Cirque, Leela Palace

Diplomatic Enclave, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi

Le Cirque
The chic & upmarket Le Cirque scores highly not only for its avant-garde food but also for the largest wine selection in town

Le Cirque at the Leela is India’s most high profile import in the luxury restaurant segment, and since the iconic New York brand debuted in Delhi, it has left an indelible mark on the capital’s fine dining scene. Carrying on the tradition of exemplary food and wine offerings in its original home, Le Cirque has also created a cult following among a niche clientele in the capital.

The French-Italian cuisine served at the restaurant uses only the very best quality ingredients – a large proportion of which is imported. The flavour and texture of the carefully crafted dishes demand the best possible wines to enhance their sensory and taste profile. The wine list has been designed keeping this in mind and features a huge selection of top quality wines (more than 500 labels appear on the list), many belonging to the cult or super-premium category.

The wine list has many other eye-catching features; one of them being the largest collection of Champagne in town; 30 in total, across all possible styles. It also has an enviable collection of fine wines from classical wine regions of France, Italy and Germany. The representation from the New World is mainly led by Australia and USA.

Le Cirque’s reputation in the Delhi fine dining market is as much about glitz, gloss and glamour as it is for the world-renowned food and an eclectic collection of wines. So, if your idea of a dining extravaganza involves pure luxury and you are not constrained by budget, this may be the right place for pampering your epicurean soul.

The wine list:

Main Feature: Sheer number and variety of labels from almost every wine region of the world.

Strengths: Focus on traditional strongholds of the Old World, namely France and Italy and a wide selection of types and styles from the New World.

Wine-by-the-glass Selection: 20 with a good balance of grape varieties and styles.

What to look out for (specials): More than 30 champagnes with all the recognisable names, styles and price points possible.

Food & Wine recommendations: The ‘Lobster Risotto’ with subtle infusions of rosemary and capers is a must try. Pair this iconic dish with your choice of a Vintage Champagne or an elegant white Burgundy from the extensive wine selection.

For those looking to try one of Le Cirque’s signature red meat items, the succulent ‘French Lamb Noisette’ is a must-try, paired with a New World Pinot Noir like the stylish Villa Maria Pinot Noir from New Zealand.

Price range: Expensive. A meal for two with wines would cost Rs. 16000 plus taxes, on an average, with most moderately priced wines and wine-by-the-glass. Depending on the kind of wines you consume and in most cases this amount is likely to be much higher.

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Cheers,

Niladri

Delhi’s top wine destinations – part one

A version of the following article was featured in Time Out Delhi’s special wine edition ‘The Grape Escape’, under the title Veni, Vidi, Vino. I am posting the original and unedited version here for the benefit of the readers of this blog.

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Wine Offerings
Wine & food partnership is the new mantra of modern gastronomy

Gone are the days when dining out in cosmopolitan India was mostly about the cuisine served in a restaurant. With fast evolution of the country’s F&B scene, that status quo has long been done away with, for good. Today diners seek much more than an aesthetically presented or even a sensuously delicious dish. And among all the added pleasures that make up great gourmet experiences, wine has emerged on the top of the savvy customer’s wish list.

Delhi has long been home to some of the country’s most iconic restaurant brands serving choicest of cuisines. While wine has been a part of the city’s restaurant scene for quite some time, the quality and variety of wine offerings have come of age in true sense in the last five years or so. Wine lists now not only boast of choicest international brands of the most desirable vintages, but are also thoughtfully designed to complement the cuisine, concept and theme of the restaurants. All these have been the result of the hospitality industry’s unflinching vision of cultivating a thriving wine culture in the country.

This steady evolution of world-class wine destinations has come as a boon for the city’s gourmands and its wine lovers in particular. But at the same time the proliferation of these ‘wine hubs’ has also resulted in a pleasant dilemma among wine consumers about the most suitable places to satiate their vinous senses along with their taste buds.

Whether you are looking for a sophisticated fine-dining experience featuring an exhaustive collection of wines from virtually every region of the wine world or wish to be pampered with a customised menu paired with wines, Delhi has many places which should be bookmarked in your dining itinerary. Let’s explore each of them individually.

In the first part of this article, let’s have a look at three restaurants which offer the best wine selections in the standalone category. The second part deals with restaurants in five star hotels:

Diva
M8, M Block Market, GK2, New Delhi

diva
Diva’s wine selection is impressive, not just for the variety but also for its pocket-friendliness

A shining star of Delhi’s standalone restaurant scene, Diva has long been one of the torchbearers of the city’s reputation as the gourmet hub of India. With one of the country’s most talented chefs at the helm, it has redefined the concept of dining out by inspiring foodies (and winos!) to think beyond five star hotels and upmarket, overly hyped restaurants.

Many Delhiites may not be aware of the fact that apart from being a ‘Chef Extraordinaire’, Ritu Dalmia is also a keen wine aficionado and possesses vast knowledge about the subject. This reflects in the wine list of the restaurant which stands out as much for its variety and attention to detail as the careful selection of labels to accompany the authentic Italian cuisine.

The wine list here is unpretentious albeit so well thought out that you will hardly find a dish on the food menu which cannot be paired with multiple wines. The highlight has to be the wines-by-the glass selection which features more than 30 different labels sold at extremely affordable prices. Additionally, and quite logically, the list smartly captures Italy’s wine portfolio by ensuring representation from almost all the country’s wine regions. There are also several other international wines, making it a well-rounded list.

The wine list:
Main Features: Extremely affordable pricing. Food-friendly international wines specially chosen to accompany Diva’s signature cuisine.

Strength: Wine selection from almost all the wine regions of Italy.

Wine-by-the-glass Selection: 30 odd labels offering excellent variety and depth. Very competitively priced.

What to look out for (specials): Weekend wine pairing with specially crafted dishes.

Food & wine recommendations: One of the must-try dish is ‘John Dory fillet dusted with Polenta, pan grilled, served with Celeriac puree and crispy Prawns’. Pair this with a bone-dry, fresh, floral and minerally Michele Chiarlo Gavi.

Another recommended dish is ‘Phyllo pastry bundles filled with Artichokes and Taleggio cheese, baked golden and served with a creamy Spinach sauce’. A light but pleasantly fruity Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino will partner the dish perfectly.

Price range: Moderate and extremely pocket-friendly. Meal for two, on an average, costs about Rs. 2000, plus taxes. A couple of glasses of wine consumed with the meal per head would cost another 1500.

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Indian Accent

77, The Manor, New Friends Colony, New Delhi

Indian Accent
The culinary magic of Indian Accent is well complemented by a well thought out wine list

If there is one Indian standalone restaurant worthy to be among the top Michelin star restaurants of the world, it undoubtedly has to be the Indian Accent. In this highly competitive business, such distinction can only be earned if there is a genuine passion to create a unique product of highest quality. And if passion indeed is the key ingredient in deciding a restaurant’s popularity and success; this place oozes plenty of it. No wonder, in a short period of time it has created a niche for itself in Delhi’s fine dining market.

Chef Manish Mehrotra and his team’s brilliance aside, Indian Accent also deserves a special mention for its outstanding wine list which can rival the best in the city. A quick look through the list is all it takes to realise the minute attention to detail that has been employed in selecting the labels. It is also apparent that this selection, in addition to the designing of the list, is entirely influenced by the cuisine and a style of modern cooking where international ingredients are innovatively married with Indian spices. A ‘Fois Gras stuffed Galawat’ or ‘Achari New Zealand Lamb Shank’ married with wines may sound too adventurous for the uninitiated but you will be surprised at the sensory delight of such combinations.

On the one hand, you will find a healthy number of fresh, crisp and aromatic white wines to accompany the light-on-the-palate dishes, on the other there are also a good collection of red wines across a wide spectrum of body, mouthfeel and weight on the palate to pair with the comparatively heavier items. Overall, the balance, variety and compatibility to the cuisine make it one of the best wine offerings in the capital.

The Wine list:
Main Features: Variety, balance and affordable wines.

Strength: Food inspired wines – in other words, each and every wine very carefully handpicked to accompany the nouvelle Indian cuisine
Wine-by-the-glass Selection: 32 labels selected with careful attention to the food menu, which is almost 50 % of the total wine offerings. One of the best wine-by-the-glass selections in town.

What to look out for (specials): Chef tasting menu paired with wine – fantastic way to sample the chef’s magic.

Food & wine recommendations: Among the classic food & wine pairings suggested in their Chef tasting menu, I really liked the idea of marrying the ‘Meetha achaar chilean spare ribs, sun dried mango, toasted kalonji seeds’ with a glass of Peter Lehmann Shiraz from Barossa Valley in Australia.

Another equally chef-recommended combination is ‘Tempered ricotta vada, pao bhaji, kafir lime butter pao (Chowpatty in a bowl)’ with a glass of Miguel Torres, Santa Digna, Sauvignon Blanc from Chile.

Price range: Moderate and affordable. Meal for two, on an average, costs about Rs. 4000, plus taxes. A couple of glasses of wine consumed with the meal per head would cost another 1500.

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Set’z
3rd Floor, DLF Emporio Mall, Nelson Mandela Marg, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi

setz
Set’z’s vast choice of food is matched by its wide selection of international wines

In spite of Delhi’s reputation as a major gastronomic destination of India, the burden of serving soul-stirring food and world-class beverages in an upmarket and chic environment always rested with the five star hotels. That was until Set’z (earlier avatar Zest) appeared in the city’s hospitality horizon, especially in the multi-cuisine segment. Since then it has acquired a reputation of being a game changer of sorts, inspiring a wave of independent F&B outlets trying to emulate its success as one of the most happening dining addresses in town.

Apart from the vast array of cuisines, the concept and theme of Set’z is perfectly suited for wine consumption and quite expectedly, the restaurant management has made it a prime focus in its overall service offerings. The customised and well-appointed wine cellar and tasting room at the entrance is one of the very few of its kind in Delhi and adds to the ‘wine ambience’ of the restaurant. The wine list is extensive (about 180 labels) and contemporarily designed with country-wise and varietal categorisation, making it easily navigable for most. It offers an excellent regional and style variation and one would be hard-pressed not to find a wine that cannot partner its vast selection of Indian and international food. Although, considering the size of the food menu, one would expect to find more wine-by-the-glass offers. Currently, the list only features 14.

The wine list:
Main Feature: Contemporarily designed menu with a wide selection to partner with the large selection of dishes.

Strength: Wines from classical wine regions.

Wine-by-the-glass Selection: 14 across types and styles, that are replaced with new labels every three months.

What to look out for (specials): Weekend brunches accompanied with Champagnes and sparkling wines. Alfresco dining at the terrace. Wine sampling at the customised cellar cum tasting room.

Food & wine recommendations: For fish lovers, the ‘Persley Crusted Sea Bass’ is not to be missed. The carefully cooked fillet retains the all-important moisture and juices while the light herb crust adds to the texture and flavour. A racy Burgundy like the Domain Hamelin Chablis will complement the dish perfectly.

Another good combination to indulge on is the ‘Braised lamb shank’ with moderately priced but elegant Bordeaux Blend, Chateau Malmaison.

Price range: Expensive. A meal for two with wines on an average costs about Rs. 12000 to 14000 plus taxes. This price will vary according to the type of wine ordered.

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Part two of this review article, which focusses on restaurants in five star hotels, can be accessed here.

Cheers,

Niladri

Introducing three young additions to the ‘WSET Level 3 Club’ in India

When I was recently informed about the latest WSET Level 3 results in India, for which the exams were held in Mumbai earlier this year, it was naturally a moment of happiness and fulfillment. After all nothing is more satisfying for a trainer and mentor than to realize that his efforts have helped ambitious young  professionals cross significant career milestones. This rewarding feeling is further accentuated when these individuals achieve their wine learning goals with flying colours and with a clear objective of standing out in the fast-evolving hospitality industry.

As per expectations and anticipation, three of my ex-trainees, Hardik Arora, Sagar Nath and Vivek Boddul, were not only successful in negotiating the challenge but also managed to pass the exam with high grades. While Hardik achieved ‘Distinction’, Sagar and Vivek were awarded ‘Merits’.

What is noteworthy is that all of them achieved this feat by spending their own hard-earned money (normally, these courses and exams are employer-sponsored). Mind you, these certifications do not come cheap – the Level 3 course costs almost 80,000 bucks (Rs. 75,000 + Taxes). So, all credit to these young professionals for being self-motivated and self-driven to make a mark for themselves.

Sagar was among the 18 handpicked F&B professionals who were a part of India’s most comprehensive wine training program in 2011 (ITC Hotels Ultimate Sommelier Programme followed by WSET Level 3 course). He left ITC Hotels within a few months following this training to pursue better career opportunities and hence could not take a shot at the exams that year. Hardik and Vivek, on the other hand, were a part of the 25 ITC Hotels resources who underwent a similar training in 2012, although in this edition (unlike 2011), the WSET exam was not a part of the entire training package. But that did not stop them from pursuing their dream of acquiring this certification on their own, and quite deservedly they got their reward this year.

I am sure this result will inspire other motivated individuals from across the country to make this valuable investment in their career in 2014, and beyond.

Here is a brief introduction of the three additions to the WSET Level 3 club in India this year:

Hardik Arora
Hardik Arora

Hardik is a graduate from Institute of Hotel Management, Chandigarh and currently a member of  the ITC Maratha F&B team. After finishing the three week-long training in New Delhi in mid 2012, he has been appointed as the sommelier-in-charge of the hotel’s Pan Asian restaurant. He is an ambitious individual who wants to carve a niche for himself in the Indian beverage industry.

“It is a dream come true” he says about the result. “The fact that I managed to get a distinction in both theory and tasting, makes this extra special for me. Now I wish to use this knowledge and skill to reach new career heights in the hospitality or wine industry. I strongly hope that the Level 3 qualification would be a turning point in my career.”

“Attending the Level 3 training and Ultimate Sommelier Programme has so far been the best professional experience of my life and I am confident that it will help me become a better wine professional. I look forward to your continued advice and guidance for developing my career as a beverage professional.”  the ambitious professional further adds.

Vivek Boddul
Vivek Boddul

Vivek Satyanarayan Boddul started his career with Oberoi Airport Services as a bartender. He moved to ITC Maratha after a 14 month stint with Oberoi. He has just been selected as a food & beverage management trainee with ITC Hotels.

“Selling premium wines is a prelude to an interesting turn my career took. The real passion of sommeliership ignited my mind when I was lucky to be a part of ITC Hotels advanced wine sommelier training which was mentored by Mr. Niladri Dhar. Subsequently Tulleeho organised the WSET level 3 program in Mumbai, which resulted in successfully completing the certification with merit rank.” he says enthusiastically.

He goes on to add “Looking forward to pursue my career in beverages preferably wines abiding to hotel industry. Simultaneously focussing on further qualification in wines and spirit to fine tune the existing knowledge by elevating the self to higher levels.”

Sagar Nath
Sagar Nath

Sagar Nath is an alumnus of the Institute of Hotel Management, Lucknow and currently resides in Mumbai. Since leaving ITC Hotels in late 2011, he has worked for two different wine importers. He was a Key Accounts Manager with Brindco when the results were announced.

This entrepreneurial wine lover says “WSET Level 3 is a dream which I always wanted to achieve. I am convinced that this will add a lot of value to my future career growth. Hopefully, I will also be able to make the most of my training and learning as a tool to spread awareness of the beverage. I want to be one of the ambassadors of wine in India.”

During his time in Mumbai, Sagar has spent a considerable time interacting with hotels about their wine  needs. He, like many of us in the industry, feels that quality wine training differentiates a good wine program from those which lack a winning edge. “We need many more trained and skilled professionals in the industry. My own experience of the training and now this qualification, proves how much difference quality training can make in understanding and appreciating wine.” he concludes.

Congratulations and best wishes to all three of them, and here’s hoping to see many more young professionals gaining such wine qualifications in the future.

Cheers,

Niladri

Why the Robert Parker brand is irrelevant in India

This post is in response to an article which appeared in the delWine website a few days ago. While it eruditely laid down the hype and commercial implications of wine ratings, the selective role of Robert Parker as a wine critic emerged as one of the highlights of the piece. This gives us an opportunity to find out what India thinks about the emperor of wine and what does his ratings mean to the Indian wine business?

Robert Parker Jr. is probably the most celebrated wine critic of all times. Photo courtesy Wikipedia
Robert Parker Jr. is probably the most celebrated wine critic of all times. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

It is inevitable that whenever wine ratings are discussed, Robert Parker, by default, becomes the focal point, and it is no different in the mentioned article also. No one in the knowledge of the world wine industry can deny the influence of his ratings on the trade. I have personally written and spoken about this at different forums, particularly his expertise and fascination with a few chosen wine regions and their wines (Bordeaux and California happen to be on the top).

To understand Robert Parker’s eminence as a wine critic, one has to study the man’s rise following the pronouncements of 1982 Bordeaux vintage. He was probably the only expert who stuck his neck out in conviction about the quality of  this vintage when most others wrote-off the year as average. The fact that it turned out to be one of the best vintages of  the century in subsequent tastings, was a vindication of his unquestionable tasting abilities. Incidentally, most who disagreed with him in the beginning had to fall in line with his ratings. This was not only the start of the making of ‘Robert Parker brand’ but also a sign of things to come for the future – the emergence of the ultimate wine critic in true sense, a cult-like figure who possesses a unique ability to affect wine price indices with a single whiff, sip and stroke of his pen.

Like most critics, in addition to a large army of dedicated followers, he has his fair share of detractors too, who feel that ‘Parkerization’ of the wine world has done more harm than good to wine’s cause. While many call him biased and manipulative, there are also those who feel that he is the best thing that could have happened to the modern wine world.

But in spite of Parker’s standing as one of the tallest authorities of wine ratings in rest of the wine world, his influence in affecting drinking habits and the trade in India is almost non-existent. The Parker effect, if any, happens indirectly and outside the country’s boundaries where prices are decided as per his ratings. Inside India, so far there has been no indication of any significant impact of his ratings and reviews.

Why Parker and his ratings are not important in the current Indian wine scene:

1.)  We are not a fine wine consuming nation, which happens to be Parker’s strongest domain. The consumption of wines rated 90+ and more by him is limited to a miniscule part of the wine drinking community in this country (price and availability being the two main reasons). Although there is no data to suggest how small this segment might be, it can be safely assumed that it is in the sub-zero percentage, when compared to the overall price brackets.

The same is true when it comes to collectible and investment grade wines.

2.)  Overwhelming majority of Indian wine consumers do not know the break-up and significance of the 100-point rating scale. Therefore  all the talk about a wine’s placement in the market just based on Robert Parker’s scores does not make any difference. At the most, it is nothing more than a numbers game which only the wine importers like to highlight as strong selling  propositions to the top hotels

3.)  One of the major areas of Parker’s influence is a category which belongs to the futures trade (En Primeur). Since this segment hardly features in the Indian trade, his ratings of these wines are of little or no consequence to the market in the country

4.)  In contrary to suggestions made in the article, even the hospitality industry does not consider it necessary to factor-in Parker or Wine Spectator ratings when selecting wines for their portfolio. Appellation, vintage and brand recognition play much more significant roles in wine selections. Therefore, the reason a 2000 Chateau Petrus ends up in a luxury hotel’s wine list is because the name has a tremendous brand value, belongs to a famous Bordeaux Right Bank appellation (Pomerol) and is from a great vintage. The fact that Parker scored this a perfect 100 is most likely to be a mere coincidence. Now, please don’t suggest that 2000 turned out to be a great vintage because of Parker’s ratings!

Why is this so? Simply because the role of critics in our drinking habits is negligible, to say the least. Ask any sommelier in the country and they will confirm that wines are never sold or selected based on critics’ ratings.

Now coming back to the article in question, and why I was tempted to express my views on the subject. Here are two examples from the article:

Example 1.

delWine1

I feel, this is just over the top! There was a time when this statement would have been true to a large extent but to suggest that he ‘single-handedly controls the wine rating system’ is unreasonable in today’s context. Thanks to many other equally capable (if not more) critics and credible wine review sites, it is no longer a one man show. Nowadays, many serious wine consumers and fine wine investors refer to multiple reviews and ratings before choosing their wines.

Leading wine websites like Wine-Searcher.com have realized this fact and it is becoming more and more common to find multiple ratings for a particular wine:

Based on consumer demands, it is common to find multiple ratings for wines on top wine websites like Wine-Searcher.com
Based on consumer demands, it is common to find multiple ratings for wines on top wine websites like Wine-Searcher.com

Example 2.

delWine2

The statement above is only partially true. No doubt that such scores are likely to add to the wine’s commercial value, but there are many wines scored 90 and below by Parker which are considered great value for money (better quality to price ratio). Additionally, there are also those which receive better scores later, following a period of bottle-aging. Generally, Parker mentions about the likely evolution of certain lower scoring wines into better products, in his tasting notes.

The rise and influence of the wine critic in conventional wine cultures is best exemplified by Robert Parker. An institution in himself, he has re-written the rules of the game which, many believe, will be the cornerstone of wine critiquing business for a long time to come. But as new wine cultures are born and new market dynamics emerge, Parker’s legacy may not have the same relevance. India is one such market where the man with ‘The Million Dollar Nose’ is yet to make a mark. Only time will tell if the Parker brand is able to mesmerise the Indian wine lover in times to come as it has for decades in other parts of the world.

Cheers,

Niladri

Introducing the latest Champagne Scholarship winner from India

Sommelier Kathiravan
Sommelier Kathiravan Govindaraj

A brief post to announce and introduce the winner of the Champagne Scholarship, India, for this year.

As is well known within the industry, the WSET, along with Bureau du Champagne started offering this prestigious scholarship last year (Ravi Joshi won it in 2012) to an Indian candidate who has performed exceedingly well in the WSET Level 3 exam and who displays a strong commitment to the subject. Apart from the score in Level 3, the selection process for this award involves completing a written questionnaire to the selectors’ satisfaction followed by interviews. This selection process started in the last quarter of 2012 and the final result was recently declared.

It is with profound sense of pride and pleasure I introduce this year’s winner, Kathiravan Govindaraj, Sommelier extraordinaire of Sheraton Park Hotel, Chennai. Kathiravan was a part of the 18 ITC Hotels resources who underwent the comprehensive 45-day Level 3 wine training program conducted by yours truly at ITC Maurya in August/September 2011 (the first part of the comprehensive training initiatives in the organization). He was always the star performer during the training and internal assessments as well as in the WSET Level 3 exam, which he passed with a distinction (the only candidate to have achieved this in the group). Also, following the training he used his wine learning to very good effect in the hotel where he is the leading Sommelier, winning many guest accolades in addition to improving the wine sales. In fact, he is one of the most wine-focused F&B professionals within the ITC Hotels chain now.

The scholarhip will give him the opportunity to travel to the Champagne region for a comprehensive study tour.

I feel particularly proud to have trained and mentored Kathiravan throughout my time with ITC Hotels and this scholarship is almost like a parting gift for me. Now I hope that he uses this rare opportunity to propel his wine career in India. We need more dedicated wine professionals like him in the country.

Well done Kathir…see you on top!

Cheers,

Niladri

Restaurant Wine Lists – Component of a wine program you cannot afford to ignore

The following article was originally featured in the delWine & Indian Wine Academy website where it appears under the title ‘Making Restaurant Wine Lists‘.

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Wine ListIn spite of India’s late entry into the world of wine as a serious consumer, the country has come a long way in its quest to become a highly sought after market for the beautiful beverage. In the absence of a robust retail and online sector, wine business in India is almost entirely driven by the hospitality industry. And given the high margins derived from their sales in luxury hotels and an ever-increasing demand and awareness, wine has well and truly replaced other (stronger) alcoholic beverages as the leading contributor to F&B revenues in top hotels and their restaurants, as well as standalone properties.

Hotel chains which represent some of the most iconic and signature food brands but were not necessarily typical ‘wine & food destinations’ until sometime ago, are also on a course-correction phase and now investing prudently on improving their wine offerings.

The realization within the country’s F&B community about the importance of wine and its contribution to the bottom line and stature has resulted in added focus on every aspect related to wines, especially wine lists and their content and design. No wonder these have evolved from simple bill of fares to classic menus packed with many unique features and valuable information. All these are a part of a clear business strategy to capitalize on wine’s acceptance and superior placement vis-a-vis other beverages.

Undoubtedly, wine lists are the face of any wine program and often reflect the organisation’s commitment to the ‘wine cause’, a reason why a lot of attention should be dedicated in their creation.

So what makes a great wine list and how can it be optimized to achieve larger business goals? Whilst there may be multiple perceptions about what constitutes a high quality wine list, five main factors need to be addressed while designing one:

  • Balance: Achieving harmony across all parameters is the single-most critical requirement in creating world-class wine lists. A right balance of regions / appellations, grapes / blends, styles & types, price points and number of labels (as per your inventory and storage specifications) will go a long way in boosting your image as a wine-friendly gastronomic destination in addition to adding handsomely to your revenues.

Therefore, a selection of ‘terroir-driven’, earthy Pinot Noirs from Burgundy are highly desirable but so are the fruit-forward and upfront Pinots from Central Otago. A heavily oaked and lees-matured Chardonnay with its buttery texture will perfectly accompany some of your richer main course items but the lighter and fruitier Albarino might just be the wine for those who do not appreciate oak in their whites. Similarly, Champagnes are must-haves in every list but why not expand your selection by including other interesting Traditional Method sparkling wines? The possibilities of achieving the right balance in a wine list are many…you just have to put your wine expertise to the best use.

In some F&B destinations of our country, this balance is overlooked to project an enviable ‘luxury quotient’, by loading high-end, super-premium and cult wines in their lists. This unsustainable approach not only restricts the spread of wine’s popularity but also likely to result in a failure of the organisation’s wine program in the long run.

  • Information: No menu (food or beverage, doesn’t matter) is worth its salt without the bare minimum information it provides to the customers. For wine, even a bare minimum is not enough as every wine is unique in its profile and carries its idiosyncrasy in the bottle, which needs to be decoded for everyone’s convenience. Great wine lists will also distinguish themselves by offering relevant recommendations with the cuisine served.

Also, it is critical to ensure that all your information is accurate, factually correct and relevant to the wines. Pay particular attention to the spellings…one of the most common issues in many wine lists that I have encountered in India.

  • Compatibility to the cuisine: Keeping the balance factor in mind, wine lists must ensure that the majority styles and types of wines in the lists are friendly to the cuisine served. If this factor is not given its due importance, expect a large number of your wines to languish in the stores for a long time, locking in vital cash. For example, it is not advisable to include a lot of heavy textured, oak-influenced and rich wines in a wine list of Oriental cuisine restaurant, serving predominantly light and delicate dishes.
  • Overall business objective: What is your pricing policy? Are you overstretching your inventory limits and value to accommodate large number of labels? Do you have optimum storage conditions and cellaring capacity? What is your capacity of holding slow moving items? Is there a robust wine training regime in place which will ensure that the wine offerings are effectively implemented by the frontline staff? What is the realistic percentage of wine sales do you want to achieve against the overall F&B revenue? Does your wine list reflect the spending capacity of your customers? Does it meet their expectations? These are some of the questions one needs to bear in mind while designing the wine list. So, ensure that you have a checklist of your business goals (related to wine sales) handy while creating the list.
  • Uniqueness: Last but not the least, set yourself apart by designing a wine list which offers something different to your customers, something that they will remember and talk about. It could be exclusive labels, a never-seen-before design, layout and presentation, a Wow-inducing wine-by-the-glass program, interesting but valid wine pairing recommendations or even simple features like seasonal promotions etc.

Whilst everyone wants to have their share of the wine pie, only those who are willing to invest wisely in their wine program are likely to walk away with the largest slices. A thoughtful investment in your wine list could be one of the two main strategic decisions which is likely to keep you ahead in the race (the other being quality wine training and creation of a dedicated Sommelier cadre).

More about the significance of quality wine education and training coming up later…

Cheers,

Niladri

ITC Hotels wine training – Season 2

In this brief post, I continue from where I left in a similar story in 2011. As a sequel to a key initiative put in place last year, which was widely covered in the Indian wine media, a large number of key F&B resources from across the ITC Hotels chain went through a structured and customized wine training this year too. Armed with their newfound knowledge and skills, this Sommelier cadre is driving a resurgent wine program throughout the chain.

Since joining ITC Hotels last year, it has been my consistent endeavour to lay special impetus on effective wine training, for it is the most vital ingredient in making a wine program successful. Based on this conviction, a long-term plan has been devised to invest in top-notch wine training programs throughout the group in Luxury Collection hotels. Although the returns on this investment have already started to trickle in, it is expected that in the near and distant future this endeavour will go a long way in creating a benchmark wine culture in the Indian hospitality industry.

This year, a total of 150 F&B service staff at all levels went through a systematic and level-by-level selection and training, culminating in the ‘ITC Hotels Level 3 in Wines’. 25 young professionals were awarded this certification and are now proudly leading various wine initiatives in their respective hotels and F&B outlets. They join the core group of 18 Sommeliers certified in 2011.

Every level of the ITC Hotels wine training has been carefully designed to match-up to world standards as well as to cater to the needs of the Indian hospitality scenario, especially those which dictate the business dynamics of ITC Hotels. Whilst the Level 1 was aimed at building the foundation and Level 2 as the stepping stone to acquire advanced professional skills, the Level 3 has been the most potent in achieving high skill levels and in turn larger business goals. This expansive and all-encompassing wine training not only aims to impart theoretical knowledge about a wide range of topics related to the world of wine but also, and most importantly, create the very best F&B sales workforce in India.

Lastly, it gives me great satisfaction and sense of achievement in claiming that so far in the country, this wine training exercise has been the most detailed and comprehensive within a single hotel chain (both in terms of numbers trained and level and content of training). This claim is based on the information I have gathered from my contacts in other hotel chains, speaking to industry experts and information available in the media.

Here is a slideshow from this year’s trainings:

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