Insights into India’s most comprehensive wine training program

As mentioned in my last post, I was taking a break from writing on this site as I am totally immersed into the ITC Hotels wine program. But I am compelled to come back due to friendly suggestions that I should occasionally share my experience with the outside world. So here I am with my first update on what I’ve been up to so far. My first assignment was to put in place a unique training program for a chosen group of 18 front line F&B resources from across the ITC Hotels chain. This was a first of its kind initiative in India, not only due to the detail and comprehensiveness of the program but also because it was aimed at achieving the dual objectives of imparting world-class sommelier skills and meet the WSET Level 3 specifications.

Here are some snaps from the fun-filled training sessions. Click on the pics for larger images.

The training was conducted at ITC Maurya and went on for 45 days. The trainees were taken through all the major wine regions of the world in relation to their location, wine-growing conditions, specialities in terms of styles and types of wine production, viticulture & wine-making, local wine laws, labelling regimes,  commercial implications of particular labels and styles on the world-wine trade, sommelier skills, food & wine pairing skills and wine appreciation sessions, among many other topics.

One of the highlights of the training was a systematic tasting of more than 150 wines over this period of time. These included as basic wines as mass-produced Jacob’s Creek to Prestige  Cuvée Champagnes  and Cru Classé Bordeauxs and almost every possible variants in between…lucky us!

At the end of the intense 45 day training the candidates went through a five-day orientation on Level 3 Advanced course by a WSET accredited tutor Charles Crawfurd, MW, followed by the exam. Tulleeho, the only Approved Programme Provider (APP) for this level in India arranged for the orientation as well as the final examination. The team at Tulleeho have been very helpful throughout the training program.

Due to its uniqueness and trendsetting nature in the Indian hospitality scene, the training also received a well-deserved attention in the country’s wine media. Sommelier India, Indian Wine Academy and Wineindia.in are few notable ones who covered this initiative. Check out the following links for the articles:

WSET Level 3 Certification Debuts in India

ITC Hotels raise the antennae for wine

India’s most comprehensive wine training program conducted at the ITC Maurya

Will be back with my next update on the creation of a new wine list for the chain. Until then…happy wining!

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Political correctness – is the wine world setting a (negative) trend?

As part of an annual ritual, I was taking stock of the year gone by, in terms of the wine media’s role in highlighting issues which impact the larger wine community. While there was no dearth of regular ‘hot topics’ (the En Primeur campaign, effect of global warming on the wine industry, acquisitions and dumping of brands, et al.), it was probably the Asian (read Chinese) juggernaut which created the most storm. But amidst all these, one story particularly stood out in terms of underscoring the rampant political correctness which exists in various quarters of the wine world, mainly dwelled by self-proclaimed custodians of standard wine industry ‘rules’.

I am referring to the thought-provoking findings of Tim Hanni MW, published late last year, regarding the taste preferences of majority of common wine consumers. In a nutshell, the study busted the popular myth that people with liking for drier (and intense) style of wines have more evolved and refined palate than those who prefer a degree of sweetness in their liquid. To make matters even more unpalatable for the ‘PC brigade’, it also suggested that ‘distinct physiological differences in human sensory anatomy indicates that the people with the greatest taste sensitivity may well indeed be White Zinfandel drinkers and not the consumers of highly rated, intense red wines’. You can find all about the story here.

Is the wine world too stuffy with clichés and stereotypes? Are ideas and thoughts only ‘innovative’ and ‘groundbreaking’ if they tow the conventional beliefs? Is the wine intelligentsia too obsessed with set conventions? And most importantly, do these set beliefs negatively impact wine consumer’s choices and drinking behaviours?

Those (including me, of course) who feel that wine should be enjoyed on one’s own terms, will equivocally reply in the affirmative to the above, whereas they might simply be preposterous to many on the other side of the spectrum.

Although Hanni’s revelations were by no means representative of the larger wine world’s preferences, it did throw up some interesting facts which cannot be discounted or dismissed. But that is exactly what emerged out of some of the reactions which followed the publication of the study. One that stood out for me was a discussion on the Purple Pages forum. The gentleman who started the thread on this topic, termed him a ‘publicity-seeking loon’ and a ‘charlatan and mad’. Although the Queen of Wine rightly rebutted these statements subsequently, it did leave a bitter taste in the mouth and proved the point that extreme political correctness is indeed existent and has its roots in a system too rigid to encourage emancipation in wine enjoyment.

Talking of personal experiences; one of my earlier posts on Champagne generated sharp reactions on a professional networking forum, merely because it suggested that Champagne is an overrated wine (a belief I still firmly hold, albeit with exceptions). Too offbeat and scandalous a thought perhaps!!

Another incident which springs to mind was during a corporate dinner, where, as the sommelier, I recommended a full-bodied Grenache-dominated blend from southern Rhone with a spicy Indian seekh kebab. I was convinced that this was a great match as the intensity of this wine married well with the spices and neither the food nor the wine dominated each other. But the cliché that ‘Indian-food-goes-well-with-Gewurztraminer’ was so strong that the majority in the room were too apprehensive to give it a try. So they decided to stick to the Gewurz. A couple of months later I received an email from one of the attendees praising my recommendation, which she tried in an up-market restaurant while travelling as a tourist in India. The mail was CCd to most who attended that dinner…Deja vu!

The wine world has come a long way since the days when archaic rules, such as ‘white wine with white meat’, dictated wine drinking habits. Many schools of thought, endorsing various ways of enjoying wine, have since evolved, which are helping enthusiasts to make informed choices, and all this bodes very well for the wine industry. Let’s hope this trend continues and political correctness prevails.

Cheers,

Niladri