An Indian Coup in the Winelands of the Cape
Most media releases are either extravagant or anodyne in nature. The former preface their announcements with hyperbole - "best, greatest, unprecedented" - while the latter, in an attempt to stick to the key business components of the communication, make a virtue of being bland. The initial reports about Analjit Singh's investments in the Cape winelands were not designed to feed the rumour mills and in this they proved to be remarkably successful. It should be added that by the time he started buying up properties in Franschhoek, foreign ownership of vineyards in the Cape had ceased to be a matter of any real importance to the general media.
Wine publications had also come to give these announcements scant attention, unless the buyer was a widely recognised international player or one who owned a high profile international business. For example, May de Lencquesaing, who was still the proprietor of Château Pichon Lalande at the time she purchased Glenelly in Stellenbosch, found herself the focus of media attention because of her long established position in the Bordeaux trade. Likewise, Laurence Graff's acquisition of Delaire made the news - but that was because he's probably the individual with the highest profile in the already high profile, luxury, jewellery trade. In contrast, Analjit Singh's early shopping spree could pretty much have been conducted incognito for all the publicity that it garnered.
Things might have stayed this way had he not - in the course of seeking to employ a winemaker for his properties - discovered that by buying into Mullineux wines he would both acquire production competence and a share in the Cape's front-ranked cellar. The circumstances were fortuitous. Chris and Andrea Mullineux had launched their business about five years earlier and it had instantly become a resounding success. One of their original backers - whose interest had been both speculative and entrepreneurial - had decided that this would be a good time to exit and move on to another project. He was happy to give the Mullineuxs a little time to find a new shareholder - one they could be comfortable with over the much longer journey that lay ahead. Their consulting viticulturist was already working on Singh's vineyards and suggested that their getting together might prove fruitful.
It's worth pausing for a moment to consider exactly what opportunity this presented to a newcomer to the sometimes staid world of Cape wine. Singh owned property in a well-known - even fashionable - location but its status as a wine producer was entirely untested. He needed a winemaker, and while there's no shortage of trained and technically skilled candidates, no one (except the most mercenary) would readily leave an established position for the uncertainties of this kind of start-up. Ordinarily, significant equity in small, enormously successful, owner-operated wine businesses like Mullineux's is not for sale. Buying into a going concern with clear upward potential and paying on multiple rather than on unknown prospects, while simultaneously solving the problem of attracting top winemaking skills, is an unlikely double whammy. Imbuing the new project with an instant profile just added to the value of the coup.
Andrea and Chris Mullineux had enjoyed a meteoric rise in the world of Cape wine. While still completing his undergraduate studies at Stellenbosch, Chris went straight to what became Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards, while it was still in its development phase. This was a mere 12 years ago. He oversaw some of the plantings as well as the establishment of the cellar and made its first very successful vintages. When the property was sold in 2008, the Mullineuxs set up their own small cellar in Riebeek-Kasteel. A little more than six years later their operation was judged the Winery of the Year by Platter's South African wine guide - an accolade reserved for the best producer in the country. With four 5-star wines in the 2014 edition to go with the seven 5-star awards they had collected since they had launched their wine business, they instantly joined the elite ranks of the most successful producers in the 35-year history of the Guide.
The top end of the wine market is always a precarious place to inhabit. No matter how good you are, no matter how meticulous your selection, no matter how modestly you accept the accolades, everyone is waiting to see you fail. The mere fact that you have become the benchmark that others are determined to outperform makes you rather like the marathon runner who sets the pace but is at risk of running out of steam. Then there is the question of fashion: to be á la mode today means that at some stage in the not-too-distant-future the caravan will have moved on. No matter how good you are, no matter how consistent your performance, there is a perceived value to novelty. The trade likes change. No wonder even the most competent and adept find life at the pinnacle lonely and life-threatening.
So here we have the Mullineuxs in the same high-risk space - every wine is good in its own right, and some cuvées, extraordinary by any standard. Their business model has some built-in safety features - a relatively new partner to provide the enterprise with the financial backing it may need, and low enough volumes to ensure the cellar is not enslaved to the commerce of wine. This balance is crucial - especially with overwhelming demand and limited vineyard ownership (much of the top fruit is contracted, though the winery team often manages the viticulture). Without this independence it's often impossible for producers to resist the temptation to release the high-priced cuvées even when the fruit isn't good enough to make the cut.
Chris and Andrea Mullineux are very conscious of these dangers. Their Kloof Street range is designed to provide value wines for those of the cellar's followers who also want good everyday drinking. At R80 for the white and R90 for the red, they are arguably under-priced. The producers prefer it this way - they don't want these wines to become the statement of their aesthetic vision or a distraction from their primary objective, which is a focus on site-specificity. In a way, this forces them to make all the components of the more premium Mullineux range work, both for the wines and for the business.
Essentially here the cellar offers a blended red (R240) and a blended white (R190). There are fewer of these than in the Kloof Street range, but significantly more than the single-site wines (Syrah and Chenin - defined in terms of the soils/geology of the vineyards). No doubt the purists will want to chase down the Schist or Granite Syrah - of which typically 100 cases of each are produced each year, and which sell for around R675 per bottle. For my money, however, the blends - which optimise the best features from these often wildly diverse locations - make for a better drink. I can't think of many Northern Rhône Syrahs to match the 2012 Mullineux that's just been released, and certainly not at less than three times the price.
This, of course, is merely the starting point of the new partnership. The wines presently coming to market were either conceived or made before the Mullineuxs teamed up with Analjit Singh. The real fruits of their new partnership will only see the light of day when the properties currently being developed in Franschhoek yield their first harvest, and are transformed into wine. What is clear is that these will not be sold under the existing Mullineux label. There is talk that the Leeu part of the joint venture ("Leeu" is Afrikaans for "lion" - a play on words incorporating Singh's name and also the South African provenance) will appear as the brand name on the Franschhoek origin range. It also seems clear that "Bas" - as the Mullineux's refer to their partner, from the initials of his full name, Bhai Analjit Singh - will leave them to focus on its style: there's been no indication that he is trying to stamp his aesthetic vision on the wines.
Whatever the case, it will be several years before the Franschhoek cellar has a strong and separate presence in the market. Mullineux and Leeu may then express two totally different styles of Cape wine. The former will continue to reflect the stony, slightly bleak, gently undulating landscape of the Swartland, with its occasional rocky outcrop and its weathered ancient geology. The latter, coming from the verdant valley first settled by the French Huguenots over three centuries ago, will necessarily be less austere. Still, it's a safe bet that whatever wines emerge from a cellar under the control of Andrea and Chris Mullineux will never be overdone or plush. Restraint remains their hallmark, and while this does not mean that their wines will be spartan, it may take time and discernment to discover their generosity.
WHAT THE PARTNERS HAVE TO SAY
SI: Is it correct to say that Leeu will only appear on the wine labels produced in Franschoek and Mullineux in the wines from Swartland?
Chris: Mullineux & Leeu is the name of our winery, and represents our exciting partnership. Mullineux and Leeu will appear on all the back labels, but because terroir and regionality are so important to us in terms of wine quality and identity, our Mullineux label will only appear on Swartland Wines of origin and the Leeu label (which we are yet to release) will appear on wines coming out of Franschoek.
SI: Why is Anlajit Singh referred to as "Bas"?
Chris: Bas represent Mr Analjit Singh's initials and is a short form for how we affectionately address him.
SI: If and when the wines are available in India, which ones are they likely to be?
Chris: At this stage we are exporting a small amount of wine to Bas directly in India, but this is for his own use. It is probably the best looked after of any of the wines we export - air freighted and stored in specialised wine fridges at Bas's home.
SI: Which are your major export markets?
Chris: We export to 23 countries, and the largest markets for us are the UK, USA, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Holland and Mauritius.
SI: What is the turnover of your company?
Chris: As we are a privately held company we prefer not to disclose this information.
Bhai Analjit Singh
SI: What prompted you to invest in a vineyard?
Analjit: Firstly, it was love at first sight with South Africa. Secondly, the world of wine
brings with it many other associations which are close to my heart, such as
agriculture, nature, food, good living, friends and the finer things in life.
SI: What do you expect to get from this, a venture which is so different from your other businesses?
Analjit: I expect pleasure, personal satisfaction and reasonable returns.
SI: Is your interest in this venture purely as an investor or also a consumer and wine lover?
Analjit: It's a bit of both. We have to do a fair amount of entertaining and it give me immense pleasure to serve my guests excellent wine from a vineyard in which I have a share.
Lunch with Kapil Grover - A born raconteur
Sommelier India Issue 6, Dec-Jan 2015 Released
This edition of the magazine has a strong India component with the SI Tasting Panel (also online) reviewing the latest releases in Indian wines and Alok Chandra's report of the current state of the Indian wine industry (in the print issue). We introduce you to the winners of the 7th Indian Sommelier Competition (more details in the print issue), an annual event organised by Wi-Not Beverage Solutions. Out of a hundred contestants from around the country, 13 lucky finalists received a one-year subscription to Sommelier India Wine magazine, which we hope will inspire them to reach greater heights in their chosen profession.
Our cover story is about Mullineux Family Wines (page 22). Analjit Singh of Max India bought a stake in it some months ago and struck gold. It has been judged Winery of the Year by Platter's South African wine guide and produces excellent wines.
Issue 6, 2014 could almost be called a people issue considering the number of interesting stories there are about people in the wine world. Viraj Sawant is an aspiring master sommelier who is back in India after studying and working in London (page 43). Pradeep Pachpatil of Somanda Vineyards & Resorts, who comes with 25 years of industry experience, has launched Soma Wines from a boutique winery in Nashik (page 34).
We met Christophe Thomas, export director of Maison Joseph Drouhin during his short visit to Delhi (page 10). The wines of Joseph Drouhin are found on the finest tables. Based in Burgundy, the winery was founded in 1880 and is still in the hands of the family. Vincent Cleme who is now based in Hong Kong as Wines and Spirits specialist with the British auction house, SPINK talks about what drew him to a career in wine and spirits (page 38). From further afield, Erin Ryan White, sommelier par excellence shares many valuable insights from 33 years of experience (page 50). Dr Madaiah Revana is an eminent surgeon whose passion for wine resulted in his producing award-winning Napa Valley wines (page 66).
Considering the many trophies Indian wines have won in the last 12 months, will they soon be in the big league among the world's top producers? Indian wine of good provenance is eminently drinkable, but competing in the international arena will be an uphill task. Wine after all is not just any beverage, it is steeped in tradition and cultural heritage. Taste and quality apart, reputation counts for a great deal. And that starts by gaining acceptance and throat-share back home. A sharper marketing strategy and large-scale commercial production is required before Indian wines can become serious contenders in their own right and move out of their niche category.
To read these stories and many others covering topics such as which wines to buy, wine education, restaurants for wine lovers and more, subscribe to either the print magazine or the digital tablet/iphone version.
Filled with news, features, wine profiles and stories about the culture surrounding wine, Sommelier India is written by some of the best wine writers in the world!
Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year!
The Indian Wine Industry stays the course
What's worse, half of that low figure for India is made up of about 1.5 million cases of port-style wines produced from table grapes, which purists would not count as wine. However, priced between `50 and `200 per bottle at retail, this has been the fastest-growing Indian segment for some years.
Bear in mind, too, that wine has to compete for listings or shelf space and "share of throat" with the much larger businesses of spirits (300 million cases) and beer (265 million cases), neither of which sit quietly and allow wines to encroach on their turf with impunity.
Nevertheless, wine sales in India do continue to grow - at 15% to 20% annually, driven by changes in lifestyles and spending habits from consumption by women as well as visitors from overseas and, of course, also due to the increasingly better quality of some of the wines made in India.
This is a key trend. The fact that some Indian wines have managed to equal the price-and-quality status of imported wines despite the high customs duties on wines, which amounts to 162% in India. While entry-level imported wines start at around ₹ 1,000 per bottle, today there are at least a dozen reserve Indian wines priced between ₹ 800 to ₹ 1,700 - a far cry from just seven years ago when no Indian wines were priced over `500 per bottle.
More importantly, the quality of Indian wines is improving all the time as wineries follow best practices, with due attention paid to grape quality, winemaking and international standards of packaging. This is particularly true of new entrants like KRSMA, Alpine Wineries and SDU from Karnataka, and Fratelli, Charosa, Vallonné and Chandon from Maharashtra - aptly demonstrated in a recent tasting of in Mumbai where top honours were shared equally by industry leaders Sula, Grover Zampa, Nine Hills, and the new wineries mentioned above.
So what is the current state of the Indian wine industry? While Sula remains the big gorilla with over 50% share of the domestic premium wine market, numerous smaller players have emerged to nibble at (but not seriously challenge) its monopoly. That said, only 47 of the 79 wineries in Maharashtra are still in operation and of these only 10 are selling outside the state. In Karnataka, the situation is a little better, with 17 out of 22 wineries still operating, although only Grover Zampa and Heritage are as selling wine outside the state.
The reality is that apart from Sula almost everybody else is still in an invest-grow mode or, in other words, still in the red. Not that Sula is making a great deal of money. In 2011/12 their profit after tax was a modest nine per cent on a revenue of ₹ 145 crore, with a substantial portion of their bottom line coming from wine tourism.
Two significant wineries have launched their wines in the past year. KRSMA Estates in north Karnataka (near Hampi), and Charosa Vineyards located at Dindori, near Nashik. Both properties produce estate-grown wines and have done everything by the rule book. Inded, they have already made a mark at the top end of the quality spectrum for Indian wines. What's more, recent entrant Fratelli Wines is distributing its wines across India and has expanded into the sale of imported wines.
Thirdly, Grover Vineyards merged with Vallée du Vin to form Grover Zampa Vineyards. The initiative seems to be working as they have revamped both their wine quality and management and are regaining the consumer confidence lost in recent years.
Finally, Moët Hennessey India launched Chandon Brut and Brut Rosé wines produced in India at attractive price points. Distinctive and high quality wines, they will challenge Sula's pre-eminence in the domestic sparkling wine category, and have raised India's profile as a wine producer in the international arena.
As for importers, their "cup of woe runneth over". The Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has become yet another regulatory body with standards to satisfy. New mandatory declarations on labels and testing criteria will result in at least 20% of imported wines disappearing from the market, as well as delays and shortages in the key year-end festive season of 2014.
However, a shakeout in the import space was long overdue - as the saying goes, "What doesn't kill you will only make you stronger". So in the short term only the more serious players will be left in the playing field. However, in the longer term the FSSAI constraints are likely to inhibit the entry of new wines, as well as limit - and make more expensive - those that continue to be available in the country. This is not good from the consumer's point of view.
As for recent innovations in the industry, the only apparent change is the emergence of quality-consciousness. Wine labels now state their vintages, as well as (in some cases) details of the grape varieties used. Wine tasting competitions are starting to rank Indian wines and inform consumers of their rankings.
There were few technical advances in production. Clonal selection practices are still rare. Nobody has adopted mechanical viticulture as the scale of vineyards is generally too small for this to make financial sense. In winemaking, only two wineries are using open-topped fermenters for their reds (KRSMA and Charosa), while a few more are using barrel fermentation and cask maturation for reserve wines.
There have been no innovations in wine packaging, apart from a magnum Cabernet Sauvignon from KRSMA. (Sula already has a Brut in magnum). This could be due to inflexible state excise rules that inhibit items like the Bag-in- Box (BIB) offerings, which are so common overseas.
What are the prospects for the industry in the near future? Optimistic, for the most part. Volumes are likely to continue growing at 15% to 20% annually, due to both organic growth and pipeline filling in new markets, and the quality of Indian wines will continue to improve. While no new wineries are coming up, some units lying closed may be revived to produce on contract for local markets, using table grapes (for fortified wines), fruit, and even dates, particularly in the north east states of Arunachal and Meghalaya where a new wine policy may be in the offing.
More important is the impact of the Modi government on the economy and consequently on disposable income, which will partly translate into higher spending on lifestyle products like wine. While Gujarat is unlikely to repeal prohibition any time soon, there are unlikely to be any significant new taxes on wine, either at the centre or in the states. With luck, there could be a change in customs duties on imported wines in the next budget, which may be rationalised back to the three- slab system that existed till about 2006 - thereby continuing to protect the domestic industry from cheap imports while making better (and higher-priced) wines more affordable.
Let's raise a (wine) glass to the wine industry in India - growing by leaps and bounds! ❖
This article was written for Sommelier India's print edition, Issue 1, 2015, now in circulation
Sommelier India tastes India's finest wines
2011 ZAMPA SOIRÉE BRUT
Pale straw and youthful appearance. Fruit-forward nose with abundance of ripe white fruits and a touch of florals, green gooseberries, with mineral back. Fine mousse, round mouthful and crisp structure. Dry palate, crisp acidity, green tinge with a cleanbiting lime zestiness. Ready to drink.
16/20. MRP ₹1,100
2011 ZAMPA SOIREE BRUT ROSÉ
Pale watermelon and onion skin colour. Fine mousse. Fresh red, under-ripe berries, tad green, minerally, strawberry skin. Round, crisp palate with a creamy mouthfeel. Candied under-ripe berries and dark spices. Tad warm from high alcohol than required for balance.
15/20. MRP ₹1,200
2013 SULA BRUT
Deep lemon hue but slightly flat in appearance. Aromas of ripe fruit, sappy touches, yellow fruit
skin, tad chemically, hint of marmalade
and traces of oxidation. Off-dry, oxidative palate. Chemical, coppery, granular, sharp palate.
15.5/20. MRP ₹ 1,050
2013 SULA ROSÉ
Deep salmon touches. Crushed floral, over-ripe peach. Sour cream, strawberry mousse, animally, warm alcohol. Bruised yellow and red fruits. Seems past its prime. Tastes fruity with sweet red cherries and candied blood orange in its youth. 1
4.5/20. MRP ₹1,200
2014 PLEASURES SAUVIGNON BLANC
Pale straw, green tinge flavour. Like a water cracker with aloe- vera gel. Pale body, slightly sharp and crunchy front palate, white pepper, tad flabby. Grainy and high on minerality. Gooseberries, under-ripe white fruits, good aftertaste but lacks structure.
14/20. MRP ₹ 500
2013 VITAE TRE
Youthful, medium straw hue. Mid-aromatic nose, stoney fruits, rosewater hints. Spicy and ripe white fruit touches, final notes of sweet tropical fruits. Dry, aromatic fruity palate, flavoursome sweet white fruit, marzipan, honeydew aftertaste. Balanced body. Ready to drink.
16.5/20. MRP ₹1,600
2013 VITAE CHARDONNAY
Pale lemon colour. Youthful. Low fruity nose, oak chips. Rustic Nashik nose. Closed fruit. Warm spices. Tad woody. Should be decanted and rested. Dry. High on spices. Chalky, minerality, with green hints and sappy touches. Good juicy aftertaste but too short.
15.5/20. MRP ₹1,600
2013 VIJAY AMRITRAJ COLLECTION
Medium straw colour. Aromatic essences of sweet white fruits and fragrant white florals. Dry white, despite Viogner's tendency towards sweetness. High alcohol and a throat drying mid-palate, highly spicy front, chalky, mineral; green touches, good aftertaste but short.
16/20. MRP ₹1,200
2013 LA RESERVE BLANC BARRIQUE RESERVE
Surprising pink touch over medium lemon hue. Aromatic nose. Rose petals, peach marmalade, jasmine and white florals, candied mint, elderflower. Bone dry, warm from high alcohol, flabby as it lacks acidity, grainy structure and mouthfeel. Floral front, sweet fruit, dry back, gentle soapy finish with varietal character. Ready to drink. Should decant.
15/20. MRP ₹ 950
2013 SULA RIESLING
Deep straw. Youthful. Curious nose of milk-cake. High on florals. Sweet, white fruit aroma. Touch of rubber and candied mint. Medium dry. Flabby palate as it lacks acidity. Off-balance. Grainy palate. Round mouthfeel with varietal characteristics.
15/20. MRP ₹890
2014 CABERNET SHIRAZ
Medium ruby. Youthful and bright. Clean, dark skin fruit, sweet and juicy. Slightly fragrant. Gentle and crunchy. Soft round and gentle mouthfeel. Crisp, fine grain tannins. Earthy and woody with high fruitiness, chewy, and well balanced. Overall, very supple. 15/20. MRP ₹550
Deep ruby colour with fading rims. Oaky front palate, high on marzipan. Bitter almond nose. Touch under-ripe. Sweet and jammy, ripening fruit. Dusty, husky, gripping oak. Bitter aftertaste. Chemical-like, not amicable yet. Needs couple of years to mature. Maybe five to six years.
15.5/20. MRP ₹1,800
2010 CHÊNE TEMPRANILLO/SYRAH
Dense, deep ruby, fading rims. Youthful but developing. Sweet subtle nose. Oak plus juicy fruit. Earthy, caramel and Maplewood lifts. Dark red florals. Sweet fruity palate. Dusty, French oak front. Sweet and warm spices. Marzipan touch, round, medium grain tannins. Balanced with a bitter almond aftertaste. Can be aged for up to five years, needs decanting. 17/20. MRP ₹1,800
2013 VIJAY AMRITRAJ COLLECTION SHIRAZ/ CABERNET SAUVIGNON/ VIOGNIER
Deep ruby, fading rims but developing well. Jammy front palate with smoky dark fruits, black spices, a little burnt wood but warm, earthy lift. Round, dense, warm, smoky oak. Tannic palate, highly grainy mouthful. Balanced, warm dark fruit, lifted sweet aromatics, good refreshing acidity, clean aftertaste. Oak heavy.
16/20. MRP ₹1,200
2013 ART COLLECTION MERLOT
Medium to deep ruby, fading rims. Jammy, red fruit forward, sweet red plums and cherries. Touch of under-ripe fruit, with granular tannins. Chewy mouthfeel. Rugged palate with a lift of rich concentrated fruit.
14.5/20. MRP ₹ 720
2013 RASA SHIRAZ
Scented aromas of raspberries, dark plums and cherries, followed by sweet, warm spices and freshly crushed peppercorns.Good mouthfeel from fine- grained tannins and oak. Well structured and age- worthy.
15.5/20. MRP ₹1,290
Youthful, vibrant, medium ruby with fading rims. Oaky nose. Juicy fruit penetrates through with raspberries, blackberries and bitter cherries. Palate, juicy and soft, balanced, French oak aftertaste, chewy palate. Very drinkable.
16/20. MRP ₹1,045
Pale watermelon colour. Slightly grassy nose, hint of spices, a little under-ripe red fruits, low on flavour. Out of balance as the chemicals haven't integrated yet. Gooseberries, grassy, high on spice, jammy and chalky. Finishes on a fruity back palate.
14/20. MRP ₹550
2013 LATE HARVEST CHENIN BLANC
Appearance medium lemon with hint of green. Low fruitiness. White and yellow fruit. White florals, hint of green skin aromas. Chewy front and high on acidity. Slightly earthy back palate. If not served chilled, it can cloy. Tasted at warmer than recommended temperature.
14/20. MRP ₹315 for half bottle
Tasting notes by SITP coordinator, Gagan Sharma
We must remind our readers that there are no absolutes where wine is concerned. Our recommendations are based on a particular bottle of wine tasted by us at a single sitting. Another bottle of the same wine in a different setting may well taste different. Combining many cumulative years of tasting wine, the SI Tasting Panel commends these wines to you. But, in the final analysis, you must learn to trust your palate and make your own choices.
-- Reva K. Singh
(From SI Issue 6, December 2014/January 2015)
In Conversation with Sommelier Erin Ryan White
What brought you to the world of wine?
It has all of the things I like wrapped into one. It has the beauty of colour and fragrance, flavours and energy. Like all art, it makes you feel. All wine has something to say. In some wines you may not enjoy the experience, in others, it may be heaven in a glass. It is never boring because it changes every year. It can be a history lesson or you can close your eyes and travel via your senses. A deep sniff of a Barolo and you are back in northern Italy.
August is featured on Wine Enthusiast magazine's list of America's Best 100 Wine Restaurants, how have you influenced the selections?
The list is definitely more French than any other country. Bordeaux can be a bit big so there are only four selections. We have a diverse wine list but the sheer number of selections in certain regions suggests what I think pairs with our menu. Our menu is Contemporary French so Burgundy is favoured and Sauvignon Blanc tends to be from the Loire Valley and not New Zealand. I love New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc but it is not as subtle by intention. Pinot Noir choices outnumber other reds. Most styles are represented but some regions have only one or two selections. It is a subtle but effective way to influence selection.
In India, many diners are eager to experiment, but also slightly intimidated and cost conscious. You have a significant by-the-glass selection. How do you direct this to your and your guests' advantage?
My open bottles are tools. I can sell a glass with the first course of seafood and a bottle with the main course. All dishes on the menu have a glass pairing. We can do a personalised pairing for you with whatever you choose to eat. We have a better profit margin on wine by the glass, which makes it worth the effort. The guest spends the same money as if buying a bottle but may get four or five different wines to try. It is more interactive with the staff, if you are feeling adventurous and want that kind of dinner experience. If a quiet conversation over dinner is the night you desire, a bottle is better.
I like to be able to pour a sip of wine if words fail. Sometimes a guest may not understand what minerality tastes like. I can pour a sip of Sancerre and it is clearer. One sip is our baseline. From that sip the guest will say "too dry," or " just right". I always give two price points from the cellar. They can choose what is a comfortable price.
August has a BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle) policy with no corkage fee. Would you like to comment on this?
John Besh, believes that we have invited guests into August and they are like a guest at home. August is our home and Besh is a very gracious person. The BYOB policy is a part of his hospitality. A way to make a friend and a return guest. Most people are respectful that selling wine is how we pay our staff and do not abuse this policy. I have to say this year there have been some real gems, 1945 Château Haut- Brion, 2003 DRC Montrachet, 1991 Musigny, Comte de Vogüé. I get to try some amazing wines that people bring from their own cellars!
What are your top selling wines and how have they changed over the years?
Pinot Noir is our top selling varietal. We also sell the most of what we are excited about. I sell a lot of Crozes-Hermitage Blanc, 100% Marsanne from Ferraton Père & Fils. It goes with four dishes on the menu. Very versatile. Dry, but rich like a Chardonnay, it has clean minerality like a Sauvignon Blanc and profiles of stone fruits and almonds. It is perfect, paired with Marcona almond-crusted, soft shell crabs over a brown butter custard, topped with a warm tomato and green bean salad. It's moderately priced as well. You can sell whatever you believe in.
What would be one of your most memorable pairings on the August menu?
It was a vegetarian course of squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese and roasted tomatillo, paired with a 2001 Château Musar white, (Obaideh and Merwah, native Lebanese grape varietals) from Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. This wine was strange for many people and definitely out of their comfort zone. It has a lightly oxidised sherry-like character. They were unsure about it and I would ask for patience. It was exciting to see them change their opinion. I have been doing a flight of Madieras with our cheese course after dinner as well. Madeira may be making a comeback!
You have spoken elsewhere of pairing wines not just with the food but also with the personality of the guest. Could you explain?
This is my 33rd year in the wine business. I have spent a lot of time doing just that. I think wine is very personal and what you select should meet your guest's needs, not what you would want to drink. I think of it as an energy reading more than a psychoanalytic review. Did you have a tiring day? Is this a business dinner with powerful men? Are you celebrating a birthday? Is it very hot outside? All these things influence my suggestions.
There still are fewer women than men in this field. What are some of the challenges you face, if any?
This is simply my own experience. European maitre d's did not believe women had a place in fine dining. There was some resistance from guests as well. It was also usually men who selected the wines. I was tested by a regular guest when I first started. He was a ship captain and very much in control. He asked "which of these three wines would you select?" There was only one right answer. If I had gone for the most expensive bottle, rare but not the best choice, he would have lost his trust in me.
I think the biggest challenge was working the dining room while I was pregnant. It was at The Windsor Court Hotel, rated #1 in the US at the time. It is a very formal dining room. Our GM was very progressive and never thought to remove me from the dining room. It really did surprise diners. I bought a beautiful Hino & Malee designer suit to help look the part. I always spit when tasting wine, so it was not a problem continuing, and my sense of smell was very acute. I think I survived all the tests and came out winning! You always have to do your best. I found that the hurdles in my way made me leap higher, rather than blocking my way.
What is the most memorable bottle you have opened in the recent past?
I think it was 1967 Château d'Yquem, from Sauternes, Bordeaux. I did not expect it to be as amazing as it was. I already really loved dessert wines but had questioned spending a lot for Château d'Yquem. I don't question spending on Burgundy or Riesling. However, the 1967 Chateau d'Yquem is in the all-time greats record book and belongs there. It was mind-blowing. Stored in pristine conditions, it was a revelation. Layers of nectarine, honey, coconut, burnt orange peel, orchids and cardamom. I will never forget it. ❖
A professional course in wine management
A great success! The Nagpur Wine & Food Festival '14
In fact, two wineries were completely sold out by 7.30 pm and that created a little panic among the visitors because they couldn't make use of their coupons. As a result, the event's organiser, had to make good their tasting coupons from other wineries until even their stocks began to get over. Consequently, around 9pm, they declared the festival free and open for all.
It was very heartening for the organisers to see a 25% growth in the number of visitors this year. A lesson for all - and the participating wineries in particular - was to make sure that there was adequate stocks the following year to avoid a shortage of wines and disappointment for the consumer.
Since Christmas and the New Year are high on everybody's list, the people of Nagpur were on a wine buying spree. Sula and Turning Point sold the maximum number of cases while Fratelli and Nine Hills also did well. However, GroverZampa and Chateau D'ori would need to be better prepared when they take part in the fest in 2015.
Said Sharad Phadnis, "I am happy to share that the dates for next year's festival are November 28-29; the venue remains the same. We also hope there will be more participating wineries, as it's quite evident that wine culture in Nagpur is on an upswing since the formation of the Nagpur Wine Lovers Club (NWLC) in 2010. With a membership of 155 members, it is among the fastest growing wine clubs in India."
Champagne Rendezvous at the ITC Grand Chola
Adrian Pinto, ambassador of GH Mumm Champagne hosted the evening along with Hannah Keirl bar manager and beverage specialist at the ITC Grand Chola for a select audience. Under the spotlight were two champagnes - GH Mumm Cordon Rouge Champagne, GH Mumm Rosé Champagne and two Sparkling wines - Jacobs Creek Brut Cuvée, Jacobs Creek Brut Rosé. The guests' focus was not on the tasting notes, though. It was on how the bottles would be decapitated with the blunt side of the sabre blade.
The inside pressure of a champagne bottle which, at around 620 kilopascals/90 psi, is more than the air pressure inside your car tyre, makes it possible. Quite a few guests had a go, brandishing the sabre unsteadily at first. But after a few swishes nearly everybody got it right.
The culinary team of the hotel had prepared an exquisite menu with special emphasis on exotic seafood of which the scallops were the highlight.
ITC Grand Chola's Champagne Rendezvous hit a high note with its hands-on introduction ofthe art of sabrage. The hotel promises that it has more such evenings up its sleeve. But a Sabrage experience can be a tough act to follow!