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BW Businessworld

At Home With Wine

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Enjoying wine is not something that requires an elaborate setting with expensive bottles in the background. Gratification from wine is an experience as personal as curling up with an old classic — discovering new angles to the same lines each time you revisit them. 
But it isn’t also enough to buy a few bottles impersonally and call it a wine cellar. Like a library, a wine cellar must reflect your tastes and preferences. It must be composed of memories rather than just references and popular brand names. The thing about a wine collection is that, unlike art, it has a shelf life. Also, it can be consumed and the real pleasure delivered will only live on in a memory. But wine is an article of luxury. It isn’t about the money one pumps into stacking up an enviable pile. It is the time invested in understanding each acquisition and the timing of when it should be consumed. Every house bought for the collection should tell a story: a visit on a vacation, an occasion, a celebration… anything that justifies its presence and marks its significance.
Having a wine collection shouldn’t be a social ticket to fancy soirees. It should be your attempt to better define your personality. Here are a few basic rules to creating your own wine cellar.
A wine collection shouldn’t be a ticket to fancy soirees, but to define yourself better

1. Start by defining the space. If you don’t wish to have a pricey wine fridge outright, find a wooden cupboard in a quiet, and cool part of the house. Wine abhors light, heat, vibrations, and a dry atmosphere. Wood is a good insulator and if in a place like a basement or under a stairwell, temperature control is easier. Place a bowl of water to maintain humidity, and ensure that no machinery is placed nearby. The best options remain the specialised coolers that have near-silent compressors. Eurocave, Dometic and Transtherm make the classic styles (Rs 50,000-plus, depending on size). Recently I came across a patented cooling unit (Rs 2 lakh-plus) by Fisher & Paykel that looks like a drawer and can double up as a store. Else, construct a room, put in shelves, and a strong AC.
2. Next, define what you like. Eliminate wines which you haven’t enjoyed. Then set about buying the wines you liked from (A) different regions; (B) different producers; (C) different vintages and (D) at varying price points. Ideally, never buy one of a bottle, six is ideal but even two will do.
3. Your likings should comprise 70-80 per cent of your cellar. The rest should be an assortment: quirky wines that you stumbled across, or those that someone gifted you, and also wine regions or styles that you may not personally enjoy but keep, nevertheless, to come off as a good host. Another ratio to keep in mind is 65:35 — at any point 65 per cent of the wines should be destined for long-term holding whereas 35 per cent should be ready to consume.
4. Label the bottles so that you know when you bought them and where. Any other information acquired is also good to mention. Professionals like to include the medals won or points scored but it is more pertinent to mention where and when you bought it and what you liked about it then.
5.  Vintages: Pay attention to them especially if you are in the market for a cellar with wines worthy of ageing. Good vintages produce wines that can age longer than, say a year when rainfall was hard or scarce, or the sun was extreme or feeble. The rule says that in a bad vintage buy wines from prestigious houses whereas in a good vintage, buy wines from just about anybody decently reputed. Bordeaux saw a bad run between 1991 and 1994 but years like ’82, ’86, ’95, ’05, and the recent ’08, are absolute heirloom stuff. 
6. Finally, put all this on a spreadsheet and keep stock tabs. Manage it like precious inventory and remember to keep rotating the stock. 
The question of what to buy may still nag away. Here is an attempt to address those issues.
1.  Wines from France can sometimes be hard to decipher but they certainly help up the connoisseur quotient. If not too sure, get Italian wines, or even Spanish wines, which can be easier to explain on the palate. A good bottle would set one back upwards of 50 euros in a duty-free setting. Bordeaux top growths (1 to 5), Burgundy Grand and Premier Cru, Italian appellations of Amarone, Barolo, Brunello and Chianti, Spanish Rioja, and Portuguese Douro wines can certainly feature as stars.
2. The New World (i.e., everything outside of Europe) makes more attractive wine styles; stuff which speaks to you straightaway. Australia tops this list, followed by Chile and Argentina. Henschke, D’arenberg, Penfold’s, Cloonakilla, Montes, Miguel Torres, Catena Zapata, O. Fournier, Stag’s Leap, Bond and Robert Mondavi are but a few names to point you in the right direction.
3. Other countries make fantastic wines too — from South Africa to Moldova — and it would be unfair to discriminate against them. Look out for Saperavi and Rkatsiteli grapes from Georgia.
Finally, invest in some glassware. You will need stemware that isn’t just aesthetically appealing but also accentuates the nuanced aromas of the wine it holds. Riedel is popular but Zweisel is where I put my trust (both having glasses upwards of Rs 1,000 a stem). And on days I can afford it, Zalto (multiply by a factor of two). Czech brand Duende is also super chic and worthwhile. And definitely get decanters. 
So that was a brief on setting up your own little wine stash. From here on the exercise can only get more interesting. With each new bottle you will find your interests altering, tastes better defined and confusions more intense and deep. But then that is exactly why one enjoys wine. 

Magandeep Singh is India’s first French-qualified sommelier and wine taster

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 24-09-2012)