BITS and Pieces

Get global. Get ahead.

Sujata Patil

Wine Consultant

Picture this. You step into the wine aisle of a supermarket and have absolutely no clue which wine to buy and why. You are left overwhelmed by the sheer number of options and types and then you have to rely on those arbitrary ratings and tasting notes on the label. And you want to pair the gloriously European wine with the exotically Indian butter chicken. What do you do?

A drink with potential, wine can make any occasion perfect. Exploring this elegant beverage is an inexhaustible adventure but eventually opens doors to new flavours and styles.

A career as a wine consultant is something very novel in India. Can you tell us what exactly does a wine consultant do?

Well, after my year long programme at France, the entire range of activities was open to me. I got into communication and marketing of wines because that is something that every wine producing company requires. They have the technical knowledge to produce wines but selling is an entirely different ball game. I have done a lot of direct sales to the end customer and have also contributed to the creation of a brand at one point of time. I also have a wine club and I conduct tasting sessions. So a wine consultant basically does almost everything in and around the world of wines, except maybe the production.

The typical orthodox Indian will perceive alcohol to be a largely negative thing. Do you think this opinion is now changing in the favour of your profession?

It certainly is! I am pleasantly surprised by the number of people who are interested in wines these days. They look at it as a milder form of alcohol, which it actually is as compared to spirits like vodka and rum. And I always make it a point to stress on the moderation aspect during all my events because anything done in excess can be harmful.

Countries like France and Italy are known globally for their wine culture. No traditional French meal is ever complete without the right wine. So why is it that these countries have such a flourishing tradition of wine while others don’t?

I would attribute it entirely to the climate. Alcohol is a necessity in that part of the world to keep the body warm. And secondly, the European climate is greatly conducive for growing the grapes required for making wines. Most of the largest wine producing regions are clustered in Europe and hence it’s the European countries that have strong wine cultures.

Coming to a slightly technical topic, please tell us a little about wine pairings. White wine with white meat and red wine with red meat, is it that simple?

No it isn’t. And this rule of thumb that everyone knows works perfectly well for the French meal of yesteryears. (laughs) Owing to cultural exchange and globalisation, cuisines have adopted a lot of aspects from each other. French chefs today have started using spices which makes the rule redundant.

So what would be the quick and easy tip for wine pairings in an Indian context?

It’s fairly simple. We need to consider the dish in its totality and not just focus on the type of meat. Red wine interferes heavily with dishes that contain red or green chilly which are the two most common spices used in Indian curries. So a dry white wine is the safest bet with dishes that are heavy on flavour and spices.

What exactly is a dry wine?

Wines can be very broadly classified as “dry” and “sweet” and that depends on the amount of residual sugar. So if the winemaker lets all the sugar ferment, the wine will be called a dry one because it will leave a dry sensation in your mouth. There are “semi-sweet” wines too. So a wine that has up to 5g of sugar per litre is a dry wine, 5-8g is semi-sweet and more that 8g is sweet.

We would like to know your story. How did you decide to study wines?

I have done my graduation in French from Fergusson and went to JNU, Delhi to pursue my Master’s in French. I worked for 15 years at various organisations as a translator and interpreter. I also worked at the French Embassy. But then I realized that I wanted to couple my language skills with something else too. It was then that I found out about this Business School in Dijon, France that offered a programme in International Trade of Wine and I decided to go for it. The course was very interesting and it prepared us for everything related to wine.

So do you believe your experience as a student in France would have been any different had you not known French?

It would have been completely different. Knowing French made life extremely easy. But more than that, I could interact with the winemakers when on field trips and it was something extremely enriching. The number of things I learnt just by talking to the natives is incredible. They had so much to give and I am glad I knew French. I want to learn Spanish for the same reason. It will help me greatly in my profession.

As a parting shot, could you tell us a little about wine tasting sessions?

Wines are made from grapes, yes. But there are about 10,000 types of grapes that can be used to make wines and most of these can also be used in combinations. The primary object of wine tasting is to assess what the wine tastes like. So one of the most interesting things is what we call ‘Vertical Wine Tasting’ where you taste the same wine made by the same company in different years. Being an agricultural product, wine matures and tastes different. These are the kinds of things that happen in wine tasting.

Maybe we could do a wine tasting session exclusively for BITS and Pieces readers once!


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Sonali Kulkarni - Editor-in-Chief, French-English Translator A novice at adulthood and an ardent disciple of Dan Brown and Ayn Rand, Sonali is a pathological bookworm, a borderline nerdy introvert and a hardcore adventure junkie who cannot live without chocolate. She is currently studying French and manages to speak some Spanish too. Having represented her state in national level Athletics for the better part of a decade, the nomad in her has now given it up to venture into the exciting world of languages, writing and travel.