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How to train your wine palate

Explore wine, shatter biases and discover the fascinating world of soil to glass

Temperature, sea winds and location play a key role in producing a fine glass. (iStockphoto)
Temperature, sea winds and location play a key role in producing a fine glass. (iStockphoto)

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For several years, my reactions to wine would be limited to nice, meh, whatever—you get the drift. With time, I picked up specific descriptors, like dry, acidic and bold. It wasn’t until last year, though, that I began to appreciate details like soil, climate and the passion of winemakers.

I was invited to sample six Argentinian Malbecs at a wine-tasting session on Zoom conducted by the Mumbai-based sommelier Nikhil Agarwal, founder of the luxury marketing and consulting agency All Things Nice and a partner with the premium spirits and wine importer Anggel's Share. What was new—apart from the wines—was Agarwal highlighting the wine regions, mostly located in the spine of the Andes, on a map of Argentina and explaining how temperature, sea winds and location play a key role in producing a fine bottle.

“As a budding wine enthusiast, look at opportunities to drink more wine with people who know more than you or are just as curious as you,” he says. Attend wine tastings in your city, sign up for a course online, visit a vineyard. Find like-minded people who can assist in the journey of wine discovery. “Then you can have your own wine-tasting events with your gang and dedicate a day of the week or month to try a particular type or style, with everyone bringing in a different bottle,” Agarwal says. Practical advice, given that a bottle of wine doesn’t come cheap —an Argentinian Malbec, for instance, starts from 2,000—and you tend to try several kinds at an event.

You could begin by following sommeliers, who put up posts on social media about tastings. Or attend one of the several courses on offer online from, among others, All Things Nice, Tulleeho Beverage Academy and Sonal Holland Wine Academy. A class could cost around 1,500. They have programmes for beginners as well as professional sommelier courses. Agarwal recommends joining in a group so you can try more wines. The logic is similar to wine-tasting events. If each student in the group brings a different wine, they get to taste more kinds. “It’s economies of scale,” he points out. Armed with the basic knowledge, you learn to pay attention to what you see, smell, sip, and learn about who made the wine and where the grapes are grown. It’s a transportive experience.

In the early days of his wine career, Agarwal would visit restaurants, sample different wines and then pay for the glass of wine he enjoyed most. Restaurants like Perch, Olive and those located in five-star hotels have a good selection of wines and sommeliers to guide diners.

Drinking wine is a sensorial experience. Often, rank beginners are daunted by flavours and aroma notes, like peach, black cherry, gooseberry, mentioned on the wine labels. “Smell and eat the fruits first and pay close attention to its taste notes. For instance, if a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc says it has notes of capsicum, eat and smell a raw capsicum to know how it feels on the nose and tongue,” advises Agarwal. Wines don’t contain fruits, vegetables or spices as ingredients; it’s the grape that has these notes. So it is through the language of flavours and aromas that you will find the right vocabulary.

At some point, bias may come in the way of exploring wine. Don’t stick to lighter-style wines, like a Pinot Noir or Beaujolais, or a particular type of wine, like white, red or rose. “If you have a bias, you will never broaden your palate. It’s not about drinking a lot of wine; it’s about trying different styles,” says Sonal Holland. Switch things up to include sparkling wines from different regions, sip on white wines made with different grapes and cover the gamut of reds from low to high tannins.

While enjoying a wine, learn about who made it, the soil that nourished the vines and the weather that ripened the grapes. For, the journey from soil to glass is like the circle of life.

Also read | Try a zingy white wine from Austria

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