Old wine in a new market

Elizabeth Mathew
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Michel Negrier, Export Director for Domaines Baron de Rothschild
Michel Negrier, Export Director for Domaines Baron de Rothschild

DBR has been around for more than 200 years… we can easily wait another ten years till the market in India has matured,” says Michel Negrier, export director for French winemaker Domaines Baron de Rothschild (Lafite). Chuckling, he adds that if India today had the same demand for wine as, say, China, his company would certainly have a supply problem. So, in a way, he is glad the market is taking its time, now that the company has finally entered India in collaboration with Aspri Spirits.

It’s a sunny day in Bangalore as I meet Negrier at an open-air café in UB City. He is no stranger to Asia, having worked in China for many years.

Comparing the Indian and Chinese wine markets, he says the latter is definitely more advanced due to several reasons. Many local wines have been popular in China for a while now. Besides a better distribution facility, the lower tax on alcohol in that country makes wine a lot cheaper and, hence, more accessible.

The Indian wine market has potential for growth as “the interest in wine is definitely there”, he says. The question, however, is how soon. With a drop in duty and the right distribution systems, he sees no reason why India cannot have access to the same international wines as the rest of the world.

We then proceed to taste the three wines that DBR is bringing to India initially — a white and two reds. The white Réserve Bordeaux Blanc is a delicate, fruity wine; its initial acidic note gives way to a mellow taste. Of the two reds, one is a classic French wine and the other a blend from the company’s Argentine winery. He describes the Reserve Spéciale Bordeaux Rouge as a “balanced Bordeaux” — a light-bodied wine with hints of mature fruit. The Amancaya, a blend of Argentina’s Malbec with Bordeaux’s Cabernet Sauvignon, is a rich, flavourful wine with notes of chocolate, tobacco and liquorice.

Art of wine tasting

“Wine is like perfume,” he says, swirling his glass before tilting it towards his nose to take in the scent. “It has a beautiful scent and to appreciate wine, you need a sense of smell.”

The wine should be allowed to breathe before one takes a sip — ideally, the wine should oxidise when poured into the glass, and this can happen when only one-fourth the glass is filled. The swirling allows the wine molecules to collide with the glass wall and release the real flavour of the wine. As hidden notes come to the fore, one can experience the subtle flavours.

“A bottle of wine is very fragile,” he says, “It needs to be protected, much like a baby.” Sheltered from light and heat, it should be stored at a constant, neutral temperature. Wrong storage can ruin the wine. In a hot climate like ours, wine is best stored in the fridge, he says, adding that the wine should be consumed within two-three days after opening.

Dwelling on the growing trend of wine pairings, he says it is not easy to pair wine with Indian food, which has strong flavours. Spicy food tends to overpower the palate and cannot be teamed with, say, a white wine with a delicate flavour. He points to exceptions such as the Sichuan province in China that pairs wines with its famously spicy food.

However, he advises against needless focus on the pairing. “Just enjoy the wine as a drink.”

(This article was published on February 7, 2013)
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