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11.02.2011

Wine in India: Visiting Bangalore

This week finds me in Bangalore, India, traveling to meet a client and kick off a new project for my customer experience day job. After long days of meetings, however, I've been exploring the restaurants of the town. Thanks to packed days of meetings, with no opportunities for down time that might be required by slightly more adventurous eating, my colleagues and I are sticking to more established restaurants that pose little or no risk to, how shall we say, the less than robust stomachs of visiting Americans, aside from whatever might be individual tolerances for spice.

I've, of course, been keeping my eye on wine while I'm here, and have been surprised to find relatively robust wine lists at all the places I've dined. I had been told by Indian friends that taxes and import duties were quite prohibitive, especially with regards to international wines, and that consequentially wine offerings were skimpy, but perhaps the buying power (and markups) of fancier restaurants make certain things possible.

The wine prices at most restaurants seem a bit high, especially for items like Dom Perignon or Bollinger Champagnes, which tend to clock in anywhere from $500 to $700 a bottle when they appear on lists, though a 1999 Dom Perignon for $400 at the Monsoon restaurant in the Masala Klub, the restaurant in the Taj West End hotel (many top restaurants are housed in hotels) afforded me the opportunity to thumb through a wine list of perhaps sixty or seventy selections, from Taittinger to Mollydooker to Mouton Cadet. At that restaurant in particular, nearly every table, most of which were filled with what looked like well-to-do locals or other Indian businesspeople, everyone had a glass of wine.

The local wines of India make an appearance on nearly every wine list. Sula Vineyards, whose Chenin Blanc I've reviewed and happily tasted on many occasions is nearly ubiquitous, as is Grover Vineyards, whose wines are grown in the Nandi Hills, about 60 kilometers from where I'm sitting as I write this.

I've seen a couple of funny entrants on some wine lists, from unfortunate mis-spellings (Cabernay) to slightly less than persuasive listings such as the one which jumped off the page at Olive Beach Restaurant, whose entry simply read: "Chateauneuf-du-Pape 89 Points." Vintage and producer be damned, even at the $130 price tag. Of course, I've seen much the same from wine lists in the United States, so this was merely worth a chuckle as I tucked into a letter-perfect duck confit dish with grapes and root vegetables. If you're looking to take a break from local fare in Bangalore, or want someplace romantic to take a date, this walled courtyard of a restaurant draped in canvas and candlelight is worth the trip.

While I think the majority of fuss about wine and food pairing is a waste of time, it's worth noting that Indian cuisine can range from very wine friendly to completely wine hostile. The decisive element, of course, being the level of spiciness. Milder flavored foods from many regions of India are wonderful with crisper wines (bubbly, white, and pink) along with light reds, and the meatier foods of northern India (provided they are not too spicy) lend themselves more towards red wines with some tannin. Mild levels of spiciness are easily handled by wines with a little sweetness to them, such as Riesling and Alsace Gewurztraminer (Indian wines, too, generally lean towards a little residual sugar), but I find that once foods get to a certain level of hotness, wine tends to exacerbate the heat, and the heat, in turn, tends to accentuate the alcohol.

So while sipping wine in India is fine for wine lovers who don't mind paying for the luxury, beer may ultimately be the better way to go. Also, while I'm far from a cocktail connoisseur, there seems to be quite a cocktail culture in Bangalore, and the wide variety of fruits and fruit juices seem to make for a wide variety of options in that department, including a lot of "mocktails" which most restaurants that I have visited so far seem to offer for those looking for flavor without the kick.

That's it from Bangalore at the moment. I'm off to explore.

Comments (7)

Greg wrote:
11.03.11 at 5:57 AM

If you make it out to the wineries, a friend of mine from UCD is making wine there - Karishma Grover (Grover Vineyards).

http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/lunchbs-kapil-groverkarishma-grover/359130/

Sounds like a fun trip.

Romie wrote:
11.03.11 at 8:37 AM

Hey Alder, i occasionally read your blogs and this one fell into my lap and enjoyed it. I was wondering if you would be staying in Bangalore for long, i mean until Nov 10 as i am flying from Delhi on Nov 9 and would like to meet-up, if your schedule permits. Or if you are flying to Delhi before then we can even meet-up here (in Delhi)? cheers! :-)

Greg wrote:
11.03.11 at 3:28 PM

I can't believe you would go to India and eat boring French food. India has some of the best restaurants in the world, and one of the most sophisticated cuisines. Would you go to France and drink Indian wines?

Alder Yarrow wrote:
11.03.11 at 7:18 PM

Greg,

We're consuming plenty of Indian food.

Alder

Nick wrote:
11.03.11 at 8:04 PM

Nice read! My choice for Indian cuisine would probably be a gewurtz since I tend to shy away from the ultra-spicy stuff.

Alder Yarrow wrote:
11.06.11 at 9:06 PM

Additional restaurants I can recommend now that my trip is over:

Karavalli -- definitely the best meal of the trip -- food from the Malabar coast. The restaurant is inside the Taj Gateway hotel.

Tandoor -- a bit more of a tourist trap restaurant, but if you can get over that, the Northern Indian food is excellent, and the painted ceilings are gorgeous.

Barbecue Nation -- a local joint that came highly recommended from friends. A tapas style Northern Indian place that was great.

South Indies -- a southern Indian place that I went for a buffet lunch, but judging from that, the dinners will be excellent. Great dosas.

Imperial Restaurant -- more of a budget place, and a chain to boot, but decent food at good prices. Locations all over the city.

BrixElite wrote:
11.07.11 at 10:22 PM

Yes, as u said rightly Indian cusine can range from very wine friendly to completely wine hostile. Its worth all the time and money spent.

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