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Last Updated Tuesday July 16 2019 02:36 PM IST

See, sniff, swirl, sip and savour

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Wine (Representative image)

For a nation that spent decades socialising over rum and affordable whiskies, wine took a while to establish itself. Now wine-paired meals are quite the norm as are wine appreciation courses. The rising importance accorded to wine as a beverage, however, did not spell the demise of rum or whiskies. In fact, things were taken a notch higher with these spirits, with more people becoming interested in delving deeper into them.

The wine and spirits industry has grown phenomenally over the past decade with most international brands now being easily available in the country. Further, there is a larger population travelling abroad and being exposed to newer spirits and the concept of socialising over drinks, whether for business or pleasure. This, in turn, has given rise to a demand for courses that familiarise one with beverages; enough to make informed choices and smart conversation.

Know your liquor

Sudhakar Prabhu is a 3D visualiser with an architecture firm. He says that at his company they are constantly meeting clients, international and Indian, who enjoy the good things in life. “Having a creative discussion over a drink, post working hours is quite the norm. Being able to match pace with our clients’ choices and also introducing them to beverages from our own country are reasons I took up a whiskey appreciation course,” he says.

“I have always liked good food and drink but have largely gone on the basis of my palate to say which drinks work well and which do not,” says Natasha Ali, a food writer based in Bengaluru. “Attending a wine course for me was all about getting to know the drink better and making informed choices. This way when I do go out for a meal, I know what makes an ideal pairing and I can discuss my preferences with the sommelier and get the drink of my choice or an equivalent.”

Ajit Balgi, founder beverage consultant at the Mumbai-based The Happy High (THH), consults with bars and liquor companies on menu engineering and experiential marketing initiatives, as well as curates bespoke wines and spirit experiences for corporates.

Ajit finds himself increasingly travelling across the country, not just the big cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata, but also places like Indore and Lucknow, to conduct courses in wine and spirits appreciation.

Discussing the growing trend of people joining courses for knowledge

An increasing number of people are taking wine and spirit appreciation courses to know their way around a beverage enhancement, he says, “Besides the availability of good liquor and people travelling a lot, there is also a considerable amount of peer pressure when it comes to drinking specific kinds of alcohol and, therefore, an increase in the need to know more about it. At the same time, there is a healthy number that doesn’t bother themselves with such pressure, but are more interested in drinking better.”

The interest in such courses transcends boundaries of occupation. K.S. Lokesh is the managing director of Enoteca by Madhuloka in Bengaluru, a platform that promotes wines through education. Enoteca has started India’s first certifi ed wine workshop called WEAT (Wine Education, Appreciation and Tasting), recognised by Karnataka Wine Board (Government of Karnataka undertaking). Lokesh fi nds that the participants at his events, courses and workshops are in the age group of 25-50 years and apart from professionals from wine-related industries, many come to enhance their knowledge and learn something new. He finds that the IT professionals of the city travel extensively to countries where wine is popular and return with a healthy curiosity about the beverage.

Shatbhi Basu, mixologist and beverage consultant, dean of STIR Academy of Bartending, Mumbai, began off ering basic courses in the understanding of such beverages in 2001 and found enthusiastic participation and interest. “Working in a global environment opens you up to a lot of travel and entertainment,” she says. “You meet people from across cultures and it becomes imperative to be able to communicate and fit in. An understanding of spirits and wines helps transgress boundaries in a casual space, ensuring you don’t feel uncomfortable or out of place.”

In full spirit

There is a broad spectrum of people undertaking such appreciation course. “There are more takers for the more informal, application-based courses and somewhat less interest in the more structured courses, which give you formal qualifications, but can also be more expensive.”

Ruma Singh, wine and lifestyle journalist based in Bengaluru and a qualified WSET wine professional, teaches how to appreciate wine when time permits.

She says that most prefer to do an informal course in wine apreciation which would more properly address their immediate interest in the subject. These courses, usually one or two hours in duration (or over a weekend), expose them to the culture and the types of wine, regions, grapes, styles, and also how to order at a restaurant. “I find there are more takers for the more informal, application-based courses and somewhat less interest in the more structured courses, which give you formal qualifications, but can also be more expensive,” she says. “The ones doing more formal courses with qualifications are usually from within the wine or hotel industry.”

Besides the short courses for entrepreneurs, startups and the banking sector, Ajit has a number of corporates that use his services for client engagement. Th e courses he offers are also used extensively for employee engagement, where, rather than going for a movie, the company indulges in an event like this. Th is serves as a motivation as well.

“Earlier, corporates were not open to alcohol-based interactive sessions. But today, corporate lifestyle has changed and horizons have broadened. It is a lifestyle rather than habit,” says Ajit.

“Doing business after work’ is how most of corporate Asia works and it is increasingly becoming universal. For this you need to know what works, how to serve, what to serve and more and such courses help,” he explains.

Cost factor Courses available are of a wide range - spanning from a few hours to a few days. Prices for courses also vary based on the wine or spirits served. The average price for an Indian wine course is 02,500 per person and imported wine course is 05,000 and above. Whiskey sessions are naturally more expensive and in the range of 04,000 and above per person. The WEAT course by Enoteca is 03,600 and they have courses and workshops that range from 0500 to 01,500 and more.

Currently the consensus among those off ering such courses is that the 20-30 age-group is all about discovering and finding inexpensive drinks on a regular basis. As they advance in their careers and reach mid-level management, their range widens to include and understand a beverage in depth.

Older groups, with a better understanding, have their own collections and more importantly their own opinions, and these courses work at providing them with better insight.

From understanding wine, whiskeys of the world, beer and the art of mixing a cocktail, there are many courses to understand your liquor better. People taking these courses come away with an understanding of everything that they drink and an enthusiasm for trying out new experiences around wines and spirits.

(In arrangement with SMARTlife)

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