|Sommelier Sovna Puri at Calcutta Club’s wine dinner. Pictures: Sayantan Ghosh|
Sovna Puri cuts a svelte figure with a smile on her lips and a bottle in her hand. She may look like she’s barely out of college and enjoying being a grown-up, but make no mistake. Sovna is Sula’s head of tastings and training, and deputy general manager, marketing.
In town to conduct a series of tastings and training, Sovna is taken by Calcutta’s enthusiasm for wine. “I have come to Calcutta after a year-and-a-half. I’ve been to some of Calcutta’s famed social clubs and there have been a lot of questions. The thrust has been to make the wine experience more informative. Of course, there is more variety in retail as well,” she says.
Sovna credits the growth of Indian wine industry with this upswing in enthusiasm for wine. “The only direction for the wine industry is to go upwards. There is a dramatic change in quality and flavour. Across brands, there is a growth. Sula alone has 28 different varieties of wine now. Our Riesling also pleasantly surprised us. We didn’t think that a grape varietal from Germany would express itself so beautifully in India,” she adds.
Sovna had been a hotel management student, where she had to take a mandatory course on wines. It was love at first lesson. “I went to France to study and work. That was the first time I saw a real sommelier and stepped into a wine cellar. I knew I was meant to do this. Of course, my work stint at a Michelin-starred restaurant — Atul Kochhar’s Benares in London — trained me further. I experienced wines I’d never heard of if I were to work in India.” Benares at that time had broken away from the beer-and-curry mould to present Indian fine dining, with a carefully crafted tasting menu, paired with wine from across the world. “We had about 350 wines at any given time. We’d taste and work on pairings and create menus and manage the cellar — it was an intensive and beautiful experience,” she reminisces. 2004 saw her back in India, when she joined Sula and her journey as taster took off. With an accreditation to teach the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) course, she also administers training and WSET courses on behalf of Sula.
A beginner’s guide
The storing temperature of wine is as important as serving temperature. Store all wine at 15°C. Serve reds at 15 -16°C, and whites at 12-14°C.
lThe see-swirl-sniff routine is not for show. Each step tells you something about the wine.
lYou see clarity and colour, which tells you the age of the wine. The older a white, the darker it is and the younger a red, the darker it is.
lYou swirl wine to aerate it. It releases the aroma. Sniff before and after and you’d get the difference.
lA sip lets you gauge the body, that is the density or weight of the wine, on your palate.
lDon’t be intimidated by all the conversation about pairing. The idea of white wine with white meat is restrictive. Stick to personal preferences, think of the dish as a whole. For a spicy dish, an acidic wine accentuates spices, a sweet wine makes it mellow. I quite like pairing a Pinot Noir with fish or a roast with Chardonnay.
lWine is perceived as a very intimidating drink. Don’t buy the idea. It is all about whether or not you like drinking a particular one.
lFor those who’ve just started drinking wine, my advice is trust your palate. Start with a late harvest Chenin Blanc, a sweeter dessert wine. In my experience, people start with sweet wines and move to dry ones. Also, they start with white wine and move to heavy and then light red wines.
What: Wednesdays Wine O’Clock
Where: The Junction, Taj Bengal
When: Every Wednesday, 7pm to 10pm
On the menu: Celebrating 25 years since their launch in Calcutta, Taj Bengal offers select champagnes, sparkling wines, and white and red wines by the glass. More than 20 labels will be on offer. Accompanying the wines will be a cheese platter.
Pocket pinch: Rs 250 to Rs 1,000-plus per glass.
Picture: Rashbehari Das