I like to drink wine. It’s been my preferred drink since my university days. Back then, I used to drink cheap wine that comes in casks of one to four litres. I didn’t really care what variety it was. Over the years, my taste became more discerning. My favourite type of wine is now an oakey, buttery, chardonnay. Wineries in the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula regions of Victoria produce some delightful ones, as do wineries in the Margaret River region of Western Australia.
When I came to India over five years ago I got an unpleasant shock. Wine was overpriced and underappreciated. In conversation, a young business school student from a very good family told me about the imported vodka and whiskey he was fortunate enough drink. I was unimpressed. “Well, what do you think I should be drinking to make a good impression on people?” he asked me. “A fine wine of course,” I told him. He took my advice and actually thanked me later.
Many people are surprised to find out that India has its own vineyards and a rapidly growing wine industry. However, wine still remains a drink for the elite. In fact, it’s hardly even recognised as alcohol here.
Today, there’s quite an uproar in the state of Maharastra. The government has increased the legal drinking age to 25 for hard liquor (spirits). The legal drinking age for beer remains at 21. And, according to this news report, there is no mention of an age restriction for drinking wine!
Recently, the Maharastran government also increased taxes on the sale of alcohol in the state. But again, the tax increase didn’t apply to wine. Is it because the government has an interest in the wine industry? It has been heavily promoting it of late. Or is it because wine doesn’t really count as alcohol? (It definitely is though, because a glass of wine will get you more nasha than a couple of pegs of whiskey and coke).
The whole matter is quite perplexing. If wine is so overlooked as an alcoholic drink, why does the term appear in the name of most outlets selling alcohol? This is particularly the case in Himachal Pradesh. English wine shops abound. Naively, I couldn’t believe my luck when I went there years ago! All those shops completely devoted to wine, I thought. Of course, I soon discovered that very few of them actually stocked wine. No wine at all! Instead they were full of numerous varieties of whiskey, sought after by the Indian male. (And just to add to the confusion, the Hindi on the English wine shop in the above photo actually says that it’s an Indian alcohol bar. Quite a contrast to the proclaimed “English wine shop”).
Meanwhile, I’ll continue to drink the cheapest 300 rupee bottles of Indian wine, knowing I could get a much better product for a fraction of the price back home. At least, I’m supporting the Indian wine industry though, most of which is based in Maharastra (if you want to visit some Indian wineries, these vineyards in Nashik all have tasting rooms).
Top Photo: English wine shop at Rhotang Pass, Himachal Pradesh. Source: Wikimedia.