Accessible, easy to order and trusting the bar to pour well, house wines are dedicated selections from winemakers and restaurateurs
Have you ever found yourself ordering a house wine, just to escape the embarrassment of pronouncing a wine name incorrectly? We plead guilty. The saving grace is that house wines are no longer considered a cheap or hassle-free way to score a carafe — "something" poured from the end of the barrel, quality overlooked. Today, top-end restaurants and five-star hotels are making room for their own house pours in an attempt to build their brand.
Next week, Karyna Bajaj, owner of Italian wine bar CinCin at BKC, will be launching the CinCin Rosso. "It is our first house red. We decided to make our own blend in order to represent our ethos — easy drinking and accessible. Wine drinking is not in our Indian culture, but we wanted to make it fun," she says. Bajaj is already pushing the envelope to make wine-drinking less intimidating, by serving the drink in stem-less glasses, and starting by-the-glass options on all wines. Last month, they also introduced Wine Wednesday, where they crack open a great bottle of wine for internal tasting, and offer it to the guests to try, too.
Italian wine bar CinCin is set to launch CinCin Rosso - its first house red. With this, owner Karyna Bajaj says they hope to make wine-drinking easy and accessible. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Challenge for vintners
CinCin's request was a rare one for Vallonne, which has been making more complex and barrel-aged wines for connoisseurs. The brief was simple: fruit forward, medium-bodied and balanced. "We tried seven different wine blends and the tasting boiled down to two, which were left for Karyna to try. The barrel-aged wine was too complex, so we took a 2018 vintage syrah and cabernet sauvignon," says vintner Aditi Pai.
Their winemaker Sanket Gawand made the tasting interesting, giving them a blind tasting without revealing what they were trying. "The syrah was from our vineyards, and we did a blend that did not have too much acidic tannins. The cabernet sauvignon adds the backbone and structure to the wine," says Gawand.The result is an 85 per cent syrah and 15 per cent cabernet sauvignon. Prized at R1,612, which is the year and month of the restaurant's opening, it costs R350 per glass.
The first house red, Rosso CinCin. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
Sommelier Nikhil Agarwal of All Things Nice describes the house wine as "a no-fuss wine that offers value that restaurants/hotels purchase and sell in volume". The quality depends on the level of restaurant or hotel you are at. "A good restaurant will offer a good house wine, and if they take their wine programme seriously, they will offer something off the beaten path. If the customer requests for a red or white without naming the brand or specific grape varietal or style, the establishment will pour their house wine," he says.
In 2015, Impresario Group introduced their own blend of white and red for Salt Water Café, Smoke House Deli and Social. "This meant the quality was in our control, price point was good and the same could be forwarded to the customer. For this, we opted for a young wine, palatable for first-time drinkers, which is our audience. For the red, we chose juice from the first press of cabernet sauvignon grapes, so that the tannins are controlled; for white, we chose sauvignon blanc for the same reasons," says Nilesh Patel, beverage head for Mumbai at Social.
The red wine at Smoke House Delhi is made with the juice from the first press of cabernet sauvignon grapes. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
Impresario roped in Fratelli vineyard, which since its launch in 2010, has been bottling and blending wines for India and abroad. Owner Abhishek Haryson says, "Indian wines are gaining a lot of recognition. Earlier, many restaurants would not stock domestic wines, but we are now coming of age. We do have some great options in the premium segment range, which competes with world wines. Hotels want to give a chance to Indian wines. We have worked with Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai for Svara, and with ITC for Vino de la Casa. We also do house blends for two London-based restaurants St James Court and Gaylords."
Bottling vs special blends
The Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai started a serious wine programme in 2011. Sommelier Abhas Saxena has since worked on four different collections namely Palais collection, Svara, The Cellar Collection and the Taj Palace's wine Les Pagodes De Cos. Svara is an exclusive blend, for which he works closely with the Fratelli team, visiting the Akluj vineyard during the wine-making process, and revisiting to taste the wine progress. The rest are bottled exclusively for Taj.
Sanket Gawand, winemaker behind CinCin Rosso
For the Palais collection, they tied up with a Tuscan winery and created Palais Castellani Toscana IGT, available at all Taj luxury properties. "This deep ruby red wine comes from the eco-friendly and socially responsible winery in Tuscany, and has balsamic, eucalyptus and mint notes," says Saxena. Unlike Palais, their second collection Svara is a medium-bodied Indian red wine, launched in 2014. A non-vintage blend between fresh and barrel-aged, Svara, which means musical note in Sanskirt, is an attempt to showcase musical melody through a glass of wine.
"We wanted to come across as a hotel that knew its wine. At one stage, it is brand-building and on the other, it is recognising the idea that guests trust you," Saxena says. Agarwal says that the special in-house brand or private label could be the same wine from a winery with a new label or can be a special blend curated specifically for the hotel or restaurant. "Hotels can also add prestige to their wine list by creating a private label from a top reputed wine brand," he signs off.
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