December is upon us and so is the festive season. It’s that time of the year when festive fever is at a high and we find ourselves attending weddings, hosting Christmas parties and exchanging gifts. It’s also a time when wine cellars open up to put their best foot forward. Crisp chardonnays and refreshing sauvignon blancs brighten up sunny winter brunches. Just as the sun goes down, out come the heavy-bodied cabernet sauvignons and malbecs, bursting with flavours of black fruit, leather and tobacco. The end of the year is the perfect time to begin a journey into the world of wine.
I chronicled my own journey into the world of boutique wines earlier this summer. Soon after the piece was published, I discovered that it had struck a chord with friends and family. They wanted to satisfy their own curiosities about the subject via books, movies, OTT shows, podcasts and events. To be honest, so did I.
I knew that just doing a three-day Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) level two course wouldn’t be enough. The learning had to be continuous and in various forms. Here again, Vishal Kadakia, the founder of The Wine Park and one of the three protagonists of my previous story, suggested names of people to follow on social media. Kavya Murali, our wonderful and talented instructor at the Sonal Holland Wine Academy, suggested books to read. She also ensures “Wine Daily”, a WhatsApp group where wine enthusiasts can get up to speed on wine industry trends, exchange wine appreciation tips and talk about new grape varietals, is buzzing with activity.
On Trivia Tuesday, for instance, Murali ran a poll in which members had to guess the grape based on these characteristics: a wine that has aromas of fresh apples, citrus, medium acidity, full body and toasty notes. The answer was Albarino, a wine common to Portugal. Factual Fridays are about sharing relatively unknown facts about wine, like the Phylloxera epidemic. It was an insect infestation that almost wiped out vineyards across Europe in the 19th century. Discussions on the Wine Daily group have also resulted in members sharing their favourite wine movies and documentaries. Beyond Murali’s suggestions and the WhatsApp group, I’ve spent some time looking up social media accounts to follow, apps to use and podcasts to listen to. I can’t say I’ve been diligent about doing all of these things but, every now and then, I do read about the goings on in the world of wines. So, based on friends’ suggestions, WhatsApp group discussions and my own Googling, here’s a list of books, movies, podcasts, social media accounts and even an app that’ll help you dive deeper into the world of wines.
Three essential books that will help noobs and nerds navigate the byzantine world of wines.
Wine Simple by Aldo Sohm and Christine Muhlke: Written by an award-winning sommelier and a former New York Times journalist, Wine Simple is a guide for those curious about wine but don’t want to be intimidated by all the jargon. Sohm and Muhlke have added helpful infographics, maps and boxes which deconstruct the basics—important varietals, key wine growing regions, how to taste wine, food pairing options and the making of wine.
The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson: First published in 1971, the Atlas is one of the most authoritative books on the subject. It goes beyond the basics and covers aspects like terroir, climate, appellations, service conditions, storage, sunlight and water—all of which play a significant role in shaping a wine’s quality. The Atlas is organised according to regions, accompanied by colour-coded maps to help readers visualise the size of vineyards, the locations of particular varietals and their proximity to rivers, mountains and forests. Written by two of the world’s leading wine critics, the Atlas is a book for those who know their wine basics and want to dive deeper into the subject.
Vignette: Stories of Life and Wine in 100 Bottles by Jane Lopes: Part memoir, part wine guide, Lopes describes the book as an effort to make readers discover the joys of vino. “This is not a list of the 100 bottles to drink before you die but rather a list of 100 bottles to live with, learn from and find your truth in,” she writes in the book’s opening pages.
Movies and documentaries
I recommend a trilogy of documentaries, a Netflix film and an Apple TV show that’ll satisfy your intellectual curiosity about wines.
Somm trilogy of documentaries
The first part (Somm), released in 2012, follows the journey of four candidates as they prepare to crack the Master Sommelier exams. Watch on SommTV via a subscription. Its 2015 sequel (Somm: Into the Bottle) goes into the nitty-gritties of winemaking, told through the stories of 10 wine bottles, and the final part, released in 2018 (Somm 3), shows how “three legends [Fred Dame, Jancis Robinson and Steven Spurrier] open the rarest bottles of their careers, while expert blind tasters gather in New York for a tasting reminiscent of the 1976 Judgment of Paris.”
Watch the trilogy on Somm TV via a subscription.
Set in Memphis, Tennessee, this tender film tells the story of Elijah, whose family runs a successful barbecue restaurant in the city. It’s an eatery his grandfather worked hard to establish and Louis, his father, expects his son to take over the business from him. Except, Elijah has fallen in love with wine and wants to become a sommelier. How Elijah manages to walk this tightrope is the central premise of this movie.
Watch on Netflix.
Drops of God
Alexandre Leger, a powerful Tokyo-based wine critic, has died, leaving behind a cellar worth $150 million. Camille, his estranged daughter, and Issei Tomine, his protege, compete to pass three tests devised by Leger to inherit the great man’s legacy. “Awash in paparazzi, this high-stakes contest carries the competitors from sleek Tokyo mansions to picturesque French vineyards to ancient Italian cities. It also takes them into the past, as both Camille and Issei must unpack painful family histories that change how they see themselves and their futures,” National Public Radio (NPR) wrote in its review.
Available on Apple TV.
Other notable recommendations
Barolo Boys: The Story of a Revolution: This 2014 Italian-language documentary chronicles how a group of young winemakers introduced modern methods to the production of Barolo, a red wine made from the Nebbiolo grape, which made it among the most prized Italian wines in the world. Sadly, one can’t watch it on streaming platforms in India—unless you know how to use VPNs.
Sour Grapes: A 2016 crime documentary about a conman who pumped fake vintage wines, priced exorbitantly, into America’s wine market just before the 2008 economic crisis. Again, a documentary unavailable on streaming services in India so you’ll have to use a VPN to watch it.
Wine for Normal People: Elisabeth Schneider strips wine of its snobbish and intimidating character to make the subject, in her own words, “easy, interesting, cool and inclusive”.
Listen on Spotify
Wine Blast: Susie and Peter are both Masters of Wine—the PhD of the wine world. They’re also married to each other and live in a house “with a constant soundtrack of clinking bottles and glasses”. Their podcast examines everything wine: lesser-known regions, food pairings, natural wines, terroirs, wine investments and even the impact of climate change.
Matthew’s World of Wine and Drink: Matthew Gaughan, an Englishman who now lives in California, fell in love with wine when he vacationed with his family in France. Much like yours truly, he wanted to be an informed wine enthusiast and enrolled for the WSET courses in Manchester. What started as a blog to chronicle his wine education, turned into a podcast that delves into regions, grape varietals, MW exams and features interviews with winemakers. Those formally studying the subject will find this podcast particularly useful.
Wine Shop Talk: A show for wine enthusiasts that’ll handhold them through the wine buying, serving and pairing rituals. What’s the difference between Shiraz and Syrah? Why and how should I decant wine? Most importantly, it contains tips on how to deal with wine snobs. It’s practical, straightforward advice minus all the hoopla that surrounds wine.
Sommeliers/experts to follow (India)
Sonal Holland: India’s only Master of Wine, Mumbai-based Holland’s Instagram feed is a one-stop-shop for everything you wanted to know about wine (and whisky) but didn’t know who to ask. From holding a wine glass correctly to the importance of terroir and everything in between, her short, crisp, multi-lingual and to-the-point videos are a useful resource for noobs and nerds alike. Holland is also the founder of an eponymous wine academy that conducts several wine courses. See details below.
Ruma Singh: A seasoned journalist, Bangalore-based Singh is one of India’s most experienced wine writers. Her travels across the world and interviews with winemakers are published on her website, her instagram feed and in leading newspapers and magazines. Singh recently profiled Raj Patel, the Napa Valley winemaker, whose wine was served at the State Dinner that US President Joe Biden hosted for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Devati Mallick: A wine consultant and juror, Mallick is part of a growing breed of sommeliers who are spreading awareness about wines via social media. Her Instagram feed is replete with wine tasting tips, chronicles of her experience as a wine judge, wine-and-food pairing recommendations and announcements of tasting events that she’ll conduct.
Sovna Puri: A certified WSET educator based in Mumbai, Puri follows the playbook of contemporaries like Holland and Mallick. Her instagram videos will help you pronounce names of wine, debunk myths about single malt whisky, differentiate between blended and single varietal wines and the “three culprits in wine” that might cause headaches.
Avishi Jajodia/Somm Uncorked: A native of Mumbai, Jajodia splits her time between her hometown and London, where she now lives. Follow her Instagram page to know more about wine and food pairings, wine preservation, the difference between certification courses and why you should never add ice to your wine.
Sommeliers/experts to follow (international)
Jancis Robinson: The Grande Dame of wine, Robinson is one of the most influential wine critics in the world. She writes a weekly column for the Financial Times, is founder-editor of The Oxford Companion to Wine and is a member of the United Kingdom’s Royal Household Wine Committee.
Aldo Sohm: Author of the widely popular Wine Simple book (see above), Sohm is Chief Sommelier at Le Bernandin, one of New York’s top fine-dining restaurants, and runs a more casual-yet-chic eponymous wine bar in the city. But that’s just one part of what he does. In 2009, Sohm teamed up with fellow Austrian Gerhard Kracher and the two became winemakers. He’s also brand ambassador of Zalto, a glassware company that’s been making wine glasses for six generations
James Suckling: One of the leading American wine critics in the world, Suckling runs JamesSuckling.com, a company that publishes country-wise reports on wine, conducts tastings across the world, makes films, and has its own wine ratings system. “Since starting his career, James estimates he has tasted and rated close to 250,000 wines. Last year he and his team of tasters rated more than 18,000 wines. This year they should rate almost 25,000. His website provides more than 150,000 wine ratings at the moment. They currently rate more than 2,000 wines a month,” says his description.
Apps to have on your phone
Vivino: As someone who gets confused about which wine bottle to pick from a store, Vivino is a godsend for me. The way it works is this: open the app, tap on the camera icon, click a picture of the front label of the wine bottle and upload it. Within seconds, it’ll show customer reviews, tasting notes, its ranking in the region and the world and information about the grape variety.
Available on Google Play Store and the App Store
Learn more about wine
Do you want to learn more about wine but don't know where to go? Well, the following academies in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore are authorised to conduct WSET courses. Some, like the Sonal Holland Wine Academy and The Happy High Bartending Academy, have designed their own courses for beginners, intermediate and advanced levels.
Trade Fairs and Wine Festivals
[From Sula Vineyards]
The best way to sample a wide array of wines from across the world are at trade fairs and festivals, where winemakers congregate and demonstrate their produce. Here’s a curated list of must-attend events where you can let your hair down, network with those in the wine trade, while sipping on some top-quality fermented grape juice.
ProWein: The Mahakumbh of wine and spirits in the world, it is held annually in Dusseldorf, Germany. Anyone who has anything to do with wine—winemakers, restaurateurs, hoteliers, duty free shop owners, supermarket representatives, importers, journalists, viticulture experts, wholesalers, wine accessory manufacturers—is present at this three-day extravaganza.
This is a ticketed event. For tickets and other details, please visit the ProWine website
VinItaly: Another major trade fair for wines held in Verona, Italy. Like ProWein, VinItaly too sees a congregation of all those who’re in the business of wines. The four-day exhibition has areas dedicated to organic wine, mixology masterclasses, small-batch wines and even olive-oil growers.
VinItaly will be held April 14-17, 2024 and is a ticketed event. For tickets and other details, please visit the VinItaly website
London Wine Fair: The largest trade fair for wines and spirits in the United Kingdom, the London Wine Fair is over 40 years old where restaurateurs, hoteliers, sommeliers, retailers, importers, winemakers, bar owners and wine accessories manufacturers congregate to exchange notes on the business of wine. Panel discussions are organised on the sidelines of the fair and focus on a range of subjects such as wine growing on volcanic vineyards, the renaissance of rum and Lebanese white wines to name a few. If you want to meet some of the UK’s top sommeliers and wine critics, this is the place to be.
The London Wine Fair will be held May 20-22, 2024. For further details and to register your interest, please visit the website
Beaujolais Nouveau Day (France): A celebration of Beaujolais, a red wine from the country’s Burgundy region, this was a marketing idea invented in the 1950s to increase the popularity of this wine. “By law, the annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau takes place at precisely 12.01 am on the third Thursday of November. This liberation of the young red wine, made with Gamay grapes harvested just six to eight weeks before bottling, is accompanied by fireworks, music and festivities in Beaujolais,” according to a report on The Good Life website. “It’s an excuse for a party in towns and cities in France as bars and restaurants offer Beaujolais to customers for the night and then often for a limited period after—this isn’t a wine that keeps for long,” it added.
Berlin Wine Festival: On the second weekend of September every year, vintners—wine merchants—in and around Germany gather in the city’s Lichtenrade’s neighbourhood to show their latest produce. Accompanying them are potters, fashion designers and jewellery makers, on the lookout for customers to buy their products.
Entry free. Location: village pond, Alt-Lichtenrade, Berlin
SulaFest: Held at the Sula Vineyards in Nashik, this used to be one of India’s most popular wine and music festivals. Unfortunately, its last edition was held in February 2020, just before the Covid-19 pandemic turned the world upside down. Since then, the festival has been discontinued and there is no clarity on whether it’ll be revived. One can, of course, book a stay at the Sula Vineyards and sample their wines.