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The world of plonks and wine snobs

Alok Chandra 

Alok Chandra

For the uninitiated, "plonk" refers to poor-quality wine. The term is used by Brits and Aussies specifically for wine - I've not been able to find a word for poor-quality beer (maybe these worthies think that any beer is good beer!); poor-quality spirits are sometimes referred to as "swill".

Not so long ago, the nobs would term almost any wine not from France as plonk; latterly, with the improved quality of wines from Europe and the New World there's less talk of "Spanish plonk" or "Chilean plonk", so the term has shifted to wines from the "new" New World (China, India and other countries one wouldn't normally associate with wine).

China has an ancient tradition of producing fermented alcoholic beverages. The problem is that their term for "wine" includes beverages made using almost any substrate, including both rice and grain. They will talk of "Yellow Shaoxing Wine" or "Jimo Old Wine" or even "Red Ferment Wine" - the truth is, these beverages have no relationship with "wine" as we understand it, are sometimes hugely expensive, and woe betide anyone who imbibes too much as many of them are really strong (15 per cent to 17 per cent v/v) and apt to put you under quite quickly.

Of course, China also produces prodigious amounts of wine from the vitis vinifera grape: there are an estimated 1.2 million acres of grape vineyards in China (versus some 10,000 acres in India) and several multi-national wine companies (Moet Hennessy, Remy Cointreau, Pernod Ricard, Torres and the Bordeaux families of Lurton and Barons de Rothschild) have invested in wine production there. Nevertheless, barring wines from Grace Vineyards (part of the Torres empire) all the Chinese wines I've ever tasted were, well, plonk!

I've been tasting wines produced by new Indian wineries since 2002. Yes, quality is improving, but no, the vast majority of the wine produced is of poor quality: over-extracted, tannic, green, baked, oxidised stuff that should best be used to cook that "drunken chicken" dish. So many of the whites tend to either be alcoholic sugar water (the Chenin Blancs) or acidic and odourless concoctions (the Sauvignon Blancs) that one is pleasantly surprised on actually getting a balanced wine. Often the wines are "cooked": blame the 35-degree plus temperatures in which most retail shops store the wines. Whatever the reason, a large number of the newer Indian wines should be on the "plonk" list.

Actually, wine is still such a new phenomenon in India that we all tend to take the subject far too seriously: drinking wine should be fun rather than ritualistic, and it's ok to be irreverant about the whole affair - check out any of the five episodes of TV serial Plonk (available on YouTube) from Australia that takes a hilarious and tongue-in-cheek dig at the world of wine (yes, there's lots of plonk still made in Australia).

Wines I've been drinking: A Ladera Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 2006 from the Napa Valley in California (94 points, $70) at a landmark seven-course lunch for The Wine Afficianadoes at the Novotel Bengaluru. The wine is simply luscious, with complex aromas of cherries and black-currants and minerals, full-bodied, soft sweet tannins, and a terrific finish. No plonk that, just a classic Napa Cab - were it available in India.

Alok Chandra is a Bengaluru-based wine consultant

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First Published: Sat, June 27 2015. 00:07 IST