Ernest Hemingway famously wrote about wine in Europe being “something as healthy and normal as food, and also as a great giver of happiness and well-being and delight”. Chandigarh-based Yashovardhan Saboo, who runs Ethos, India’s largest retail chain of Swiss-made watches, agrees heartily with the description. His love for the drink that came to be associated with sophistication, even snobbish attitudes, began from reading authors like Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald, whose references to wine (and the consumption of it) informed their depiction of early 19th century European culture.
It wasn’t until he was 24, though — during his first trip to Europe —that Saboo was able to quench his curiosity. He learned to enjoy and appreciate the finer aspects of wine much later, entertaining overseas customers. “While dealing with foreign clients, you can either connect using food or alcohol. As vegetarian, I thought wine was a better way,” says the managing director of KDDL, which is into high-end watch components and precision engineering solutions.
Saboo recalls the crisp winter’s day in Basel when a friend took him to a blind tasting session. It involved tasting and sorting wines into three categories — ordinary, good and great — without knowing the brand. Noting the reactions of the 20-odd participants who obviously knew their stuff, he was surprised to find that his assessment was pretty close to theirs. “Even if you aren’t familiar with wines, it is quite easy to differentiate the great ones from the simple ones when you focus,” he says.
Wines of same vintage or year could taste different even if opened at the same time, depending on how they were stored. “Every bottle you open is like a blind date. There is a lot of anticipation and you never know what it will be like. So, I can’t stick to one; I need to keep trying and exploring,” says Saboo. His favourite among Indian wines is the Grover La Reserve, though he thinks it’s not as good as it was 10 years ago. “I like wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy [France], Piedmont [Italy], Napa Valley [USA] and the Priorat region [Spain] the most.”
In 2003, a chance conversation with a member of the Delhi Wine Club encouraged Saboo to launch one in his city. Now, the Chandigarh Wine Club hosts blind tastings and dinners for its 50 members about four to five times a year. Those travelling abroad share their latest discoveries, acquisitions and experiences with wine, upon their return. Sometimes, experts are called in to conduct tasting sessions and introduce wines.
So, what does a vegetarian like Saboo pair his wine with? Cheese always works — especially a range of hard cheese, like parmigiano reggiano, goes well with Tannic wines for him. For someone who isn’t sure how to pick the perfect cheese for their drink, Saboo suggests this golden rule, “Coupling cheese and wine from the same region is always a good option.” Other than that, pasta, moderately-spiced food, and anything tandoori go down equally well. “It’s all about how you like it, and not what experts tell you to like, or brands that are trendy,” he concludes.