The first time wines properly made an entry into India was when we were about to step into the new millennium—Chilean wines from the Montes estate. It was a far cry, both geographically and by taste, for the market. So far, we only had those old school brass and wooden trolleys being wheeled around fine dining hotel-only restaurants, where eight bottles occupied eight cut-out grooves at the lower level and glasses were arranged on the upper rung. The wines ranged between generic old world suspects, from Chablis to Chianti, and the accompanying server knew all their names by heart, although he may not have done the best job of pronouncing them. Temperature was clearly not of importance, both, white and red wines were carted around together. Sometimes an ice bucket was propped up on the top shelf too, just in case.
Fast forward to today and most outlets have a modest list by way of their wine offerings. More wine-centric outlets will boast an array that runs into hundreds of labels, covering a range from a few thousand rupees right into lakhs!
Between the archaic laws of the land and the heavy tax regime, it is hard to come across a proper wine bar, the kind we find ourselves parked in whenever we travel. Nevertheless, if wine be your calling, here are a few places which I feel run a decent program. Criteria I considered while compiling this list would be wine range on offer, pricing, and options by-the-glass.
1. Mesa, Delhi: The latest eatery in the national capital is the closest we come to having a wine bar. Their selections are still being stocked up but their pricing is on point and the food is certainly the kind one would enjoy with a glass of something fruity and crisp.
2. Perch, Delhi: Wines, coffee and cocktail, they do all three pretty well and the pricing is approachable too. The easy vibe of the place makes it just the kind of place where one would wish to kick back with a bottle and enjoy an easy afternoon.
3. Le Cirque, Delhi: Uppity, serious, and, I just realised, the only place on this list that is inside a five-star hotel. Don’t expect prices to be very sensible but then this is the epitome of fine dining. Although the wine list at Le Cirque Delhi is the most exhaustive, it is the Le Cirque Signature Bengaluru that does the most wine-worthy food. But between the three outlets (third one is at Mumbai), they have the most lavish food and wine for special memorable occasions. Unless you are horribly rich, in which case, it’s just another Tuesday.
4. Home, Delhi: Technically, this social and entertainment club is a members’ only bar but the wines on offer are not just exquisite but they are downright rare and precious. Outside of a five-star hotel, I can think of few places who keep such wines.
5. The Wine Company, Gurgaon: Being in Gurgaon seriously limits the range of wines they can have and they are more of a party place with loud music and dim lighting. However, their aggressive pricing still makes them one of the few outlets you would think of when wine is on the cards and you happen to be the side of town.
6. Ummrao, Mumbai: This is an Indian fine-dining restaurant withpossibly one of the most unique wine lists in the city. Many of these wines are in limited quantities and possibly only available here. The best bit is the pricing, which puts all these wines well within reach, so much so that one needn’t wait on an occasion to uncork a special bottle.
7. Qualia, Mumbai: Rahul Akerkar’s brand of food needs no introduction and now in his new abode, he has dialled up a wine list with wines that he personally loves. While the passion for gastronomy shines through at Qualia, it is also a great venue for lovely pours.
8. Americano, Mumbai: Unpretentious and easy, cocktails and wines, and the signature food from the much-loved and popular Chef Alex Sanchez. The wine list may not be long but it is exactly the kind of place where Sanchez himself would like to come and enjoy some wine. That is a vibe (and pricing) I can get behind.
9. The Table, Mumbai: One of the first stand-alone restaurants in Mumbai to have a dedicated sommelier, The Tabel has a lovely wine selection and great food to go with. The long communal table on the ground floor is a great place to convene and try different wines. The sommelier at hand is always well-versed and great with suggestions.
10. 266 Wine Bar, Mumbai: This is a medium-sized bar with an extra-large wine list, absolutely fantastic pricing and an equally enriched food menu to accompany these wines. The range, here, covers the globe with an impressive portfolio of Indian wines too.
11. The Wine Rack, Mumbai: This has been a big success since the day it opened doors—great pricing, especially for bottle sales, and in the heart of one of Mumbai’s most popular mall, this is a reliably good wine venue to unwind at.
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