When Sovna Puri, fresh out of hotel school, went to France to intern at a Relais & ChA?teaux property in 2003, she didna��t realise it would be the start of a lifelong love affair with wine. The head, tastings and training and general manager, sales and marketing of Sula Wines recalls observing the sommelier there: a a�?brilliant man with a passion for winea�? and being awed by the hotela��s long, complex wine list. She was hooked. It would be a life with wine for her, she decided.
A move thereafter to Michelin-star Indian restaurant, Benares in London sealed the deal. Those were days when Indian food was accompanied with beer and the restaurant had a meagre wine list. a�?My fellow sommelier, an Italian and I decided to create a six-course wine-paired tasting menu,a�? she recalls. It was a huge hit. People started ordering their favourites, for instance fish moilee with a Martinborough Pinot Noir from New Zealand, an unusual combination. For Puri, it was exciting to see the Indian food/wine story taking off. A regular was Sulaa��s Rajeev Samant (Sula was the only Indian wine listed) who offered Puri a job back in India. a�?I had no intentions of moving. Wine drinking was virtually non-existent in India. But it sounded like a good change and I agreed,a�? she says. Puria��s been with Sula since. a�?Ita��s been an interesting ride in India, so different from the Western attitude towards wine,a�? she tells me, a�?Indians first started drinking wine for health reasons or because it was the a�?ina�� thing. Today, there are many who want to genuinely understand and learn.a�?
Puri travels around India conducting wine appreciation sessions and teaching the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Levels 1 & 2 mostly to those in the hotel biz, but nowadays, to an increasing number of non-trade folk, driven by simple curiosity. a�?In a Punjab Tier 2 city known for its whisky drinking tradition, I got 99 per cent attendance recently: a wow moment for me,a�? she says. Nonetheless, the subject of wine remains a formidable one and there are many misconceptions, which can be cleared through education alone. Some common ones? a�?That red wine should be served at room temperature in India. No. Room temperature means Europea��s; red wine should be served at 16 degrees, not more. Also, because of our cheap port wine tradition, ita��s widely assumed that red wine is sweet.a�? Therea��s increasing curiosity about wine pairing with Indian food, a subject thata��s seeing much myth-busting lately. I asked Puri about her favourite pairings. a�?The Sula Riesling with a mildly spiced chicken curry. And one of my favourites from our import portfolio: Cono Sur Chardonnay from Chile with a creamy butter chicken,a�? she recommends.
Her words of wisdom to learners, like the state-level cricketer who enjoys collecting wine and wanted to learn more: a�?Dona��t get intimidated a�� ita��s not rocket science. Be open minded, taste different wines until you find what you like. Therea��s a wine out there for everyone.a�?