Wine List Awards & Critics
I don’t get it; for all my limited knowledge I thought we won our independence back in ’47. People laid down lives for the cause; the cause of making our voices heard, making our opinion count and being citizens of the world.
Somehow, when I look at things around me, all that sacrifice seems futile, even lost. Never ever have we been bigger suckers for Western approval than today. Everything we do seems a lot more ‘doable’ if a Western authority (or Western anything) commends or endorses it. We look down upon our own language and a sceptic would easily be inclined to think that we would sooner trade our culture in for a designer hand-bag; I so hope that is not the general case.
But let me not sound so general and long-winded, I upset enough egos with my bluntness as it is. But you see, brevity and softness of delivery are things I am yet to learn the virtue of. What I am really on about is how we, in our naivety, subscribe to views and opinions of people who don’t even know we exist. What Milan considers fashionable may never be considered so in the Indian context. From physical build to our cultural build-up, we are a different lot the world over so it is only natural that what applies in one place may hold no meaning even a few hundred kilometres away.
Yet, hotels and restaurants in India are convinced that having an award from something seemingly reputed and of course Western will win us the necessary accolades. Having wines that a Western palate finds ‘awesome’ are what we too must drink no matter how different our drinking habits and preferences. In spite of open markets and convertibility of the rupee we still crave Western anything as bad as a date with Bollywood.
But not all is bad about the Western philosophies. They started well before us and hence have been around for a while. The one and perhaps only thing good about a Western endorsement is that it does set and portray a certain standard that we all can be sure will be followed and respected. Being aware of how India works, we doubt our the integrity of our own and wonder if an Indian opinion, like say, a wine award by Magandeep Singh, won’t be compromised. How can we be sure that Magan is being honest when he says that a certain hotel has a good wine list and is not just singing like a canary just been given a hefty pay packet?
You can’t; I can give you my word that money is the last thing I chase (right behind pretty girls and designer labels) yet you may have no reason to believe me. But then everyone respects the same coming from an international publication like the Wine Spectator. Or at least that was the case…
Let me tell you something about the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence; for one, I am tired of seeing them displayed prominently in leading restaurants. Recently an Italian restaurant was awarded the first level of the Wine Spectator recognition for having a good wine list. The experiment was the brainchild of Robin Goldstein and the restaurant was called Osteria L’Intrepido, based in Milan. The list was submitted alongside a menu and the obligatory $250 fee and soon received its Award making it one more restaurant in Milan to boast a Wine Spectator badge. Well, it could have been anywhere in the world for that matter because in reality the restaurant never existed!
To make matters even worse, the wines chosen on the resto’s Reserve selection were wines that had scored exceptionally low marks in the previous ratings of the WS magazine. Yet the wine list won. It seems that the only criterion they really managed to adhere to and satisfactorily fulfil was making out a cheque for $250 that didn’t bounce. Now how credible is that? Now when I see an Award of Excellence in a hotel or a restaurant I can’t help but wonder if a critic at WS actually looked at all the detailed records that they ask a restaurant to submit or was it just a simple cheque that does the trick every time? In fact, if I see another Wine Spectator glass (or two, or three) Award for a good wine list in an Indian establishment I will just assume that the outlet has no clue of wines and it is barely buying a badge to redeem itself out of ignorance.
We are no more a country to be taken lightly; our time has come and we are taking over the world, one bronze medal at a time. Our hotel chains are setting the new international standards of hospitality (have you ever tried room service in Paris!?) and expanding into previously unchartered territories – competing and even coming up trumps against what were for long considered the best in the trade. Yet, every now and then we titubate in our actions and end up with an odd and inexplicable display of lack of confidence. Why can’t we just do our jobs, do it earnestly and sincerely and know we have done it well? Why must we still need positive reinforcement from authorities who don’t seem capable enough of tying their own shoelaces without trying to trip the other foot? Wake up hospitality professionals, kindergarten’s over…
WS is but a case in point. Michelin has mucked up by rewarding stars to a restaurant that didn’t even exist! Robert Parker’s ratings (God bless him and his gifted palate) may hold control over a US market but I fail to see why they should be equally relevant in India where everything is different – cuisine, culture et al. If everything in life is relative than Mr. Parker should matter as much to Indians as George Bush does to educated and intelligent Americans!
Group tastings and blind exercises are way more relevant in today’s democratic times than the mood swings of a single critic.
Now I seem to be contradicting myself, for I am putting forth my own views all the time (even now) and then I am asking you to not subscribe. Well yes, and no: I am asking you to not listen to just about anything that is said, least of all by someone who may not even be remotely aware of your requirements or cultural stimuli. I may claim (‘claim’, please feel free to correct me) more knowledge of Indian consumer habits and thereby boast of a better perspective, but that too should only be useful to eventually help you form your own and final opinion. If you must take an opinion take it from the person who frequents your outlet and who pays your bills – the client. The consumer’s vote counts for he is and should be truly king. In the end, even I shouldn’t matter, no matter how much you admire me…
But you get the point – no criticism, mere advice this time around. Now I better put pen to rest before I get any more delusional with hallucinations of power and else…