From the moment we arrived to the moment we left India was as incredible as it promised to be. Chance meetings with a modern day maharajah, elephant commutes to old fortresses, stunning palaces with ornate details, colorful markets peddling everything from hand embroidered pashminas to ayurvedic medicine and delightful pompom adorned shoes made of camel leather… The Taj Mahal. From the rich and flavorful food both in luxurious royal settings to street side kachoris to the amazing people who have so much to share and so generously reveal their kinds spirits with their big, warm smiles, India was truly incredible.
Another thing that was also incredible were the prices of wine. If there was anything that truly put a damper on our vacation was the fact that the wine selection was meager and the prices were out of this world. But in true vacation style we threw caution and care out the window… Our total expenses on wine hit us like a bad hangover in the end, but just like with any hangover, it’s usually accompanied by some amazing memories. So there are absolutely no regrets, just some lessons learned. The next time we go to India we are sneaking in a couple of bottles of rosé in our suitcase and we will do as the locals do – beer and Gin. The more cost effective way to get to that vacation buzz.
The whole expensive wine and liquor thing crept up on us unexpectedly as we had a super great start to our holiday. When we arrived at the stunning Sujan Rajmahal, we were greeted with perfectly chilled glasses of bubbly! Plus they had a bottle of Rosé Chandon sparkling wine on ice waiting in our room. Not just any room at that, we had been upgraded unexpectedly to the stunning Mountbatten Suite with views to the sprawling garden lawn. Bubbles are the best way to fight jet lag and voyage fatigue so hey! We popped that bottle open at 10 am.
At lunch we had ordered another bottle, this time a nice Pinot Grigio that went really well with the Rajasthani Thali platter. The honeyed almond notes just complemented the spicy heady curries like sunshine kissing your skin on a warm day. Just the right amount of fresh brightness with the right amount of heat. We shrugged of the elevated prices thinking it was because we were in a luxury hotel.
For the duration of our stay in Jaipur, we kept shrugging off the wine prices because we kept dining in these uber luxurious swanky palaces. 5,500 rupees for a bottle of E. Guigal Tavel Rosé on the gorgeous terrace of the Rambagh Palace while having high tea? It seemed elevated but understandable. I mean where else can I have tea with peacocks prancing about a manicured lawn so large you could probably host a polo game in it. It was only when we arrived in the countryside, after long dusty drive and blindly paid 12,000 rupees for the same bottle, it was then when we realized. Oh crap. I think we better start paying closer attention to our wine budget. We were barely halfway done with our vacation and had spent perhaps a little too much on our favorite beverage.
Oh wait don’t forget! Those are the menu prices – on top of that are all kinds of assorted taxes that sneak up on you. That makes for a very expensive rosé o’clock!
Needless to say I actually enjoyed that bottle of rosé the most. Sitting by the emerald green swimming pool of the Amanbagh, listening to the melodious chirping of the jewel toned parakeets as they danced around the rustling trees. That first cold sip was pleasant, but by the time we had the second glass, that rosy buzz has set in and the wine was perfectly chilled… we looked at each other, clinked our glasses and sighed happily. Proof that wine and its value are all about the moment.
The 5,500 rupee bottle of Jacob’s Creek rosé after that was a total sham and a sobering waste of money for sweet sop. In fact we never finished that bottle as the remains lingered on in our mini-bar like sad reminder of how distorted wine prices are in India. Even when the housekeeping staff had kindly put the bottle back on ice for the next day… we still ignored it and left it swimming in a melted pool of hopeless rosé dreams.
Unlike the gorgeous Jawa Mahal in Jaipur which is the epitome of what feeling rosy is all about!
Two wines however somewhat saved us during our trip. I wouldn’t necessarily call them value for money but given the measly selection they were fair and served their purpose well. The Indian Sula Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc – yes India makes wine!!! Is surprisingly pleasant, very new world with that signature green pepper aroma, touches of tropical fruit… It’s not extraordinary but chilled very well, it does the trick. We first tried it at the beautiful Bar Palladio in Jaipur.
Perfect as an aperitif and actually pairs quite nicely with the vegetable curries and dahls. Do be forewarned, this one is a coyote ugly. Super fun and enjoyable at the moment, you spent the whole night getting drunk together but the next day is truly regrettable. This is the voice of experience speaking from the bottom of a very expensive toilet bowl at the Oberoi Taj Villas. Super acidic… full of sulphites leaving you with an awful headache and upset stomach. A glass or two is fine but perhaps not a whole bottle… Smooch it just don’t take it home with you lest you wake up in bed going “what have I done?!”
This is us enjoying the Sula Sauvignon Blanc… We really did enjoy it! But…. Maybe the bottle after four orders of by-the-glass was a little too much! Reds were a trickier story as they didn’t have much selection. Strangely lots of Burgundy options which didn’t seem like a likely pairing for the local fare. Our first choice of red was a really pleasant South African one, Rupert and Rothschild. Not all that elegant but punchy and juicy and overall pleasant to drink. We had this over dinner at the lovely terrace of the Samode Haveli Hotel.
Later on we discovered an even better option while having dinner on the lawn of Susan Rajmahal. The staff had set up a beautiful birthday surprise for me with a candlelit pathway leading to this romantic little gazebo.
The red wine that sort of became our standard vacation pour was Escudo Rojo – the Baron Rothchild’s Chilean adventure. This rich and spicy red with bold juicy black fruit and touches of tobacco was actually a great match for the different lamb curries. Lots of nice tannins and depth it was very easy to drink, not too complicated to understand. It’s like that vacation boyfriend or girlfriend. The person is loads of fun, nice to talk to, super great company, funny and sexy… You know you’re not in love and you won’t get married, you probably won’t even introduce that person to your family but, you really appreciate them and they are just right and just perfect for the moment. When you say your goodbyes, you most likely won’t keep in touch, but you have great memories together and will always think of that person fondly. In twenty years you won’t remember their name but you will think oh hey! Yes that was nice.
Actually scratch that, come to think of it, I would revisit Escudo Rojo again. “Hey! How have you been doing? I thought about you the other day…” Especially knowing that they are very decently priced here in the Philippines. Titania Wine Cellars brings them in and it retails for about Php 1,170. (A far cry from the 7,500 rupees we were paying in India!! Damn that 160% import tax!) I would happily purchase Escudo Rojo for a fun barbecue, with Tandoori marinades and charred naan bread. One of those relaxed events with good friends who are not really into wine but can appreciate a nice glass of red.
Oh India…. I will be back. But next time I’ll be pulling a colonial move and go straight for the stronger stuff – Gin and T.