Gift Memberships to Wine Clubs?

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In a recent article for Business Standard, Kishore Singh discusses gift memberships to wine clubs and whether they are worth it. If gift memberships don’t seem like a good idea, definitely consider gift subscriptions to Sommelier India! They will serve as a gentler introduction to the world of wine and your friends will think of you each time they get a copy of Sommelier India in the mail. We will also send your friends a card on your behalf announcing your thoughtful gift.


Mind your High
A membership to a wine club can be a mixed blessing.
I have been promising to gift memberships of the wine club of which I am a member to close friends for so long now, they view it with increasing scepticism.
But the reason I’ve hesitated to sign the sponsorship forms to send off with enclosed cheques is because it’s a bit unfair, really, this gift of a membership.
First, it brings up the issue of “approvals”. Wine clubs claim a la-di-dah membership of those who “appreciate” wine, even if they’re not connoisseurs. This is a lot of balderdash aimed at keeping out the local lalaji who doesn’t speak public school English and doesn’t quite make the grade of “society”.
It’s all right for a club to be snobbish, but would it be fair on my part to impose its methodology of approvals on unsuspecting friends who aren’t exactly hankering to belong to the club in the first place?
Next — and this is critical — a gift membership is a bit of a Catch 22 thing. If the friends choose not to utilise their membership, it’s my money wasted; but if they do, they’ll have to end up paying for every event they attend. Which means, to make me feel good, they’ll have to spend money on a gift I’ve given them in the first place.
A rip-off, really. Especially since I haven’t been too diligent about attending the wine club events for so long, I don’t even know if I’m a member any more.
And the reason why I’m not ecstatic about it is because half the people who actually fetch up at a wine dinner (or even a wine tasting) end up moaning that there’s no scotch being served, for heaven’s sake!
Between the grumblers and waiting to be served more than the thimbleful that passes for a glass of wine away from the main table, there’s the matter of the per head you’re expected to pay for the wine + meal, Rs 1,500 per noggin’ if you’re lucky, but more likely to be in the region of Rs 2,000.
Nothing wrong with that, if you can choose your wine and your main course — but alas, it’s been done for you so you don’t have a say in the matter. Mind you, it’s usually good, with restaurants laying out their superior cuisine (or the chef’s special at the least), but it still rankles.
If I want to spend Rs 2,000 per person, then a group of five couples, say, can pick their own company, cuisine and choice of wines for the Rs 20,000 and the grumblers can have their scotch without ruffling feathers or offending wine purists.
In spite of this, though, wine club events can be fun. Provided you don’t take the “nose” and “colour” thing to academic levels, and provided you have convivial company.
There’s nothing more guaranteed to ruin an evening than sitting beside members you’re only nodding acquaintances with, to have them go on about woody bouquets and opaque colours: wine should enhance the conversation, not become the conversation.
Another thing: sit-down dinners are a pain when served in slow courses. An hour at the table is fine — but three? Club managements need to consider their choice of restaurants based on their capability of serving, say, 60 plated dinners, course after course, without having to lay out beds for their guests.
And still, if I haven’t managed to put you off a club membership, here’s some dope on the few that are up for grabs — provided you pass muster of the management.
The oldest and perhaps most serious of the lot is the Delhi Wine Society, once upon a time known as the Table de France, which meets on average every 45 days, and will usually have a wine expert or promoter do a slide presentation and get you to sniff and swirl your way to wine nirvana.
The heads are mostly grey, and women wear pearls, so don’t go looking for fun — not unless talking about the state of corruption in high places is your idea of an evening out. But for my money, I’d rate it the most sophisticated group of oenophiles in the country.
The Delhi Wine Club, on the other hand, is probably the most active, and has a chapter in Gurgaon to boot. Wine events here can average one a fortnight and the buzz is youthful. A fun place to start with, it’s come under some criticism from the Wine Society because its promoters appear to have a commercial interest in the business of wine — but a feisty brotherhood, nonetheless.
Strangely, Mumbai does not have a wine club — yet. In the past, there have been attempts to pair wine and art appreciation, and there are murmurs currently of vineyards getting into the biz, but that would be more trade than consumer, so one can safely presume that Chandigarh is leaps ahead with its Chandigarh Wine Club getting down to a bit of swivelling at least every other month.
Not bad for a macho city where wine is probably seen as a sissy drink, but even if it’s just a case of getting together to party, it seems to be on the right track.
India’s Silicon and Cyber cities too have their own clubs. The Bangalore Wine Club is headed by Business Standard’s wine columnist, and is, by all accounts, a meeting ground for like-minded people able to combine a little bit of learning with a lot of fun.
Its younger population of techies means you’ll probably see it growing fast, something the Hyderabad Wine Club can aspire to as well, given its nerd workforce.
That people see wine clubs fulfilling a social yearning is becoming clear with word trickling out that Kolkata and Lucknow too are in the race to have their own wine clubs. Now, if only they’d get smart and interface on inter-club memberships, I might be tempted into writing out a cheque…or three.

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