Atul Tiwari, a graduate from IHMÂ Â Dehradun, has over eight yearsÂ ofÂ experience in the hospitality industry. HeÂ started his career as a FoodÂ and Beverage assistantÂ at The Oberoi Mumbai in 2009 andÂ Beverage assistantÂ at The Oberoi Mumbai in 2009 and subsequentlyÂ joined the pre-opening team at The Leela PalaceÂ New Delhi in 2010. Since then he has worked as aÂ food and beverage professional in various capacitiesÂ at the Leela and is currently restaurant manager atÂ the modern Japanese restaurant Megu. His passionÂ for wine is what keeps Tiwari on his toes with theÂ latest trends in the F&B field and has taken him toÂ vineyards around the world for firsthand authenticÂ experiences. With several professional awardsÂ under his belt, including topping the 7th IndianÂ Sommelier Championship in 2014, Tiwari is aÂ member of the Sommelier India Tasting Panel.Â He speaks to Reva K Singh about theÂ hotelâ€™s wine programme, his interest in wine and why he loves his job.
What is the underlying philosophy of yourÂ hotelâ€™s wine programme?Â The underlying philosophy of the wineÂ programme at The Leela Palace New Delhi isÂ to make the Palace the ultimate destinationÂ with the most satisfying wine experience appropriate to the cuisine chosen and one thatÂ appeals to our discerning wine connoisseurs.Â Today we have an excellent range of overÂ 350 labels selected from all over the worldÂ which illustrates our serious commitment toÂ curating an invigorating wine experience for our guests.
How is your wine list arranged and what is theÂ most important element of a good wine list?Â The wine list at the Leela Palace is catalogedÂ according to the country of origin and its mostÂ interesting regions. Important to considerÂ when planning a wine list are criteria suchÂ as the most suitable grape varietals and wineÂ styles keeping in mind the cuisine served at the restaurant as well as the price of the wines.
Which wines do you serve by the glass?Â We serve 19 wines by the glass in anÂ appealing selection of international andÂ domestic white, red, sparkling and rosÃ©Â wines. We keep revisiting this assortment toÂ ensure our offering remains as interestingÂ and exciting as it can be while raising theÂ benchmark for the industry and keeping
our guests truly satisfied.Â Over a period of time, Indian wines haveÂ carved a niche for themselves and created a steep demand among both Indian and globalÂ travellers. Our endeavour is to offer the bestÂ of both worlds to our guests, and so we haveÂ an excellent collection of both indigenous andÂ imported wines at the Leela Palace.
How important is food and wine matching?Â Very important. When a glass of wineÂ meets a certain dish in perfect harmony, magic is created. Both elevate each other in partnership.
What would you tell your guests if theyÂ asked you which wine to order?Â First and foremost, it is important to understandÂ your guestâ€™s palate. Wine suggestions are thenÂ largely based on the cuisine and the specificÂ dishes that are ordered. For example, inÂ Jamavar, our fine dining Indian restaurant, IÂ would suggest an off-dry Gewurztraminer if aÂ spicy lamb curry is ordered. At MEGU, blackÂ cod with Riesling is a match made in heaven.
At Le Cirque, I would recommend a ChiantiÂ with Spaghetti Primavera which is another very successful and popular pairing.
Given the chance, what region would youÂ like to have more of on your wine list?Â Priorat in Spain. This is a region that producesÂ wines that are intensely fruit flavoured and highlyÂ distinctive. Although low in yield, the distinctionÂ of the wines is due to their flavours which theÂ regionâ€™s slate and Llicorella soil imparts, addingÂ a new dimension to them. These wines are stillÂ highly under-rated and thatâ€™s why I would like to introduce them to my patrons.
What specific traits or skills should aÂ sommelier possess to succeed on the shopÂ floor?Â For a sommelier to succeed requires anÂ exhaustive study of the different wine regions,Â an understanding of the physiological processÂ of wine tasting, the ability to critically assessÂ wines, and the complex world of pairingÂ wine and food. A sommelier needs to haveÂ a wine vocabulary along with a naturalÂ flair for story-telling to make his or herÂ interaction with patrons more interesting andÂ engaging. In addition, a sommelier also needsÂ to be well-versed in aspects related to wineÂ service, procurement of wines and inventoryÂ management. Equally important is mentoringÂ a team and curating a wine list that is profitableÂ for the establishment and also appealing toÂ guests. Finally, a sommelier should understandÂ that a great wine experience does not necessarily require an expensive bottle of wine.
What is the most rewarding aspect of yourÂ profession?Â Well, as a sommelier I get to taste some of the
rarest and most expensive wines in the world.Â I get to interact with the finest chefs and makeÂ stimulating connections with winemakersÂ while working on degustation menus. I getÂ to travel to the most beautiful wine regionsÂ of the world, share my passion with guestsÂ (including many celebrities) while regalingÂ them with fascinating wine stories. I overseeÂ a wine programme and constantly work onÂ an ever-evolving wine list that should be inÂ perfect harmony with the menu. The rewardsÂ are many, but the most rewarding aspect of
my profession is to see a truly satisfied guest atÂ the end of a meal where my suggestions have succeeded in immensely enhancing the entire dining experience.
What is the most annoying customer habit?Â What is the oddest request you have receivedÂ from a customer?Â After working for almost a decade in theÂ hospitality industry nothing very muchÂ annoys me any longer. However, I do get someÂ strange requests from guests. For example, IÂ find it odd when people return from a tripÂ abroad, and ask for the same wine that theyâ€™dÂ had at a particular restaurant on their travels.
What were your first encounter with wineÂ and the wine industry?Â Childhood memories. I remember drinkingÂ wine and mixing it with soda from my uncleâ€™sÂ bar. That was my earliest encounter with wine.Â At my first job in Mumbai, I was fortunate toÂ be part of a wine training programme. It wasÂ a formative experience in my life and I have never looked back.
Any particular mentors at that time?Â I hold Rohan Ogale and Manohar from TheÂ Oberoi Mumbai, along with Gagan SharmaÂ in high esteem. They have helped me shape myself as a successful sommelier.
Do you have a memorable wine moment?Â Yes, I do. The particular incident that I amÂ about to narrate is close to my heart andÂ one that I will never forget. Last year, I wentÂ on a month-long backpacking trip acrossÂ Europe to explore the wine regions. On aÂ visit to the Louis Jadot winery in Burgundy,Â they graciously gave me a bottle of expensiveÂ Louis Jadot Echezeaux Grand Cru when IÂ was leaving. As I was travelling by Euro rail IÂ decided to taste the wine while enjoying theÂ beautiful view. (I often finish all the winesÂ Iâ€™ve collected at various wineries to makeÂ sure my baggage is within the limits of anÂ airlineâ€™s allowance.) An old lady came andÂ sat next to me on the train and looked at meÂ in amazement when she saw me drinking theÂ wine. After a sweet hello she asked me whereÂ I was from. When I told her I was from DelhiÂ in India, she said, â€œThatâ€™s why you are richÂ and you can afford to drink this wine insideÂ a train compartment.â€
Feeling good that our capital had such aÂ distinctive, rich image abroad, I mentionedÂ I was a sommelier and the bottle was a gift.Â She told me the same wine had been chosenÂ by her husband, who had passed away threeÂ years ago, to celebrate their special 50thÂ wedding anniversary nine years earlier. IÂ offered her a glass which she accepted onÂ my insistence. With the first sip her eyesÂ welled up and for the rest of the journey, she was overwhelmed with memories of herÂ husband. I gave the remaining bottle to herÂ as a souvenir of our meeting and in returnÂ got the warmest of hugs and hearty blessings.Â Since I believe wine is all about sharing, this was my special moment of wine and my wine memory of a lifetime.
This article was first published in the print edition of Sommelier India wine magazine November-December 2017