Not all wine drinkers are birds of a feather


In a lighter vein, Raghu Bahadur attributes avian characteristics to wine lovers…

What would we do without researches and studies conducted by colleges, universities and hospitals? Every day the science section of the newspaper carries the results of their experiments on a multitude of subjects covering our daily lives, be it health, love, marriage, food, wine, you name it. The researchers are no doubt motivated by a spirit of scientific enquiry, and of course a generous grant, but the aam reader looks upon the results as a daily source of humour and light entertainment.

Can you think of better reading material at the breakfast table – apart from the blurb on a box of crunchy muesli – than this random selection: couples who drink wine once a week have a successful married life (University of Otago in New Zealand); drinking red wine may increase your life span (a team of unnamed scientists); Pinot Noir has more cardio-vascular benefits than vodka, hence it is the “lesser evil” of the two (a Rhode Island hospital); choosing a wine is a major headache for most diners (French Wines with Style report); and finally a study at the University of California, San Francisco claiming that they have hit upon the “first direct evidence that shows how alcohol makes people feel good”, something you were doubtless dying to find out first thing in the morning.

In this otherwise feel-good and happy milieu, the conclusion of the Rhode Island hospital study concerning Pinot Noir and vodka presents a sour note: it may be the lesser evil, but an evil all the same. Did you feel let down by this conclusion? Well, don’t. I can assure you that a team of professors must have been put to work already to come up with a fitting rebuttal, and, before you even open the next box of cereal, the term “lesser evil” would have been obliterated from the conclusion, and replaced by the entirely acceptable “more beneficial than.”

Meanwhile, another recent study has come up with observations that deserve more than just a chuckle at breakfast. Researchers at the School of Computing Science of the University of Glasgow examined the different patterns and behaviours of emailing – their samples covering the entire gamut of email users from the sticklers for etiquette down to the ones who ask disdainfully, “Etiquette? For emails?” – and matched them to the behaviour of particular birds.

So, in a follow up study I have tried to address the question whether we can, well, vinify their findings and match avian characteristics to oenophiles. Let us see what happens. At the top of the pyramid of the University of Glasgow study is the Popular Robin, a bird that is described as industrious and authoritarian, and one that stands erect to survey its environs. The matching email user is identified by the study as the person who has perfect email manners, who makes time to speak to others in person and who does not allow email to dictate his life.

So who is the Robin among oenophiles? Surely all the columnists of Sommelier India bar one, as well as the correspondents and experts writing for it. And yes, its editor too. They have worked hard to attain a certain level of expertise (all right, the path to such attainment is paved with some very pleasant interludes), give out regular advice and information to those that seek it, are dedicated to furthering the cause of wine, and yet have a life away from it. So far so good, but Robin, the bird, has one disquieting attribute – it has a weakness for fermented berries, often eats them in excess, and then exhibits intoxicated behaviour like falling over while walking. Correspondingly, I find that Robin, the oenologist, has an eye for the fermented grape, but, being made of sterner stuff, exercises more discipline and restraint. Nevertheless, as part of my study, I shall keep a close watch at Sommelier India wine events.

The Lightning-Response Hummingbird responds immediately to all emails and expects an immediate response to his own. Its vinous counterpart would be a wine lover who is equally punctilious and socially correct. He never refuses an invitation to a party, always takes a bottle of wine for the host, is prompt in reciprocating the hospitality and, nota bene, has the annoying habit of keeping a scrupulous record of what he has received and what he has given, the purpose being to maintain strict parity in the business of give and take. Receive a Rs 500 bottle, return a Rs 500 bottle: Sula for Sula, Chilean for Chilean, Shiraz for Shiraz, white for white, and, should that eventuality arise, Champagne for Champagne.

The Hoarding Magpie keeps hundreds of emails in the inbox but can never find exactly the one he is looking for. Ah, what a perfect match we have here – the wine hoarder. His immediate response on coming into a bottle of wine is to consign it to the safety of the refrigerator. He is economical in its use but does offer it to guests and even treats himself to an occasional glass or two, followed by a feeling of intense guilt. Leftovers are of course returned to safekeeping in the refrigerator. He would offer Pinot to a guest because he remembers there is a half-bottle lurking somewhere but, having failed to locate it, comes up with a leftover Cab instead.

As the wine is poured a strong whiff of vinaigrette wafts across the room, but if the guest is a hapless Hibernating Whippoorwill (reads emails only occasionally) he will, out of sheer politeness, drink it without comment. On the other hand if the same wine is offered to an Echoing Mynah (acknowledges all emails, adding his own comments) or the Robin, they will politely but firmly make it clear to the Magpie where the next resting place for the leftover bottle should be.

Then there is the Caterwauling Peacock, who broadcasts emails to all, claiming that “people need to know”. Its wine drinking counterpart is the “expert” whose knowledge is a little to the left side of being adequate, but who makes up for it with a carefully acquired inventory of technical terms. In conversation he liberally throws out words like terroir, appellation, minerality and tannins, grand and premier cru, but, as you’d expect, quietly slips out from the group if a real expert joins it. At home he will serve vin ordinaire, merely described on the label as French Red Wine without mention of vintage or varietal, with a hearty, “You’ll love this delicious French wine.”

Are any more avian species mentioned in the Glasgow study? Yes, but I will stop here because of lack of matching oenologists. For instance the Boorish Parrot is depicted as sending offensive and inappropriate emails and fails to understand why others get upset. No matter how hard I try I cannot find an oenologist who answers to this description.

This column first appeared in Issue 6, December 2012-January 2013