By Lauren Eastman
Exploring India’s culture of vibrancy and spirit, chaos and grit is just as intensely experienced bobbing through the streets of Bangalore as listening to its powerful message with my own taste buds. India ’s mainly vegetarian cuisine demands spices that overpower even the heartiest California Zinfandel. My tongue preferred being cooled with the softer taste of warm Chai Tea than a bright, cold Sauvignon Blanc. At times, after eating rice with my fingertips while seated on the floor, the mere thought of grasping a Riedel Burgundy bowl gave me pause.
Wine just didn’t seem to fit with the type of dining here, the constant use of both hands in prayer while greeting others with a friendly Namaste, or the state of vigilance needed to bear the streets in a mass of humanity, while grasping onto the side of a rickety rickshaw, one hand keeping a sari in place.
After three weeks in a country of beautiful spirits shown through the eyes of its people, we celebrated New Year’s Eve was under a full moon without the slight thought of Champagne. It wasn’t until we arrived at the airport in Bombay that we saw a bar. My new vegan mentality and spiritual sensibility didn’t need wine – there was no cheese to pair it with anyway. Paneer was a whole different ball game! Today, the per capita consumption of wine in India remains at a mere 9 milliliters compared to 2.73 gallons in the United States. Although the number is growing by 30% to 35% annually, there is no question that it is far less of a cultural mainstay than that of the US.
I reconnected to my own roots as an American with a Californian palate two days before departing my yogic journey to return to the states. Finding myself amid the bright, marble surroundings of The Imperial Hotel in Dehli, I scanned the menu; the usual chai tea selection on the top left was entitled, surprisingly, “Wines by the Glass”. Below the section was a litany of cheeses; goats and sheep’s milk varieties that provide a perfect pairing. My eyebrow raised with delight and I ordered a Sula Dindori Reserve Shiraz, enjoying the familiar mouthfeel of Pinot Noir’s silky texture, a proper dash of spice and the warmth in the back of my throat that no tea could achieve, no matter how boiled the milk. I closed my eyes and dreamed of returning to California for Cowgirl Creamery’s gooey Mt. Tam, wondering what it may taste like with a Russian River Pinot Noir as I steamed ahead to reconnect with the flavors of home.