Meet Master of Wine, Debra Meiburg

Apr 29, 2015, 11:58 IST




Wine lovers in Kolkata had a date with Master of Wine, Debra Meiburg recently at Taj Bengal which hosted its sparkling annual wine festival called International Vine and Food Experience. Debra, born and brought up in wine paradise California, has been living in Hong Kong for the past 30 years. She wears many hats - wine journalist, TV personality, wine educator and in-demand speaker, who has been awarded Master of Wine, the highest honour in the wine industry. Although she had explored India as a tourist in the past, the Taj event was her first opportunity in the country to share her expertise with wine connoisseurs here. During an interactive wine workshop, Debra, in her soothing voice which is as silky as, say, a good pinot, explained the ground rules of wine tasting.

So, what did Asia's first Master of Wine recommend for hot Indian summer? Is wine a cooler? "In most parts of the world, chilled white wine is preferred during summer months to cool us down. And it's paired best with lighter food in summer," says Debra. "Red wine, which has a slightly higher alcohol content, is generally suitable for winter. In India, sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc and reisling are popular grape varieties for summer."

But how does one go about choosing wine for Indian food as there seems to be a deep-rooted aversion to the idea of pairing wine with Indian curries? Indian vegetarian food seems to pose a far more serious challenge in terms of wine pairing. Debra stresses that one needs to understand the chemistry first. "Red wine contains a component called tannin which makes your tongue rough and mouth dry. We also see this in tea. Tannins dry up the saliva. Ideally, heavy food with lots of proteins should be paired with high tannin wine which will attack the food instead," says Debra. "So if you are having a hearty vegetarian lasagne, you can opt for high-tannin red wine. Insofar as Indian food is concerned, red wine can be paired with heavy paneer preparations such as paneer butter masala."

But if you are eating non-fatty food, you would like a wine with a lower amount of tannins, Debra adds. Take the Pinot Noir variety which doesn't have a lot of tannins. "These are a perfect match for cool salads or grilled vegetables. Pinot Noir is indeed apt for lighter vegetarian dishes. Broadly speaking, any wine that is low on tannins would be ideal for vegetarians."



Debra also recommends Shiraz from Australia. "This Australian variety of Shiraz doesn't have too much tannin. They are great to go with Indian vegetarian food," she says.

She is quite impressed with India's burgeoning wine industry and a fledgeling wine culture. Says Debra, "The wine industry in India has reached a critical mass. There are now about 48 wineries in India - I have seen some of the gems and stars in the country's wine portfolio. So with this number, I'd say that it's time the country cashes in on this mass and build a strong wine culture. Wine is a healthy and natural product. I know India loves whisky, but I for one would like to see more and more Indians switch over to wine as it has lower alcohol content and stands for everything that is fine and pleasurable in life!" She adds that in her experience, any country that has a stong domestic industry will have a booming wine culture. "I have seen this in the county I grew up in back in California. Even in Hong Kong. Brandy used to be a strong favourite with locals, but now they appreciate wine. They now understand that wine is all about culture, history, language, geography and conversation."

Debra also says that participation of women entrepreneurs in wine industries across the world is increasing with each passing day. In Hong Kong, for instance, a substantial part of the industry is made up of women winemakers, distributors and other stakeholders. It can be said that equality has almost been achieved in the Hong Kong industry, adds Debra. In India too, more and more women are joining the indigenous industry, according to her. "Just be oblivious to the men around you. There is nothing which women can't do in this industry. Do your best," advises Debra.

So, are you ready to smell, swirl and sip?