French Sommelier’s Love for Indian wines

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French Sommelier’s Love for Indian wines

On a calm evening at the patio of The Lalit New Delhi, with the aroma of coffee and cakes wafting through the ambience, I had an interesting, insightful and invigorating interaction with the much-acclaimed Sommelier, Charles Donndadieu. I wanted to know more about his passion for wines and his romance with India.During the detailed interaction, Charles’s passion to pair Indian food with wines, especially Indian wines, became evident.

he Lalit New Delhi’s cellar has become a much talked about place in the city, thanks to the endeavours of the passionate sommelier Charles Donndadieu. He came to India in 2007 and since then he has been with the Lalit Group. He has been the tour de force behind the jewelled wine cellar that has an impressive menu list from around the globe.

Showcasing the Lesser Known

Charles is focused on having great wines from some not so well-known wine appellations (wine areas) in the cellar.Being a French sommelier, wines from France hold a special niche in his mind. At The Lalit New Delhi, he took extra care to introduce wines from lesser known wine appellations like Chateau Ferry Lacombe (Provence); Rhone Valley Cru like Ventoux, Vacqueras (Domaine de La Pigeade), Southouest like Cahors (Chateau Haute Borie), Bordeaux Superieur (Chateau Lamothe Vincent or Chateau Domicours) and inhouse boutique champagne from Cote des Bar — Baron Albert Brut among others. “The idea is to select small wine producers who produce wines only from their vineyard. The same way of selection has been followed for Italian wines; mainly from Tuscany and Lombardy with selection from Brancaia, Querciabella Chianti from Spain, etc,” Charles informs while adding, “We have also introduced DO Jumelia from small winery called Bodega Pedrera, and Mas La Plana from Torres & one Riesling from Germany.” “This year we plan to introduce some more choice wines from Austria, Spain & Portugal, to really showcase old world wines in its splendid diversity,” he asserts. Besides having a plethora of fine wines, the cellar at The Lalit New Delhi is also richly stocked with Indian wines. The hotel even promotes Indian wines through many in-house wine events designed by Charles.

Indian Wine Market

Charles talks animatedly about the potential of wine industry in India. “From the consumers’ standpoint, I would say the Indian market is growing in terms of wine appreciation. There are numerous wine producers who are producing wines of great quality, but unfortunately many of them don’t have accessibility to the Indian market,” asserts the wine expert. Charles points out an interesting observation on India’s wine culture. “I have noticed in India, people drink before and then have their meal, but wine accentuates the flavour of the meal when rightly paired. We have always integrated wines with the dishes and would recommend everyone to have wine along with their meal.” He maintains that Indian’s wine market is much more educated now than it was say a decade ago. There is a good demand for wines in bigger cites of the country. Charles prefers to educate Indian consumers about the Indian wine industry and more about the potential that Indian wines have. As for the future, he has plans of more pairing of Indian wines with Indian spices and with international cuisines too.

The Makings of a Sommelier

After an enriching conversation with Charles, the role of a good sommelier in a hotel became clearer to me. “As a corporate sommelier, I internally do lots of training on all wine topics; I do regular training of our staff and try my best to teach the nuances of wines and transmit my passion for wines to them, as my teachers & my father did to me,” he explains. Talking about the most essential attributes towards becoming a great sommelier, Charles says, “I feel a keen ear is the most important aspect towards becoming a good sommelier. One must listen to clients from their perceptive, understand the mind and play psychologist for a while. Then the sommelier should create a wine list as per clients’ liking and educate them. Not to forget humility is a must trait.”

Memorable and Challenging


His tenure with The Lalit New Delhi is dotted with many memorable and as well as challenging experiences. “My most memorable experience in my present tenure has been the Indian Wine Day, which is a culmination of efforts of two years,” he recollects. These selected Indian wines were paired with Indian cuisine. “The most challenging experience during my tenure is to introduce new appellation or new winery that nobody knows, and nobody wants to take the risk to introduce. It was a big challenge to convince everyone internally and externally. I think Indian wine consumers have the right to discover new wines and not be limited in their choices,” he observes.

A Passion for Indian Wines

It is very rare that a sommelier of French Origin appreciates Indian wines so passionately and aesthetically too. And what intrigued me most was his passion to pair Indian food with wines, especially with Indian wines. He has perfected the art of defining wines with complex Indian dishes. Charles also has an impressive logic for pairing Indian wines with Indian cuisines. During the course of my interview, he started pairing wines with few differently spiced and textured Indian breads. Those wines ranged from York, Fratelli, Sula, Grover Zampa and KRSMA. It was a treat to watch him when is engrossed in what he loves to do most. His love for Indian wines has led to Lalit’s wine cellar stocking a good number of Indian wines. Not only this, he promotes Indian wines through many specially curated wine events, and some of them have become quite popular across The Lalit group hotels in India & abroad.