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Rishi Srinivasa Iyengar

Wine Wisdom: Buying and Drinking Wine in India By Magandeep Singh Penguin India, Delhi, pp.230, Rs. 250.00   Food is Home: The Little Book of Italian Cooking By Sarjano Penguin India, Delhi, pp.269, Rs. 250.00   Food and drink have the most peculiar nature. Subject to the vagaries of climate, storage and preparation conditions and available ingredients, they are infinitely malleable. Depending on what the tongue has grown up with and what comes before, after and during the sampling of a dish, the experience varies. At the same time, cuisine is the subject of the most inflexible judgements. Social superiority and inferiority are often determined by the “appropriateness” of responses to these bearers of culture. In India at least, and, I suspect, in many other countries as well, the introduction of new cuisine traditionally associated in the western world with “high” culture drives the need for prescription. How to judge a wine; how to handle it; and, most importantly, how to talk about it: an initiation into a world of secrets and an entirely new vocabulary.   At one level, Magandeep Singh’s Wine Wisdom falls into this category of prescriptive work. But to leave the book’s description at that would do the author an injustice. This compact, detailed and friendly little work is an excellent way to enter a world of experience that is, by and large, unfamiliar to an Indian, without the cultural contortions that often seem so artificial. For example, Singh encourages his readers to invent their own vocabulary to describe various taste sensations—words that relate to their own experience. Thus, we might talk about jamuns instead of blackberries, and nellikaa instead of gooseberries. At the same time, it is necessary to understand both the vocabulary and information about wine—labels, characteristics, storage and serving. Singh talks about both areas with a surpri- sing level of detail in such a slender volume.   He provides the orthodox views on, for example, labels, and the qualifications and outright contrarian views, leaving it up to the reader with the information necessary to develop his or her own approach. And this is the true utility of Wine Wisdom: it provi- des novices with the concepts to build their own approaches for enjoying and appreciating wine.   If Singh’s book is a carefully planned, structured work, Sarjano’s Food is Home, is the opposite. It reads more like a blog than a book: first-person and ...

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