Wining and dining has long been more than just an imported cliché in the urban centres of Nepal. It's not just the inexplicable volume of restaurants and bars popping up in every corner that testifies to the newfound Nepali desire to venture out of their dalbhat regimentation. But weddings, bratabandas and even pasnes are now cause for ostentatious celebration beyond the homestead, and every one of these occasions is witness to the clink of wine glasses to complement the ever ready beer and whisky.
Gone are the days when the ladies tittered as they sipped a glass or two of fermented grape juice, sometimes adulterated with water. Men are as likely to join in and what's more, venture an opinion on the calibre of what's on offer. The wine market has boomed, and there's no supermarket worth the name without an excellent selection from around the world. So much so that Nepali winemakers have now ventured out into the light. So far they've had limited success, but it's worth bearing in mind that Nepal has only had a decade at its disposal to master the 8,000-year-old tradition of wine-making.
Makalu Wine Industries' Hinwa is at the forefront with a red and a white, while Pokhara's Dandaghare boasts four different combos. None of these are true wines in the sense of being derived from grapes, and opt to test an intriguing mix of mountain berries, herbs and honey. On your behalf, Nepali Times took the plunge.
A strong bouquet one wouldn't associate with grape wine, and a slightly murky colour. A relatively gentle taste to follow up, with some hints of dryness and sweetness. Not bad.
The cheaper of the two samples had a strong bouquet that one of our staffers described as the smell of 'jaad'. A hint of honey, perhaps, as indicated on the label. But the taste is thin, sour and rough on the tongue, and got us hot under the collar. Not in a good way.
Dandaghare red (Rs 400)
We didn't actually sample Dandaghare red, but were informed by usually reliable sources that it had more than a hint of liquorice to it. Hm.
Hinwa white (Rs 330)
Sweetish, reminiscent of dessert wine, though we weren't sure if this was the intention. Drinkably smooth, but you'd have to have a sweet tooth to persevere with this.
Hinwa red (Rs 330)
Also slightly sweet, with a light fruity bouquet, and more like a rosé than a red. A surprisingly sharp flavour and deceptively strong. Smell of aiselu and taste of chutro? Perhaps we'd had a few too many by then.