The opening of Captain’s Cellar, a wine bar, in Delhi, could well be a turning point for the popularity of wines in the city.
By: Suman Tarafdar
Posted on: November 9, 2023
Wine bars? Yes, even in a predominantly brown spirits country, there is increasing confidence in opening bars centred around other drinks. Gin centric bars have been around in Delhi for a while, and this year looks to be turn of wine bars - the latest, biggest and most ambitious of which has just opened in Delhi.
Offering over 160+ wines, 44 of them by the glass, Captain’s Cellar has just opened at the city’s Taj Mahal hotel (better known as Taj Mansingh). Just going by the sheer range of wines available, it has topped every other wine bar in town, if not country. To date, if an establishment has 30 to 40 wines, it's considered to have an extensive range. Here, from red to white and rosé, fruity, acidic, non-acidic, new world, old world, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling and of course Champagne, there’s a dizzying army of bottles and their intricate labels. Fortunately, an array of helpful staff, led by restaurant manager Mukesh Kumar, are at hand to help you decipher the perfect wine for you. Or wines?
“If you look at the market, there isn’t a wine bar,” points out Chef Arun Sundararaj, Director of Culinary Operations, Taj Mahal hotel. “We see a growing affinity to it.” He underscores the fact that unlike the rather daunting image wine bars have in the country, it’s a space that’s all about enjoying wine. “It’s a journey. When you get into the theory of the subject, it is never-ending. You can play with it, you can combine it with something, understand, have conversations around it... You will build a memory just by being here.”
A contemporary wine lounge, inspired by traditional wine cellars, Captain’s Cellar seems to be an open invitation for anyone looking for a relaxing time. The name - Captain’s Cellar – is a nod to an earlier bar (Captain’s Cabin) that existed in the hotel, where Rick's is today. Incidentally, Captain’s Cellar has also replaced a former restaurant in terms of its location, opening up where Wasabi was.
For those wishing for other forms of alcohol, there’s a glimmer of hope. While the idea is to promote wine here, says the chef, there is a limited selection of other liquor available. “I do have a whisky, but I don’t have 25 whiskies.” Patrons would of course remember that the just renovated Rick’s is just a level above.
However, make no mistake, the hotel plans to go all out to promote it as a space where wines are firmly centrestage. “It’s a casual space. We have tried to make wine affordable. The pricing is such that it is viable for us and the guest. Multiple matrices have been run to make it viable. We will be assessing what is working, what is not working.
Captain’s Cellar is a spacious space, amply loungey in feel, with sink-in sofas in soft to brilliant pastels interspersed with striking cushions, chaise lounges, curvy chairs, and wooden tables with a rustic touch. The interiors have a clean crisp look, with both the floor and ceilings getting new finishes.
Incidentally different parts of the bar are named after some of the top wine growing regions of the world - Napa, Mosel, Rhone, even Akluj! The seating ambience, especially the art in each area, is reminiscent of the area they are named after. Just don’t expect a replica.
There are a couple of PDRs - one for old world wines, the other for new world wines. Between the two is a cigar lounge offering 200 varieties of cigars! At the core is a beautiful bar, shimmering in emerald hues. The layout and décor have lots of touches of nostalgia of times gone by - a globe, a telescope, murals, diverse art in a range of mediums, soft lighting - just perfect for a hangout.
The design boasts of engineered timber flooring, vaulted brick ceilings and cast-iron details, thoughtfully paired with a variety of furniture, eclectic art, a patio and an informal seating. The spotlight is on ‘the perfect pour’, integrating the art and science of wine, small-plates, cheese and meat platters, an exquisite experience in the Tasting Rooms – all of this, and more, in an inviting ambience that feels relaxed, homely and elegant.
The star of course is the Enomatic Wine Dispenser, which allows you to pour wine by the glass, while keeping it fresh by replacing oxygen with argon, which prevents the wine from getting oxidised. You can pour in different measures, 15, 50 and 150 ml. To note - 15 ml is free, however many you sample! Chef compares the experience to an ice-cream parlour, where sampling is free and can be extensive! As the chef says, “the beauty is that you don’t have to stick to one drink, you can keep exploring.”
There is food of course. Tapas style plates, immaculately presented, forms the core of this very contemporary menu, which is an exploration of global and domestic wines, both old and new world. The array of tapas celebrates the culinary traditions of the cherished and long-preserved authentic recipes, presented with a modern twist. “It’s just finger food, and it’s fun. You can finish your whole evening eating snacks with your drinks.” Of course, the venue is also open for parties or corporate events.
Coordinates: 1 Mansingh Road, New Delhi, India
As chef admits, there will be an initial period of gauging the response. The Indian liquor market is dominated by Indian Made/Manufactured Foreign Liquor (IMFL) i.e. brown spirits (whisky, rum and brandy), with a combined market share of 95 per cent. This is in stark contrast to global figures, where about 45 per cent of alcohol consumed is in the form of spirits followed by beer (34.3 per cent) and wine (11.7 per cent). Wine penetration in India is still fairly low, with an estimated 2-3 million consumers consuming 24 million litres in 2019. Wine-drinking remains largely an urban phenomenon in India though, and given the speed at which wine is gaining in popularity, Captain's Cellar could well be the next place to be seen at for the capital’s swish set.
With prices per glass starting from just ₹600 and going up to ₹2,500, the prices seem to be designed to lure wine lovers and those seeking to explore wines. If you happen to be in the city, and want to explore a range of wines, this is the best opportunity to date!