Wine without snobbery, a new wine bar in Bengaluru

Wine in Progress is staffed by a youthful, friendly team whose goal is to demystify wine

Wine in Progress – Bengaluru’s recently opened wine bar – is small in size but big in its welcome

Imagine this. You walk into a bar, a wine bar. It is tiny — a cosy, warmly-lit room dominated by a long bar with stools. There’s jazz in the background — loud enough to create a buzz but not drown conversation. The back bar is lined with numerous wine bottles and books on wine (including the popular manga series Drops of God). The friendly bartender places a glass of water in front of you and asks what you feel like drinking. A fruity white or a full-bodied, meditative red?
Or maybe a glass of bubbles?

You browse the wine list. There is much to try: several wines are listed by the glass, covering multiple regions and price points. You nibble on some parmesan flavoured popcorn, and decide to start with a glass of palatecleansing Prosecco the bartender has on ice.

Is this a wine bar in London? Maybe Barcelona or New York? No, this picture is of a dinky new wine bar in Bengaluru called Wine in Progress (WIP) located in a centrally-located heritage building, the Courtyard. What makes this wine bar stand out is its attempt to build a wine culture by discarding the wine world’s most common tropes.

New offers from a frequently changing wine list are marked on the chalkboard

For starters, the tiny space (250 sq feet) features just 12 bar stools and a couple of small tables. The idea is to create an atmosphere relaxed enough for customers to reach for a second glass with confidence. The response in its very first month of operation has been encouraging, admits Tarini Kumar, head of wine operations.

The avowed objective of WIP is to strip away the hype that often accompanies wine culture and create a space in which customers feel comfortable, ‘bidding adieu to any snobbishness associated with traditional wine culture’.

The wine menu, with 15 wines by the glass and at least as many by the bottle, is changed almost every day and new offers appear on the chalkboard daily. “People rarely read through a wine list,” admits Tarini. “We guide them by asking simple questions about their preferences. This takes the stress out of decision-making, and leads them to new discoveries.”

Someone who enjoys a light-bodied, fruity red, for instance, might like a Loire Gamay with the same profile — a lively, fruity red, with almost bubble-gummy flavours. Unsurprisingly, the early weeks have seen some unexpected hits, including an uncomplicated, fruit-driven Chilean Riesling and a minerally biodynamic, Austrian Gruner Veltliner that have been selling rapidly by the glass. South African Pinotage and wellpriced Bordeaux Superieur wines have notched up quick sales by the bottle.

With WIP’s stated goal of making wine approachabile and easy to choose, the staff profile is equally important. “Our team is young, with a fresh perspective on wine,” explains Tarini. “They are the ambassadors of wine for their generation who find them easy to approach and identify with.”

With a constantly changing wine list, the inventory of 100 to 150 bottles is stocked according to demand. The bar prides itself on being brand agnostic, supporting international and domestic wines alike. Additionally, there are special wines produced by biodynamic or organic methods.

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“We love it when people are open and curious, and we encourage feedback based on their likes,” says Tarini. “We want to shake up the tradition of static wine lists, so all our wines come with compelling stories.”

Guests seated at the bar counter chat about wine with the bartenders

Indian wines are steadily improving in quality and the demand gets a nod with more labels being added. Currently popular by the glass is KRSMA Sauvignon Blanc and Reveilo Chardonnay for Rs500, while The Source Rosé by Sula is for Rs700, and the AIX Provence Rosé is Rs950. The margins for the wines by the bottle are kept small to encourage sharing. Current crowd pleasers include the Jacky Marteau Touraine AOC Gamay and the Killibinbin Chardonnay from Australia, both for Rs 400. Bubbles have proved popular too, with the Villa Sandi Asolo Prosecco Superiore Brut DOCG available by the glass as well as by the bottle (Rs 4000) — a popular first pour of the evening.

Wine-based cocktails are also very popular, with the fresh Rosita (Lillet Rosé with a splash of Sparkling Wine (Rs 800) leading in popularity. There are more wine-based cocktails in the pipeline, as well as drinks based on Sake and Soju. “We want to be seen as a gateway to trying new wine experiences,” says Tarini.

In keeping with the emphasis on the new and unexpected, pop-ups and trendy bar takeovers have kept customer interest buzzing. Among them, WIP co-founder and cocktail maven, Arijit Bose is scheduled to headline a vermouth appreciation evening.

Wine can rarely be mentioned without food pairings, and while WIP positions itself as a place which encourages personal choices rather than pairing stereotypes, food remains an important draw. With rising star chef, Karan Upmanyu behind the abbreviated menu of eclectic small plates, food is proving to be a draw.

Baby octupus tempura: WIP’s food
menu consists of eclectic small plates for sharing

“The menu is centred around shared plates so it is ideal for anyone stopping by for a glass of wine who might want to have a quick bite too,” explains Chef Karan. “In India, there is a strong connection between socializing and food. So WIP is midway between a restaurant and a bar, offering small plates that are substantial enough to take the edge off your hunger.”

His approach to menu curation was simple: “I want to serve simple food I would like myself with a glass of wine.”

The menu is cuisine-agnostic and steers away from sharp or spicy flavours. Popular orders include small snacks like toasted sourdough with a range of dips, aubergine, salsa tomato and black olive.

The menu is designed to change gears with changes in season. Lighter summer dishes will be added soon, such as a snapper ceviche with pickled mangoes. Current favourites include pork belly, a 70s-style shrimp cocktail and desserts such as hazelnut chocolate torte and berry-topped crème Catalan.

Exciting options for vegetarians include Disco Pumpkin Mochi along with his Lo Bak Go, a turnip cake with doubanjiang glaze, as well as roasted and pickled beets served with whipped goat’s cheese. In other words, there is something for everyone.