In Vino Veritas!

As the old Latin phrase goes, ‘In vino veritas, in aqua sanitas (in wine there is truth, in water there is health)’. And more and more people in India are now speaking the truth!

Wine drinking in India is a very recent phenomenon. And now names like Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Merlot, Zinfandel roll of a wine lover’s tongue as easily as Glenfiddich to a whisky lover. Wine drinkers in India have never had it so good. Over the past decade or so, the number of varieties has exploded thereby making wine lovers spoilt for choice.

Traditionally India is not a wine drinking nation. It was only in the 80s that saw the setting up of Champagne Indage’s plant in Maharashtra. And now the number of vineyards and wineries is slowly and steadily growing in India. Having a glass of wine has now become an urban way of life. In fact, about 80% of the demand for wine comes from the major cities of Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata, Goa, Chennai, Bangalore and Pune. Rapid urbanisation, evolving lifestyles and a growing disposable income have contributed to a growth in the wine market.

But as wine drinking in India is in its nascent stage there is still a very limited understanding of wines and winemaking. Other than colour, most wine drinkers are ignorant of many other factors of this very interesting drink. And interestingly women are the main drivers of this market. At a recent women’s day celebration in Mumbai, a wine and cocktail workshop was overbooked by women. The success of this event was an indication how savvy wine consumers in the country are now and also the fact that a new generation of wine drinkers is also growing.  Wine lovers have also got together to form wine lovers clubs or societies where they get together to discuss and debate wines and even select India’s finest wines. The popularity is leading to a boom in wine tourism as well. Many Indian vineyards now have tasting rooms which help a wine lover experience and enjoy different kinds of wines. Not only can one taste different wines but also there are conducted tours for visitors, courses and loads of fun events at these venues.

Viewed as a stylish and classy drink wine drinking is coming of age now. Though experts also add that young consumers in the age bracket of 25-30 form an integral share of this market. Wine is now a preferred drink both at home and in restaurants. In fact, it is gaining cultural acceptance within a conservative household as well. It’s only a decade that this market has picked up. And now they say is the best time for both wine and wine lovers in this country.

Wines can be classified primarily by the grape variety used to make the wine and the region where the grapes are grown. For example, Champagne comes from the France and Chianti from Italy and Sherry from Spain. These are names of places that they originated from. Wines classified on the basis of the grape variety are called varietals and those classified on the basis of region are names by the region itself. The two broad classifications are white and red wine depending on their colour. Those classified as per their taste is dry, medium and sweet.

Indian wines are giving international brands a run for their money. Wine drinkers who until now would swear by their Proseccos or Cabernet Sauvignon are now enjoying a locally made wine. India’s leading wineries are Grover, Zampa Vineyards, Fratelli wines, Sula Vineyards, reveille, York Winery, Myra Vineyards, Four Seasons Wines, Vallone Vineyards, Nine Hills, Charosa Wines, Alpine wineries, Chandon India, Krsma Estates and Big Banyan Wines.

Craig Wedge, brand consultant with Fratelli wines talks of the burgeoning wine culture in India,“It’s only a 30-year-old industry and now Indian wines are comparable to international wines,” he informs. Indian wine is not Nasik anymore. It is Kashmir, Punjab, Hampi, Akluj and maybe soon even Kolkata. Wines started in India as a luxury but not anymore. With an average price of Rs 500 for a bottle it has great potential.  Craig believes that wine is not a trend but a fashion, “It’s fashionable because it’s a social drink. Moreover, more and more women are beginning to enjoy it as it has only 11% to 14 % alcohol content. In fact, good wines don’t go beyond 17%. It’s about having that one sociable drink.”

Craig Wedge

For the uninitiated, the technical definition of wine is the fermented juice of grapes or berries. So wine, as most understand, is not just made from grapes but also from berries and plums. But most of the wines that are made are made from grapes. In fact, there are 4000 grape varieties in the world. 80 countries produce wines and a majority of them use international varieties of grapes but each of them have their own characteristics. And climate and soil is the key to good grapes for wines. Good quality wine cannot be made from bad grapes. But most importantly there are two broad categories of grapes- table grapes and wine grapes. Table grapes are bigger in size than wine grapes. Table grapes have less acidity and less sugar than wine grapes. Wine grapes are smaller, riddled with seeds, have thicker skins and higher juice content.

One of the pioneers that set the ball rolling for this industry is Rajeev Samant founder of Sula Vineyards, India’s largest vineyards. Sula is India’s largest producer of wine, with 60% market share. He has said that every two years he comes out with a new wine that nobody has produced before. With exports to over 25 countries, his vineyards in Nasik are a huge draw with wine lovers.  Nasik is a cradle for table grapes and now Sula is making wine grapes here as well. In fact, Sula has put Nasik on the world map. Probably much the same is now happening in Akluj in Sholapur district which is the home to Fratelli wines.  Craig informs that at Akluj they have only women to pick the grapes. “It’s our way of giving back to the environment. We provide jobs as we are socially responsible and most importantly as women are very gentle it is a win-win for both. “

Tanks to store wines in as a part of the wine-making process at Fratelli

International brands are now collaborating with Indian companies to produce some of the best wines. And as they say, the best wines are made in vineyards and not in bottles. Fratelli has recently launched their premium brand called J’noon ( a take on the Urdu word junoon which means passion) in collaboration with French vintner Jean Charles Boisset. Pegged at Rs 4000 per bottle it is comparable to any international wine.

Some pointers for wine drinkers:

  • Red wine should be in the fridge before and after. It should be served at 16 degrees.
  • White wine at 9 degrees.
  • Rose and sparkling at 6 degrees.
  • Once a bottle is opened you should consume it within 5 days.
  • In India, reds sell more in winter and white and rose during summer.

Coming to yet another important aspect of wines which is the kind of food that should be served with wine sommeliers believe that in order to enhance dining experience there should be a perfect pairing between wine and food. When it comes to the subject of food and wine marriage, there are those that throw all manner of governance to the wind and aimlessly match any dish with any wine, and there are those that painstakingly attempt to find the perfect balance between the flavours of the food and those of the wine, something akin to conducting a science experiment. The flavours of wine are essentially derived from sugars, acid, tannins, fruit and of course alcohol. Food also has components of acid, sugar, salt, fat and astringency at its base.  So one would think that the best or most successful marriage of food and wine would feature complementary components and textures.

The wine-making process

Craig who designs many customized wine dinners explains, “For example, taking the above rule of thumb into account, if you were to take a simple pasta in a rich cream based sauce you would wrap the fatty richness of the sauce with a big ripe oak influenced Chardonnay, yet at the same time I would also suggest a contrasting pairing would work just as well.., A vibrant and fresh un-oaked white like Chenin Blanc would cut through the fat of the dish. This is where it all gets confusing. The dinner table should be a fun place, not bogged down in rocket science and hard work, yet I firmly believe food needs wine and wine needs food.”

It is advised that low alcohol wines should be served with spicy food, red wines with red meat and white wine with seafood. However, these rules are no longer followed and all one needs to understand is that now that food has changed a lot in the past decade and now it’s more organic. So the thumb rule is that any exotic food goes with a good wine. In fact food is a catalyst for wine and all one needs to do is understand the food, understand the wine and put it together. So in a country like ours with such eclectic food tastes wine can be enjoyed with bhajiyas, paneer tikkas or even chaat!

So why is it that in the past few years wine has become such an integral part of dining and what is the wine market like? To throw light on this and more we spoke to Shatbhi Basu, India’s first female bartender and a beverage consultant cum trainer.

Shatbhi Basu

Do you agree that wines are a rage with women today?

Shatbhi Basu: I’m not sure that they are the rage but for sure more and more women are getting curious and interested in wine.

Is the current spate in wine drinking a result of good marketing rather than actual passion and understanding of wines?

Shatbhi Basu: I think it is a bit of both. Marketing creates awareness of the product, which, in turn, makes people try them. TV too plays a big role as does travel. People are travelling to countries that produce wines a lot and are introduced to the concept while there. All of this contributes to the growing interest and opening up the palate to new flavours. Over a period of time, it leads to understanding and liking.

Which according to you are the most preferred wines in our country?

Shatbhi Basu: There are some really fantastic wines in the market today. Some that are making a mark are Grover Zampa, Sula, Fratelli, Reveilo, York, Charosa, Four Seasons, Casablanca, Good Earth.

Though purists may disagree Sangria is very popular.  What makes this a much-loved drink?

Shatbhi Basu: Sangria was conceived even in Spain as a great way of masking not very good wine. But because of its fresh flavour with fruits, a little sweetness and fizz made it extremely popular. It’s also a great way to begin your wine journey.

What is the wine market in India like and do you agree that it can only get better?

Shatbhi Basu: The wine market not only continues to grow but, more importantly, continues to get better. Our wines are winning awards at international competitions and our winemakers are experimenting with new grape varietals and barrel ageing. Some of our wines are really complex and absolutely fabulous.

Shatbhi shares one of her recipes using wine as the main ingredient.

Mango Songbird

Mango Songbird

Glass: Wine

Ingredients:

Cubes of mango, kiwi, pineapple, litchi

150ml your favourite white wine or sparkling wine

30ml mango juice

Fresh mint

Sprite or 7Up to top

Garnish: Mint sprig, Mango cubes

Method:

Fill glass with ice

Put in the fruits and mango juice

Pour the wine/sparkling wine and stir

Top with a fizzy lime drink

Garnish

Coming to the crucial point whether wine promotes health and if yes is it red or white?  Craig says that health benefits of red wine are proven as white wine is made from deskinned grapes and this lacks the flavonoids present in red wine. A glass of red wine every day is therefore said to be good for the heart.

But what most wine growers worry about is lack of regulation. Winemaking is not a very profitable business in India but insiders believe this industry does have a great potential. And hence it is experiencing a 14% annual growth. As guidelines are still blurred most companies regulate themselves. Taxes are heavy as wine is categorized as hard liquor. Archaic taxation laws, heavy excise and customs duties and food safety standards are just small hurdles for the liquor industry. But since it is an opportunistic and buoyant market the future seems heady for this industry. The best way to market it is to get it down people’s throats says Craig with a laugh.

Craig ends on an optimistic note as he shares some interesting trivia, “Something that’s more fascinating is the fact that as against countries like France or Italy which have a 46 litres per capita consumption in India the per capita consumption is just 3 teaspoons! So this is the journey a winemaker can traverse.”

Cheers!

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