Wine and the Indian palate

The ‘wine and dine’ concept is taking on a whole new avatar in India. Withmore people travelling across the globe and gaining exposure to sophisticated tastes, fine wine-makers and qualified wine-experts are sure to be called in to do their magic, predicts Nikhil Agarwal .

India is going through a very interesting phase when it comes to food and drink. Call it a revolution, wine consumption is steadily on the rise. Food and gastronomy is red hot, which, by association, is making wine more popular.

 “The domestic wine market is growing at 30 percent annually and is likely to touch around 28 million litres by 2015, from current estimated level of 21 million litres, in major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Goa, Bangalore, Punjab and Pune producing a good deal of wine consumers”, according to a recent report by Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM).

Wine and the Indian niche

Wine, in comparison to other beverages, is still niche in India and the levels of wine enthusiasts in India differ. Most people are getting into wine only now. However, there are those who drink wine daily and have formed their own preferences. And, of course, there is a tiny lot of people who drink the best wines the world has to offer. In fact there are few Indians who also invest in wine and keep them at international warehouses. At all levels, however, the pace at which the change is taking place is very exciting. It’s like a snowball that’s getting bigger and faster.

Small percentage, big number

In comparison to other wine producing or consuming countries, consumption in India is still so small that it’s almost nonexistent. But these statistics and generalisations are always made keeping the population of the entire country in mind. For India, 75 percent of the population cannot be counted because even in twenty years they will not be consuming wine. What is of interest is the balance. Here even the smallest percentage, say one percent, will add up to a very large number. A number larger than the entire population of Australia, in fact!

More knowledge, more money

Indians are ready to explore various international cuisines. TV shows with food and wine as content are being injected into our homes on a daily basis. There are more international wines available in India now and the retail experience for buying them is changing. We have more money and have travelled more so it is only natural that what we drink will get more evolved as well.

On a culinary level, wine is becoming just as important as food. When combined, the two can provide an array of flavours, something that is sure to take you straight to gastronomical orbit. Hotels and restaurants are opening all over the country with a deeper emphasis on the wine and dine concept.

Traditionally, in our culture, we have always had our drink, before eating. However, there are health benefits to eating and drinking together, and we are slowly adapting to this.

Wine driving the circles

Wine dinners, wine-tasting sessions and wine clubs have quite a few takers. The Wine Week, and the Indian Wine Consumers Choice Awards have seen tremendous success. Wine festivals, in general, take place all the time and have a large number of people attending them. A big fact to take notice of is that Indian wine is getting better and with every vintage, the standards are rising. There are quality-oriented producers who are working hard to make the best wines they possibly can. Their logic is simple: Better Indian wines at affordable prices alone will drive in more consumption. The number of wine brands produced in India is also increasing and these guys have serious long-term goals.

Sommeliers, please stand up!

As of now, we do not have many qualified sommeliers (wine experts) in restaurants and star hotels. But with all this change, it’s quite obvious that India needs to gear itself up with such professionals who can take consumption in India to the next level and cater to the needs of a growing wine audience. In the hospitality sector, having someone who can take informed decisions on which wines to feature in their offering, is very important. Unless professionals specialise in wine-tasting and understand consumer likes and dislikes, their wine menu will fall short of standards. Also, the knowledge and confidence with which F&B professionals can offer suggestions is getting extremely important and a must have if we want to reach global standards.
In a nutshell, the wine industry is growing, the hospitality industry is booming, and consumers in India are more curious. Qualified professionals will be required to cater to this demand and if anyone wants to get in on the action, now would be a great time.

(The writer is a wine consultant at Myra Vineyards, Bangalore)

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