With this blog, I am putting down my thoughts, my experiences, my interactions with people from the world of wine and food, and my exposure to the subject. Here will be articles, features, interviews, travel to wine regions, memorable wine and food experience. Along with comments and opinions. And plenty of India perspective as well.
The key to a healthy wine industry in India is easy availability of well-priced wines. High taxes on wine and spirits remain India’s biggest challenge to achieving rapid growth like China, says Jude Mullins, international development director, WSET
Jude Mullins, international development director, WSET, in Mumbai during the prowein education campaign
Earlier this year, Prowein, the world’s largest wine trade fair brand made a low-key appearance at a Mumbai-based trade show. In collaboration with the WSET, the world’s best-known authority in the wine and spirits education field, Prowein put together an interesting wine-centric three-day education programme in a specially created 40 seater booth. On all three days, the sessions were sold-out, brimful with wine enthusiasts and trade professionals keenly awaiting every session, whether it be on sparkling winemaking techniques or the suitability of Grenache grapes for Indian soil.
As both an industry watcher and as someone who believes in the positive aspects of formal education, I was intrigued. Was this the beginning (albeit in a small way) of greater interest in wine and spirits education in India? What would international qualifications like those offered by the WSET give to people working in India’s wine and spirits industry? Are there enough jobs out there in India?
In an effort to find answers, I interviewed Jude Mullins, Hong Kong-based international development director, WSET, on the sidelines of the event. Mullins had come down to represent the wine school and conduct several sessions and was assessing the possibilities of growth of the WSET within India.
First, let’s get a perspective on the WSET, the best-known wine school in the world.
It is five decades old, created in 1969 primarily to help the UK wine trade. In these decades, it has grown rapidly and expanded its reach. Today, there are over 700 APPs (approved programme providers) around the world, offering 8 levels of WSET qualifications in 17 languages. That makes it a whopping half-million individuals who have enrolled for a WSET qualification since the beginning. (Data courtesy WSET)
Recently, the WSET’s biggest success story has been in China. In Mainland China alone, the growth in demand for WSET education in wine and spirits has been 41% year on year. China boasts of 126 WSET course providers in 36 cities today, a few short years after they commenced operations in China in 2006.
Impressive figures, without a doubt.
Picking up from the enthusiastic response to their maiden education campaign in Mumbai, I asked Jude Mullins about WSET qualifications and its role in helping those seeking careers in the wine industry in India; its prospects and potential for growth in India.
(Please see the two-part YouTube video interview below for more details from her.)
The three-day Prowein Education Campaign held in Mumbai was a sold-out success. Can we expect more of the same going ahead, in similar or different formats?
We were very happy to see the attendance of so many different people attending the Prowein Education Campaign from across the drinks industry sector. This certainly reflects the desire of trade professional to learn about wines and spirits and the importance placed on knowledge within the industry. I certainly hope that WSET will be involved in future initiatives with Prowein in India going forward.
Jack Lun, associate director, Moet-Hennessy Academy China, during his session on Cognac in Mumbai
Has the Mumbai experience helped WSET and yourself understand better in any way, the profile and requirements of wine and spirits education in India?
It was a privilege to meet so many different representatives of the Indian drinks industry, many of whom had already completed WSET qualifications, or who were looking to progress their studies. From our various conversations, the biggest challenge still remains the availability of a wide range of wine (and spirits) samples at reasonable prices. Access to a broad range of international wines is vital for any professional who is looking to advance their learning and tasting experience. This situation is not unique to India but is certainly a deterrent for those who want to progress to higher qualification levels with WSET as the high cost of wine also increases the cost of qualification courses.
During the panel discussion, we spoke of what Levels 2 & 3 can do to help those looking for careers in wine and spirits. What specific additional routes are you looking at to trigger further interest?
WSET qualifications develop knowledge and tasting experience in a very systematic way, giving students the opportunity to build upon what they have studied at previous levels as they progress. I certainly believe that there is great potential within academic institutions in India to incorporate WSET qualifications into their degree programmes. This would not only benefit those students who are preparing to work within India, but also give those who travel overseas for work an international qualification that is recognised around the world.
Karan Vasani of Sula Vineyards during his session on winemaking in India
The China market, for one, has been growing quickly and steadily. What learnings from there can we apply to other Asian markets, especially India? Any anecdotal examples you can share?
One of the biggest experiences I have from my work in China is the high value placed upon learning about and experiencing wine. This has also been mirrored by the increasing availability of a wide range of international wines in the market at a wide range of price points. Whilst initial students were predominantly from the drinks industry (and this remains the case at our higher qualifications) there are increasing numbers of wine lovers studying WSET courses which is really positive for the industry. Additionally, we have seen a great desire to share knowledge about wine by those of have already completed WSET courses, with many graduates wanting to become educators and offer their courses themselves.
Jude Mullins at a training session. (File photo)
The wine industry in India is relatively small. What job opportunities might exist for those who complete their various WSET levels?
The wine industry in India may be relatively small, but it is certainly dynamic with lots of potential opportunities in a wide range of different fields. WSET qualifications provide the backbone of product knowledge and tasting experience that can be used across different sectors of the industry giving great flexibility, whether this is as a sommelier in the on-trade, working in distribution or sales, marketing or even education to name just a few opportunities. There are certainly lots of new opportunities arising in the industry, not least because India’s own wine production is growing in importance, and this will only continue.
What do you consider the biggest challenges faced by India today, vis-a-vis wine and spirits education? And ideas on dealing with these?
As I have mentioned, the availability and high cost of international wines and spirits is one of the biggest challenges and certainly has an impact on education. Students may be limited in the range of samples they are able to experience, or the cost of samples increases the cost of the course to a level that means it cannot be afforded by many who would benefit from this opportunity. Is there a solution? – well, in live in Hong Kong, where the government took the bold decision to remove tax and duty on wines in 2008!
Watch both the interview videos, below, for more.
Insights: The WSET and careers in wine – Jude Mullins, Part1
Insights: The WSET and careers in wine - Jude Mullins, Part1 - YouTube
Insights: WSET in Asia and the spirits education boom – Jude Mullins – Part 2:
Insights: WSET in Asia and the spirits education boom - Jude Mullins - Part 2 - YouTube
Details on the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) may be found on https://www.wsetglobal.com, including the list of APPs (Approved Programme Providers) in India.
Why India + rosé can be a winner. Irrespective of the season.
I know you must be thinking, “Winter is coming. Why post an article on rosé now?” Surely this is the time for the big reds, or even some toasty mulled wine?
It’s just to prove a simple point: rosé wine is not just a summer sip.
Rosé wine, that pretty pink refreshing summer wine is finally getting its moment in the sun, so to speak. Literally so, because summer is the time when people all over the world reach for sunblocks, flip-flops and bottles of rosé. Judging by the stacked shelves in shades of pink in European and US supermarkets and wine stores, rosé (ro-say) is a firm favourite and isn’t likely to lose momentum anytime soon.
Worldwide, sales of rosé are going up. And it is not just about summer sales. Rosé wines are now on top restaurant wine lists and being acknowledged as a sommelier’s delight when it comes to tricky pairings (like with Indian food).
Rosé is dry, usually fruit-forward, crisp and delightfully food-friendly, pairing nicely with everything from pizzas to kebabs. But rarely considered a ‘serious’ wine. IT was only in 2016? that Brangelina’s famous Miraval rosé was the first rosé ever to enter the Wine Spectator Top 100 list of wines. And despite its own impeccable credentials, it is likely that the Brangelina name has played a role in its popularity.
Even in Europe and the US, where rosé is finally being glugged by the gallon when the mercury rises, it is because of its refreshing summer sip profile. Vine Pair, in a recent article, called it “popular and ubiquitous, the Gigi Hadid of beverages.” ‘Nuff said.
Celebrities dabbling in winemaking are making a beeline for rosé too. Following closely in Brangelina’s footsteps is Jon Bon Jovi whose pink, delightfully named Diving into Hampton Water is made in collaboration with noted Languedoc wine producer Gerard Bertrand. Music star John Legend’s wine label LVE also recently launched a Côtes de Provence rosé. Once celebrities give their nod, you know pink is serious business. Understandable then, that there are some very highly rated rosés, like the pale salmon pinks from Provence, France (Domaines Ott being a well-known name) or Whispering Angel (now also available in India.) There are also well-made rosés coming out of Austria and Sicily.
Evidently, pink is in fashion (and we are not talking about millennial pink here).
Colour me pink
So how is rosé wine made?
Rosé gets its colour from contact with grape skins, in a process known as maceration or direct pressing – very lightly – which yields a light, pale pink wine. Another popular method is saignée, while in the case of some pinks, (such as in Champagne), the red and white is blended to make rosé.
Also, unlike red wines and a few whites, most rosés are not often oak-aged. This helps keep its fresh fruity easy-drinking profile.
Almost all top Indian wine producers have rosé as part of their portfolio. The Indian rosé is made to be drunk young. So don’t stash your bottle of rosé in the cellar!
50 Grapes of pink: Rosé can be made from a variety of different red wine grapes. Two of the most popular are Syrah (Shiraz) and Grenache. Others include Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Syrah and lots more red varieties.
Food friendly, yet fun: When in doubt about food pairing, go with rosé, say many pros. While a glass of rosé makes an easy-drinking aperitif, it is notably food-friendly too. This is particularly true for tough-to-pair Asian cuisines. Rosés work well because of their very light tannins, neat acidity and fruity freshness. Try rosé with a malai tikka, Murgh Makhani or baingan bharta and see for yourself.
Ticks all the boxes
Why then does it lag in the popularity stakes in India? At the recently concluded ProWein Education Campaign seminar in Mumbai, Karan Vasani, chief winemaker, Sula Vineyards commented how white and rosé wines had yet to attain the popularity of red wines in India. This despite our hot Indian summers, where a glass of crisp rosé would be just the thing for a summer’s day.
Mysterious perhaps, but in India’s nascent wine culture, awareness of the many positives of rosé are not yet widely known. While doctors tout the benefits of drinking a glass of red wine for general heart health no one says go, try a rosé. Maybe they should.
As summers continue to get hotter, one thing is clear. The popularity of rosé is here to stay.
But if you are interested, here are a few still rosé wines available in India worth trying.
The Source by Sula Vineyards Rs 975, Mumbai, Bangalore
A segment at the recent India Wine Awards 2018 was dedicated to discovering the wines that best paired with Indian food. Founder Sonal Holland MW explains why this was an important task
Aloo posto: A popular Bengali potato-based dish cooked with poppy seeds proved to be tricky to pair with wine
It is a topic of great interest with wine lovers and critics – the Indian food and wine conundrum. It deserves focused attention. There are websites devoted to finding perfect pairings, and no matter where in the world you live you might have seen pictures of wine tasting events and people dining at spiffy black-tie dinners and Michelin-starred restaurants, where the gorgeously-plated multi-course repasts are invariably accompanied with a glass of wine or three.
Wine critics and experts have been asking themselves this question for ages with no conclusive answer yet. One reason for that is that Indians usually enjoy eating their meals family-style, sharing dishes of a variety of flavours and spice levels (often chili or pepper hot) depending on which part of the country they live in. So will a highly-rated oak-rich Bordeaux red wine be a fit with my chicken tikka and dal makhni?
The wine industry in India is still scratching the surface of this subject. Because truly, can wine fit in with this great pyramid of complexity and variety that is our everyday Indian food known as ‘ghar ka khana’ (simple home-cooked food)? According to Sonal Holland MW, the founder of the awards, the simple answer is yes. And the India Wine Awards provided the perfect forum to delve a little deeper – get the home perspective and find a few aha moments, so to speak.
Holland’s argument is simple: “We were keen to bust the myth that Indian food and wine do not pair well. Our success comes if we can place wine on dinner tables at people’s home, proving this is a beverage that can be enjoyed with food.”
So on Day 2 of the jury session, 18 judges were assigned 9 dishes to taste with a total of 120 wines entered for the category. The wines ranged from simple whites and reds to Champagnes and those richly oaked red wines. Both Indian wines and imported wines in India were put up to the pairing test.
Litti chokha from Bihar tested the judges’ palates
Some of the dishes were fairly atypical choices for wine pairing, picked by Holland and her co-chairs of the food and wine pairing segment, Sameer Malkani and Sourish Bhattacharya, both noted names in the food industry. Why these dishes? “We chose food people could relate to – we wanted to keep it real,” explains Holland, “Litti chokha, Goan prawn curry, chicken Chettinad are everyday Indian foods.” To add to the challenge, many of these dishes contained sour or tangy ingredients – tomato and tamarind – or were spice-rich, both considered difficult if not impossible pairings according to conventional wisdom. “Then, to add some fun, we added gulab jamun, which most critics would consider way too sweet to pair with any wine at all.”
The session was an interesting one. Our jury table got two tough options – the Goan prawn curry, delicious yet tart and dal makhni, a rich butter-laden lentil dish. You might wonder, but yes, dear reader, we had several “Aha!” moments that surprised us through the extended blind tasting session.
Complicated subject, simple results
The judges debate a food-and-wine pairing
The outcome (complete results here) showed two things, said Holland. “Many Indian wines won the best pairing, though I haven’t yet analyzed why. Perhaps it was the residual sugar that is present in many Indian wines, often made simply, in fruit-forward style.” The second finding related, though no less interesting. “We discovered was that simpler wines paired best with complex dishes (most Indian dishes are complex). Often pairing is far more enjoyable with easy-drinking fruit-forward wines.” This, she believes is “a real opportunity for the wine industry in India.”
Digging a little deeper, I asked how important the practice of food and wine pairing was for India, given our nascent culture of wine appreciation and preference for wine as an aperitif? And given the varied cooking styles, techniques and ingredients in India how decisive or relevant did she think the pairings would be?
“Only important to the extent that its important for us in India to position wine as a food-friendly beverage. We drink it socially, we are aware it is less intoxicating and generally healthier. We should encourage its consumption with food, which further slows alcohol absorption. Plus, wine is best in the company of friends and loved ones.” All these positives needed reinforcement, she said.
For Holland, the food and wine pairing was not meant to be a technical exercise, rather an enjoyable one. “I’m personally thrilled that the simple wines did well. As long as there are no negative pairings, food and wine are meant to complement one another and be enjoyed.”
The wines were tasted blind with various regional Indian foods
To further reinforce this idea, the gala evening was preceded by a masterclass Holland conducted along with Victoria Burt MW of the WSET. Members of the media and the wine trade sat and sipped, a range of wines paired with Indian food like galouti kebab and paneer tikka. “The WSET does workshops across the world, but they had never before paired wine with Indian cuisines and thought it very relevant. We also wanted trade and consumers to understand and experience how these pairings work.”
The response was all she hoped for. “I had wine producers and sommeliers come up to me and tell me they had learned a thing or two at the masterclass.
…says Sula Vineyards’ chief winemaker Karan Vasani in a candid interview on the state of Indian wine and viticulture and how India will take its place on the world winemaking map one day, losing the ‘intimidating’ tag for wine drinkers
It was Day 1 of the first ProWein Education Campaign session to be held in India. In association with the UK’s WSET, ProWein had lined up sessions, tastings, talks and panel discussions which saw standing room only in the bright, all-white lecture room. On this afternoon, Karan Vasani, chief winemaker and vice president, Sula Vineyards, the best-selling wine brand in India, was about to do a presentation on the ‘Art and Science of the Winemaker’.
Every seat was taken. As I took mine, I was curious. Viticulture in India, a very young winemaking country, is more experimental and impulsive in its functioning than studied and traditional as in the Old World or even some New World countries. So there is much to be learned and analysed at every turn. A great opportunity then, to listen to the bearded, bespectacled young man at the top of the room, laser pointer in hand. He was, after all, winemaker at Sula, the biggest name in wine in India.
Vasani took the out-of-the-box approach, eschewing the standard promotional presentation every presenter usually jumps at. There was no tom-tomming Sula achievements (no mystery for most) and wines (we can look up the website). Instead, he chose to educate and debate the topic of wine with the 60-strong fascinated audience. As I jotted notes and asked the occasional near-impertinent question (which he patiently answered), I was impressed. Vasani had gained more credence and fans by answering candidly, offering honest opinions and ending on a note of happy positivity.
Karan Vasani, Sula’s chief winemaker
Vasani spoke candidly on how in early days, farmers would erroneously use table grape- growing practices for growing wine grapes due to lack of experience; how certain Indian red wines have a distinct ‘rubberiness’ due to lack of proper ripening of grapes; how the growing season for late-harvesting red grapes is too short to work in India; how for many Indian consumers wine was “just another drink.” There was discussion on the use (overuse?) of oak in India; the lack of high-quality technical education in India that produces viticulturists and oenologists for the Indian industry; the need for exploring new terroirs within the country; discussing the yet unresolved questions on the ageing factor of Indian wine; and how experimenting in viticulture is still prevalent. (“We are a very young country, still learning, exploring – what we do today differs from what we did five years ago. It’s agriculture at the end of the day, not IT.”)
The next morning, we sat down for a brief chat and I went over a lot of what he had said. He didn’t prevaricate, answering simply and directly.
“But we are getting there,” he said, “Keep the faith.”
Excerpts from the interview. Watch the YouTube video interview (below) for more:
You said, “In India, everything is topsy-turvy…” while discussing to Indian viticulture. Explain, please, for the reader.
Besides the fact that we are in the Northern hemisphere and do a January-March harvest, the other thing is that as we go into the harvest season we get warmer, not colder. The average temperature, length of day and sunlight intensity all go up. In a traditional temperate region, all these three factors would be going down. This phenomenon actually allows us to grow both cool climate varieties such as Riesling, which ripen in the early part of the season and warm climate varieties like Syrah which ripen in the later part of the season.
Why do Indian wines often suffer from bottle inconsistency?
At least for our wines at Sula, I would put that down to varied storage conditions. We have a very rigorous quality control system in place and every single bottling has to pass multiple stringent checks before it gets released. Thus when they leave the winery at least, I can say with complete confidence, that all our bottles are identical. However, I acknowledge that varied storage conditions in different parts of the country at different distributors, retailers etc., do have an impact on the final bottle.
You spoke about how Indians love red wine when white and sparklings should be more popular given our warm climate and hotter food.
With regards to why India is drinking less sparkling and white, I honestly don’t have a clear answer that can be backed up with well-established facts. The fact remains that we at Sula feel that both sparkling and white wines are ideally suited to our climate. At the winery at least, where we receive 350,000 visitors a year and have a significant ability to influence people’s wine-drinking habits we are trying to. To just give you a small example – with the monsoon in Nashik almost over and temperatures beginning to rise, we have at our tasting room just launched what we have called a ‘Beat the Heat’ tasting which focuses only on wines that can be had chilled i.e. sparkling, white and rosé.
Vasani during his presentation at the Prowein Education Campaign
Okay. So India seems to love certain styles of wine more than others but as a winemaker, which grape varieties would you say are actually ideally suited to grow in our climate?
It’s very hard to make definitive statements about which varieties work and don’t work purely from the fact that India is such a vast country and that so little of the terroir has been explored. However, based on what we have seen in established terroirs, it’s very evident that Merlot struggles to grow well and as a result, there are no new Merlot vineyards being planted at all. It also seems evident that the Rhône varietals are very well suited to India. This can be seen from the tremendous success of Syrah, Viognier and now Grenache. Grenache at this point at least only in the form of a rosé, but it is a variety we expect to do well in the long term.
Sula has been leading other producers by a distance in terms of numbers. What would you put down as the reason?
You also said, “We make wines that the market wants to drink….” Clearly, the Sula focus has always been on a larger market of exploratory, rather than seasoned wine drinkers or high-end buyers… do you see this as an advantage or disadvantage? And are there developments at Sula at the more niche end too?
I would attribute Sula’s tremendous success to the fact that we have always had a very clear vision of our target consumer and the wines they want to drink. We are focused on making easy drinking, fruit forward wines which is where the vast majority of the market is. That being said we are very aware of the fact that the early adopters now have more sophisticated palates and want more complex wines. This is the very reason why in 2013 we launched the Chenin Blanc Reserve which is much drier that our regular Chenin Blanc (which is India’s highest selling white wine) and has subtle oak influence. This was followed up by the launch of The Source Grenache rosé and the Brut Chardonnay in 2017. In 2018 we have launched India’s first and only Sparkling Shiraz and The Source Sauvignon Blanc Reserve. The other key factor in our success has to be our hospitality operations. As I mentioned earlier, we receive 350,000 visitors a year, making it one of the successful tasting room operations in the entire world. Through our tasting room, we are trying to make wine easily accessible, fun and approachable. This is important because for too many people in our country, wine can be quite intimidating.
Honestly, in your view is the Indian wine market growing at a satisfactory pace? I know we have our crosses to bear (heavy taxation, duties, red tape) but on what basis do you justify your “keep the faith” comment?
After a hard FY17 and first half of FY18 on account of the highway ban and demonetization, I am very happy to say that Indian wine is again growing very strongly. Quality of wine is improving every year and wine is now an established drink on many beverage menus even outside of its traditional bastions of luxury restaurants and 5-star hotels. Young people are embracing wine, while I have no data to back this statement one just needs to visit the Sula tasting room on a weekend to see this in the flesh. I honestly see no reason why Indian wine will not continue to grow strongly into the foreseeable future.
Talking Indian Grapes & Viticulture with Karan Vasani, chief winemaker, Sula Vineyards - YouTube
Four Masters of Wine are set to judge the new Excellence in Restaurant Wine programme for the first time, at the of the India Wine Awards 2018. One of them, Richard Hemming MW tells us what to expect…
Sonal Holland MW is a woman on a mission: a mission to put a glass of wine in every discerning Indian drinker’s hand. And in the process, to educate, to encourage and get the good word about wine in India out there.
Often during our chats, Holland has referred to what she sees as major tasks ahead of her. India has several advantages: a country with a wine culture in its infancy but growing steadily, a developing wine industry intent on forging ahead, and a vast number of wine newbies eager to learn more about wine. Then there are downsides to this picture – high taxation and a preference for spirits being some of them. However, in the final analysis, everyone agrees there is enormous scope for the growth of wine in India.
Last year, the maiden edition of the India Wine Awards saw many Indian producers rewarded, importers applauded and good wine appreciated – Indian wines as well as wines imported into India. There was euphoria all around for a job well begun.
But that was only the first step.
Richard Hemming MW will judge the India Wine Awards Excellence in Restaurant Wine programmes section this year
So this year, for the Indian Wine Awards be held in September 2018, Holland decided to up the ante with an additional section; the Excellence in Restaurant Wine Programmes has been instituted to recognize and reward all those food and drink establishments which promote the cause of wine in the three metro cities, Mumbai, Delhi-NCR and Bengaluru. This section will crown restaurants whose wine lists offer interesting selections, are cuisine-appropriate and appeal to a wide range of wine consumers. It will also recognize restaurants with good practices such as well-trained, competent wine staff or sommeliers and which have hosted wine events that promote a positive culture in its markets.
“With so many food awards in the country, we thought it was time to put the focus on wine and recognise F&B establishments for their positive efforts in promoting the wine culture in their respective markets,” says Holland, “Consumers’ interest in enjoying a good glass of wine along with their meals at restaurants is increasingly ever so rapidly, and we believe that the India Wine Awards Excellence in Restaurant Wine Programmes will serve as a wake-up call for restaurateurs to understand how important their wine lists could and should be.”
To add truckloads of credibility to the task at hand, she roped in four MWs from around the globe to form the independent panel for judging this award section, even as she recused herself: Richard Hemming MW (UK), Tan Ying Hsien MW (Singapore), Andrea Pritzker MW (Australia) and Victoria Burt MW (UK). All from countries with very developed wine cultures and boasting of restaurants and bars with exciting wine lists. This would be a first: Indian restaurant wine lists would be judged as per international standards.
As I wanted to understand their approach to this, I asked Holland to connect me with one of the judges ahead of the judging. She did, with Richard Hemming MW.
Hemming believes that “reducing the intimidation that wine can evoke” is critical to a developing wine culture like India’s
What, to you, epitomizes a really good wine list? Size is not the only factor, I’m sure.
In fact, larger sizes can often be a negative. The biggest wine list in the world (in Macau) has 16,800 wines – far too many to choose from! Instead, it is better to have something that represents a careful selection from all the main regions and styles of wine around the world, as well as some more esoteric selections. Ideally, you should get a sense of the personality of the sommelier or wine buyer from the selection, and the way it is presented. A great wine list might only have 50 wines – or even fewer.
In a country where the wine culture is still fairly new for the general public, yet there are more than a few connoisseurs to cater to, as well as international visitors, what thoughts should a restaurant keep in mind when it puts together its wine list?
It’s important to pick the right brands – those which have a recognition factor for less well-informed consumers, but which are well respected by connoisseurs. This isn’t always easy, but it is definitely possible. Also, providing the right level of information is crucial – accessible, useful and concise information in plain English with minimal jargon.
If you had to pinpoint a single factor (or a few) which might help drive the popularity of wine in India, what would that be? What, to your mind, might be its unique challenges?
Perhaps if Indian cricketers started to promote wine in India it would make a big difference! Or featuring wine in Bollywood films, maybe? Also, reducing the taxation on wine in India is crucial to make it more affordable. Finding a way to make wine fit into the cuisine, lifestyle and drinking habits of India is not straightforward – imitating the European model (where a bottle of wine is normal with meals every day in the evening – and sometimes at lunchtime) is not necessarily going to work. As wine consumption grows in India, I think it will evolve into a natural fit with Indian culture. And of course, it helps that there are experts such as Sonal to provide leadership!
Sonal Holland MW with Richard Hemming MW
And what would you consider are the biggest challenges a restaurant might face as it attempts to popularize wine in India? And ideas on how to handle these challenges? What are the biggest no-no’s when putting together a wine list?
The biggest challenges for a restaurant trying to popularize wine are the same all around the world – a lack of consumer understanding. The ultimate goal is not to create a nation of MWs, but to reduce the intimidation that wine can evoke by presenting wine casually, making it as affordable as possible and emphasising its advantages over other drinks.
Wine in a spirits-driven country like India. Your thoughts? And your impression of Indian wine based on what you have experienced?
Producers of spirits have much higher marketing budgets and brand recognition than most wines, so most wines can’t compete at the same level; but they should be able to establish themselves as aspirational, sophisticated, European and as an affordable luxury – all of which should appeal to Indian consumers. Indian wineries are doing a great job of introducing the domestic market to affordable, drinkable styles – as well as increasingly ambitious and high-quality examples. I’m sure this encourages many Indians to explore the world of wine in more detail.
Some instances of exemplary wine lists you have encountered and why you think they stand out?
I regularly visit The 10 Cases, Noble Rot and 67 Pall Mall in London because their wine lists are so good. The 10 Cases has a small but frequently changing list with a great selection of interesting wines. 67PM is a members club with the largest selection in London, backed up with a huge team of very knowledgeable sommeliers, while Noble Rot manages to find rare and unusual wines from lesser-known producers and regions at excellent prices.
Look out for the results of the India Wine Awards Excellence in Restaurant Wine Programmes along with the rest of the results of the India Wine Awards on 29th September 2018. The results will be announced live at a glittering ceremony at the Grand Ballroom of The Leela Mumbai.