I like writing about Indian wine. I really do. I like it because it gives me an opportunity to share my passion for the Indian wine industry and to remove some of the misconceptions about it.
My fellow wine aficionados or beginners you should know that there has been no better time for Indian wine that now. Over the last couple of decades we’ve come very far. We have wineries that are producing high quality wine in Maharashtra and Karnataka with more on their way. The pace at which quality has improved is staggering. This has happened for a number of reasons, for one, us as customers have become more aware and therefore more demanding. Two, there are more wineries vying for customer attention thereby being forced to raise their quality and marketing games. And of course we have wineries that just simply want to produce the very best!
In fact there is a buzz about Indian wine happening in all corners of the world. So the next time you’re placing an order for a glass of your favourite grape variety perhaps you can choose one that’s made in our very own backyard. There are actually multiple wines from any given winery that deserve attention but to show you a range of styles and wineries I have selected one wine from each that I think are the best producers of wine in India at the moment.
Lets start off with some bubbly. Chandon Brut Rose NV with aromas of ripe cherries, pink grapefruit and rose petals and interplay of red fruit and subtle citrus notes on the palate is the best sparkling India makes at the moment. Another sparkling that’s made in a different style that I like is Casablanca Brut NV. A generous fruity nose of kiwi and grape fruit layered with lime and floral undertones. On the palate, this wine is light bodied with flavours reminiscent of pear and green apple with a predominant acidic structure. I’m imagining endless bottles of both of the above with a non-stop supply of oysters and for something from India I’d be just as happy with some artisanal Brie locally produced in Pondicherry.
In the whites Sula’s Riesling is fruity with hints of green apples, grapefruit, peach & honey. Supported with refreshing acid, lemon and notes of green apple. Perfectly balanced, this is a versatile wine which can be had with multiple cuisines, everything from something as simple as Tisriya (clams) in Indian masalas to a Chinese stir fry perhaps with a little spice. Another white that I particularly enjoy is Fratelli’s Vitae Tre a blend of Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Muller Thurgao. This is beautiful innovation that would be perfect with grilled Tiger Prawns or even prawns cooked in the tandoor. A wine I think exemplifies Indian Sauvignon Blanc is the one from York Winery. Light green hues with tropical fruit and vegetal characteristics. The last time I had this wine was at their winery along with some local Nasik fair however you could enjoy this with an Asparagus risotto. A wine that recently got my attention is Grover’s La Reserve Bianco; a beautiful nose of flowers and fruit, this wine is a lovely expression of Viognier. I’d do this with a cold watermelon salad with feta or pair it with something as simple as a curd and rice with a curry leaf. Hey, don’t knock it till you try the pairing.
You have to try Vallonne Vineyards Rose. The colour itself is beautiful and the wine displays notes of cherry, plum, melons and berries. It’s full bodied, crisp and lively. I’d love this with an aromatic biryani and I’d love it with some tempura. Honestly its hard not to love this wine.
In the reds the new kid on the block is Myra Misfit, a blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon that has spent over 16 months in French oak. I like this wine with something as simple as a hard cheese, say aged Parmigiano Reggiano or with Peking duck. Zampa Chene is a blend of Tempranillo and Shiraz. It is deep and intense ruby red. With dark fruit aromas of blackberry, currant and ripe plums, complemented by hints of spices and oak bouquets such as vanilla, chocolate and roasted coffee beans. Dark fruit flavours with nuances of vanilla and cinnamon on the palate. This wine has the ability to stand up to a hearty north Indian meal so go for heavy daals or a mutton Rogan Josh if you like or pair it with a steak that’s done medium well. Charossa Reserve Tempranillo displays rich coconut, vanilla, chocolate & raspberry. Medium-bodied with a concentration of warm red fruit flavours like raspberry, strawberry & plum are distinctly ripe and fleshy. I do like this wine a lot and if you give me a lamb stew to go along with it I’m a happy camper. With Indian food I’d go with raan just as happily. Krsma Estates Sangiovese is brilliant as well. This one hails from the Hampi Hills in Karntaka displays cherries, spice and oak and you could enjoy this wine creamy pasta dishes or even Indian kebabs.
Wait I can’t let you without ending on a sweet note. Reveilo’s Late Harvest Chenin Blanc with aromas of over ripe fruit, raisin grapes, dry figs and honey is a stunner. Try a chilled glass of this beauty with vanilla ice cream and fruits or perhaps even your everyday Rasgulla.
Folks, the world of Indian wine is getting larger and if you give it attention you would realize that there is just so much to discover, all you need to do is simply tastes what’s on offer to believe it for yourself.
When he isn’t sharing reccos on the perfect wine-and-food pairings, sommelier Nikhil Agarwal is busy judging wine competitions on the international stage. After judging a wine event in Frankfurt early this year, Agarwal will be off to Hong Kong next week, where he is part of a global jury panel for the sixth edition of Decanter Asia Wine Awards. Considered the continent’s leading wine competition, it invites over 2,500 entries, including Indian labels. All go through a rigorous blind tasting by the jury. “Indian wines have done well in the past at this competition. However, I have no clue about the list this year. I’m looking forward to catching up with my colleagues in the wine industry from all over the world and trying a large number of wines in a blind tasting,” he shared.
The Business of Wine & Spirits in India
Authored by Sommelier Nikhil Agarwal for Black Book India
The Business of Wine and Spirits in India is like an intensedrama movie. There is little success for some and a lot of success for a few; lot of plot twists and equal amount of pain and suffering. Actually I think the business of wine and spirits in India is unlike the wine and spirits business anywhere else in the world.
I don’t think anyone getting into the alcohol business in India ever imagined that it would be so complicated. However, here lies the secret that all of us in the business know; because it is complicated and ruthless it will keep a lot of people out and if we hold on with all our might we will see fruition of our efforts.
Things have changed very dramatically in the last decade or so, more so than the decade before but then a lot of things haven’t changed at all.
The beverage trade in India faces every problem you can imagine. We have a hostile business environment, some states are dry while some have recently become dryandmany are threatening to do so..
In Gujarat for example, the old saying that more bottles of Johnnie are sold there than produced is probably true. In the legal sense,Gujarat has about 30 to 35 license holders. These license holders can purchase stock and sell to consumers who themselves have permits. The permits to consumers are given to those who need alcohol for maintaining their health. Maintaining their health….just genius.
The Courtyard Marriott in Ahmedabad holds such a license for example. They can sell to these health minded locals or international tourist, business travellers and of course the celebrated NRI’s because they have an international passport and are notgoverned by the same laws as we are. Dry states actually make for very good alcohol trade but not for the likes of us.
Besides custom duties on a central level for the imports and each individual state has its on own take on excise duties, VAT, octroi and other taxes.
Each state with a different tax regime means multiple cost cards, multiple prices for the same product, different strategies on schemes and marketing, different marketing budgets and in some cases like in the state of Karnataka convoluted methods to get the right discounts to our trade partners.
Also, just to make things more fun, the rules are often changed and without too much warning either. There you go, younew craft beer producer you, we’re not going to let you live your dream of being the next beer baron come true so easy. You have got to suffer just like the rest of us crabs despite your hard work and once in a lifetime idea.
I mean, some states have 70% VAT. That sort of VAT component has forced locals of that state to imagine that their glass of average red is Cru Classe Bordeaux.
What else can I share with you? Oh yes, imagine a world with all of the above,it’s not too hard. You’ve spent crores creating your product and countless hours fine tuning it to be right but you cannot let the world know you have a product to sell.
You can’t advertise wine and spirits brands in India. Sure, if you got the money you do mineral water with the same logo and brand name or even bettersell “cd’s and cassettes’ sort of surrogate branding but you cannot say hey, have you tried my wine on a mass scale. Honestly when truly was the last time you bought a cassette or a CD for that matter?
Then you have your route to market to contend with. The average wine shop might look like it’s a dead zone with a guy half asleep at the counter. But I got to tell you; they are not easy. They will squeeze you to a point where in some cases you actually pay them to sell your product. And if your product is wine, you’vegot it even tougher. Some restaurants and hotels will make your mind numb with their requests for listing fees and discounts.
Another case in point that recently created some havoc (there’s always something going on here) is that sales of wine were stopped in a particular state for about a month. Yes a month because they were debating changing some tax component that wouldchange the price of a bottle to the effect of Rs 1 per bottle. Can you imagine what the loss on sale is for a month for a brand?
State excise authorities will ask us to do label registration for wine and spirit brands once a year, this process takes some time. Some states are faster than the others and some take what feels like eons. Effectively you are not allowed to sell anything that is not already in the market till the process is complete. This could take more than a month sometimes. A month is 8.3% percent of our business year but no worries; our businesses only just support our lives.
The biggest challenge however, more than anything else is awareness. We just don’t know enough or anything on the larger scale. I have always believed that we in the trade have to look beyond supplying to an existing market but in fact we have to create a market. Like someone told me many moons ago, you cannot always preach to the converted. Therefore in the absence of advertising opportunities we rely heavily on experiential marketing and concepts that allow people to taste and experience. If they like it they will buy. At All Things Nice we pioneered the Indian Wine Consumer’s Choice Awards, Wine Week and Celebrating India’s Finest. We do whisky tastings and cognac evenings with ferocious intensity in numbers. We show people through experience the joys of pairing wine or even spirit with food. Conduct master classes on beer and in general constantly push the envelope on getting you to try different beverages.
I want to go on but I got to switch sides now and talk about the good stuff. There is a lot of it and a lot more of it to come. So much so that a lot of the troubles mentioned above are even accepted.
India’s 1.2 billion is thirsty for the most part. At every level of society you’ve got some serious thirst going on and it’s the beverage the industry’s job to quench it. Well someone’s got to do it, and that Ferrari is not going to paying for itself right?
More money in our pockets, many more people having travelled, people willing to try new cuisines and beverages and the Gods at Masterchef Australia have turned India’s upwardly mobile middle class into bastions of consumption. Single malt sales have gone through the roof,luxury vodka brands are increasing in numbers. Whisky and brandy sales will make your mouth water. Locally brewed craft beer sales have outfoxed any sort of projections and have attracted serious funding. Indian wine producers are seeing a steady increase in sales and so is wine tourism. With the quality levels of Indian wine at an all time high, I predict millions of people will get onto the Indian bandwagon very soon.
India will have another 100 million legal drinkers (age limit wise) in the next 5 years. 100 million is roughly 3 Australia’s my fellowpeople so the market potential is ridiculous. True a tiny percent of the current and the new 100 million people will be drinking the good stuff but that doesn’t mean that eventually they won’t.
It isn’t only about Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore anymore. Kolkatta has a fascinating wine scene that’s developing (all that maroo money), Hyderabad is taking to single malts and Gurgaon with its low taxes and duties is seeing incredible growth figures. Even sleepy Pune is throwing in some descent numbers.
Despite all the troubles, the wine and spirits industry in India is booming and once you know the rules and understand that they will be changed frequently and that you will have to adapt and you are able to see through all the complicated taxation policies you will find that there is a huge pot of gold at the end of the booze rainbow.
So go on take that sip, we really want you to. And now that you have heard a little about just how much trouble we go through to get it to you perhaps you will appreciate it just a tiny bit more
There’s something about modern cities in Asia that I thoroughly enjoy. There’s an infectious energy from the sheer number of people, and a beautiful mesh of traditional architecture, food and lifestyle, plus the best of western luxuries, brands, food and drink. Shanghai is no exception, and I have explored this massive city carefully over the last two years on two separate occasions. You can visit a ton of places over a two-day period (a lot of them are very close to each other) and getting around is incredibly easy, with every option of transport you can think of.
From the airport, take the Maglev, the world’s fastest train, to the centre of town at speeds over 400 kilometres per hour for the thrill and convenience of it. It literally takes minutes, for a distance that is otherwise is an hour or so away from Pudong.
You can’t visit Shanghai and not visit the Bund. It overlooks the River Huangpu in the district of Pudong, with its sky-kissing, futuristic glass buildings, including the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the Jin Mao Tower (what the locals refer to as the bottle opener building) on one side and old colonial buildings on the other. Both sides are equally eye catching in exactly opposite ways. The river itself is full of activity, with floating restaurants, cruise and cargo ships, all slowly moving along this ancient waterway.
Mr. & Mrs. Bund
When at the Bund, you have to visit Shanghai’s most famous restaurant — Mr.& Mrs. Bund, by Paul Pairet. This restaurant offers incredibly delicious French food, great cocktails and a brilliant wine and spirit list with a view of Pudong to die for — a glass of wine on the terrace here is pure bliss.
Interiors of Mr. & Mrs. Bund
Mr.& Mrs. Bund banquet
One floor above, on the terrace of the building, you have the Bar Rouge, which is a must-visit for some late night shenanigans. If you have the budget (approximately Rs 40,000 a head) you should definitely have the Ultraviolet experience. This restaurant is in a secret location and takes dining to a whole new level, using sounds, light and aromas to take you on a gastronomical journey like no other.
Food & Drink
Further down the road along the Bund is a high-end yet casual tapas bar called Unico, which I thoroughly loved. They have live music there and the food is delicious. I had the lobster with peanut oil, which has quickly become one of my favourite dishes of all time. I took a sip of their Malbec Cosmopolitan, which I thought was truly inventive, with a whole new take on how to enjoy Malbec.
Egg mushrooms and duck confit
Not too far away, in an area called Xintiandi, you will be spoilt for choice. This area is a little touristy, I must warn you, but excellent nevertheless. Head for a beer at the Pauline Bauhaus, or have a glass of vino at the wine bar right next to it for some ‘lucky’ red wine. The Chinese believe that the colour red is lucky and have taken to their lucky red wines with some serious aggression, so much so that now, in a relatively small period of time, they have become the world’s largest consumers of red wine. But I digress. If you want some live jazz, head to the jazz bar slightly ahead, or visit The Devil’s Share, for a range of whiskies as you watch the world go by down below. Try the famed Xiao Long Bao at Crystal Jade, and try to not burn your tongue. Oh, and if you’re looking for some seriously good steak, there is a spanking new Wolfgang Puk restaurant bang in the middle of this area. Connected here is Nanjing Road, famous for its shopping and underground markets. For world class shopping, head to Huahai (also known as the Paris of the Orient) for your fix of fashion and designer labels.
Black Cod Essential Soy
An area definitely worth a visit is the French Concession. I found myself on a road called Yong Kang Lu, that is lined on either side with what seems like hundreds of small bars and restaurants, with residential apartments above them. I don’t think I have ever seen anything like it before. Go down there in the early evening for a very slow drink , especially over the weekend, and take in its almost Goa sort of vibe. This place seems to be off the tourist map and is visited by tons of expats and hipster locals, who ride the most fabulous modified scooters on the planet. Shanghai is a serious food and drink town and you can have great food anywhere — I particularly liked Din Tai Fung, a chain of value for money restaurants that are scattered all around Shanghai and the rest of Asia. If you’re the adventurous kind, try the many street food options, that include duck tongue, insects, bamboo shoots and a variety of pork-based dishes.
Kung Fu Panda
Alternatively, it does not all have to be about food and booze. I would highly recommend visiting the Yu Yuan Gardens, with old King Fu Panda movie-like structures. You could spend a lot of time here walking around or you could head to one of the many tea spots and get a glimpse of what China was like eons ago.
Shanghai night life
Yu Yan garden
The City God temple is definitely worth a visit, and so is the Shanghai Museum for Fine Art Chinese Porcelain, if porcelain is your thing. The Urban Planning Centre shows Shanghai’s architectural plans in 3D for the next four years, and I would highly recommend a visit just to see the technology used here.
In Pudong, you could walk around the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and IFC Mall area and see swarms of people go from one place to another. The mall has a great number of restaurants on top, and some with terraces. You could sit there with your neck craned upwards and look at some of the world’s tallest structures around you.
All this, and I frankly haven’t even scratched the surface; I don’t think anyone could, even after living here for a year. I have to say that I love this city, and Shanghai has quickly become one of my favourite cities in Asia.