As France revels in Fete de la Gastronomie over this weekend, Sofitel a luxury brand of the French hospitality major Accor hotels will be celebrating the grape harvest season in France with a month-long wine fest ‘ Sofitel Wine Days’ till 31st October in 120 properties across the globe. Sofitel, Mumbai the only property in India located in the corporate hub of BKC is all geared up for the same and we had a preview over some chic French wines and food done up by Chef Indrajit Saha.
Champagne the word synonymous to any sparkling wine in the world, it may not be taken as a compliment by the Champagne makers though, set the evening in motion, it was a Drappier. A perfumed Loire valley Sauvignon from Touraine, a forthcoming Ventoux blend from Rhone, an animal and cherry like Burgundy Pinot and a vegetal and robust Bordeaux blend were poured that evening. The cheeses and the hors d’oeuvres passed around were paired with each wine meticulously by the wine man Sanjay Menon and he educated the audience with tips on wine and food. The hotel will showcase wines from seven wineries namely – Hugel & Fils, Bouchard Pere Fils, William Fevre, Paul Jaboulet, Perrin, Miraval, Gerard Bertrand and Dourthe, during the fest.
It truly was an Art de Vivre evening and the guests jubilated at the soiree with an international touch, Indian more so. You have a month to go and to soak in the fervor.
Some events lined up for the month:
Jyran Wine Dinner – 30th September, 2014
Price: – INR 3500 + Taxes
Guests can opt for an unusual and innovative wine pairing with North- Frontier Cuisine at the hotel’s Signature outlet Jyran – Tandoor Dining & Lounge and select from a four course menu.
Wine Expo at Pondichéry Café – 12th October, 2014
Price: – INR 2900 + taxes
The Sunday Brunch at the Pondichéry Café is any gourmand’s delight, however when coupled with a Wine Expo, guests will sample nothing short of the best. Guests will not only have an opportunity to choose their preferred wine but can also purchase their favorites from the stalls at the outlet.
Sausage & Grills at Kitchen Garden – 30th October 2014
Price: – INR 2500 + Taxes
If an outdoor Al fresco setting is what you prefer to sip a glass of wine, then schedule a date with the ‘Sofitel Wine Days’ to relish the live barbeque along with hors d’œuvres at the Kitchen Garden.
‘Game, set and match’ were the words of Agent Vijay; James Bond’s ally; played by Indian tennis legend Vijay Amritraj, in the 1983 Bond film Octopussy. These were the words he could easily relate to; more in his real world than otherwise. Best Asian tennis player for 14 years and having achieved a personal best world ranking of 16, Vijay Amritraj had arrived and accepted very well in Hollywood too. A man who had beaten the likes of Jimmy Connors (5 times) and McEnroe, kept the Indian flag flying high in the tennis arena. California-based now, he was in India for a different cause, it being the endeavor to take Indian wines to the world.
n a soiree on the 18th September at the uber- luxurious, The Leela, Mumbai, Vijay announced the launch of the ‘ Vijay Amritraj ( VA) reserve collection’ wines in collaboration with Grover Zampa Vineyards, one of India’s leading wine producers. This collection includes the red reserve; a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Viognier and the white reserve; a barrel Fermented and barrique aged Viognier both priced at Rs 1200. The fruity mouthful red with very structured tannins and a great finish and the white; a round and light wine with peach and floral notes toned down by aging in new oak were impressive, would have loved a little more acidity in the latter. Sumedh Singh Mandla, CEO Grover Zampa Vineyards expressed’ “Our brand is dedicated to express passion, elegance and success associated with the legend of Mr. Vijay Amritraj. We are very excited to launch these premium wines in India and in international markets. This brand will provide Indian wines an enviable international platform that can only lift its reputation across the world.”
It will be a proud day for the Indian wine scene if the wines were to follow the legend’s footsteps, Asia’s best wine, beat the ‘McEnroes’ or first growths of the wine world in the wine grand slams and lastly how about Agent 007 ordering a ‘VA wine’ in the 2015 Bond flick. Only time will tell… I am Gung-Ho for Indian wines!
The ‘October heat’ is giving Mumbaikars a simmering preview of what is in store, with humidity levels hovering between 75-94% on a hot sunny day; the scene was perfectly set for me to go out and try some cocktails. The destination for my cocktail fix was the 022 restaurant at Hotel Trident in Bandra Kurla complex and ‘presse’cocktails were on my mind.
Cobbler, Collins, High-Ball, Flip, Nogs, Sours etc are styles of cocktails and so is Presse, ‘a drink made from freshly squeezed fruit juice, sugar and ice’ says the dictionary, in fact there are some RTD (Ready to drink) sparkling presses available in the Indian market, virgin though. The special menu was instantly presented to me as I made myself comfortable on a high chair at the island bar. Abundant daylight coming in through the glass façade made the ambience even more cheerful and apt for a cocktail afternoon. L’Original Presse , made with Grey Goose vodka , cucumber, and lime was a perfect aperitif to precede a liquid main. The best part about this was the intensity of flavour and the bracing acidity. A premium product like this one at Rs 850 ++, commands an experience apart from the quality of ingredients used and the bartenders had taken the coffee-route for this one and presented the drink in a French Press. The press helped in to soak in the flavors for those few extra minutes while allowing the server to elegantly strain the cocktail in front of me, in fact I strained one myself; it could perhaps give some people the feeling of having made the drink all by themselves…….this is the enhanced experience.
Paradise Presse; a basil, rosemary and berry mix seemed diluted ( Crushed ice the cause) and lacked balance in the first version, the bartender happily spruced it up and it was a perfectly sweetened fruit bomb( this time with ice cubes) bursting with raspberry flavour with subtle hints of the fresh herbs. The last one, Korean Presse in a hurricane glass was a splendid mix of green tea and Bombay Sapphire with minimal sweetening; I would call it a food-cocktail, one which could be sipped throughout the meal. There were more with other flavours like Chamomile, Pear, lemon grass etc, but sadly it was a working afternoon rather responsible drinking is the call of the day.
Quality ingredients play the most important role in how the end product is, however it takes two to tango; ingredients which cooperate with one another to make a great product and these cocktails with less than 3 or 4 ingredients show the way ahead. Surely go try them if you are that side… they are concocting till the 10th of October…
Many foreign wineries now want to rise with the Indian wine tide; a market which is growing by close to 20% y-o-y as some reports say has caught global attention over the last few years. France and Italy were go to nations a decade back and now Spain,Australia, Chile, New Zealand , South Africa , Argentina, California have also made their presence felt in the entry level segment. Georgian wines too found their way to the shelves of the Indian modern retail but failed to woo the not so knowledgeable audience. The discerning Indian consumer; a fractional percentage of the population is making an effort to wake up to the wine phenomenon by knowing his Cabs from the Pinots. The picture looks rosy and I am Gung-ho about it too in the long run. I would however play a devil’s advocate when it comes to the imported wine scene in the country. India imports around 500k cases of wine per year however those many cases comprise, conservatively speaking at least 1000 labels. If you do the math, it is 500 cases a label. If you are still optimistic, great! I am too. Let us look at a few points to consider before you enter India:
Taxes and regulations: By the time your wines reach India, they go to 8-10 times of your ex-cellar price in retail and sold at almost 3 times the retail price in institutions. Also every state in the country operates with its own set of taxes and regulations making it a hurdle in interstate supply chain both financially and in terms of logistics. Do you have a portfolio across price ranges? You can do with expensive ones if you are French or Italian. Lastly with FSSAI (Food safety and standards authority of India) being active, lot of customization with respect to labeling etc may be required, ingredients, additives etc on the label have become a mandate. Are you ready to customize the label?
Importer: Interstate regulations can be a roadblock for distribution impacting successful reach. A well entrenched importer with a good distribution network is essential. With around 5-6 major importers in the country, it becomes essential to go through their portfolio to confirm your interests do not clash with the brands they already hold. Lastly Mumbai, Delhi, Goa and Bengaluru account for 80% of wine sales in the country; you know where to look now.
Storage: With hot and humid conditions in most parts of India it is essential to have air-conditioned wine warehouses. Ensure this part is covered or be happy to see your young whites being served deep gold and oxidized. Also most of wine retail is not air-conditioned, a major concern in my opinion. Things have improved over the last 5 years though with modern retail.
Marketing: If your aim is to dump your first order, make money and get out then the following does not apply to you. For the rest, the importers have limited resources and a big portfolio of brands. Human tendency of getting the maximum out of least effort applies and the importers focus on brands which support them with marketing to push their brands in the trade. It may be in the form of winemaker dinners, communication materials and memorabilia, stocks for sampling in private tastings and shows, sponsorship for winery tours for trade and media etc. It is completely your call albeit in alliance with your importer, but do ensure you budget for it in the ex-winery costs. Remember alcohol advertisements are not allowed in the country so experiential marketing works best and your presence once in a while is solicited.
Credit: In typical transactions, the time taken for the wine consignment to be shipped, received and released from the bond houses is around 40 days. Then the distribution in trade and their credit period especially with a product like wine is many a time 2 months and this leads to working capital lock-in period of at least 4 months for the importers. Are you willing to extend credit!!!
Lastly Indian habits are certainly evolving in terms of wine; knowledge and pricing are the crux to expand the wine market in the country (read more about it here).
List of active wine importers in India
People including me are optimistic about the wine market in India; the growth figures say so too. A two million case (9 litre) market with around 25 % of it being for imported wines, it is growing at almost 19% CAGR year on year. However when we look at the Indian beer scene standing at 275 million cases and the spirits at well over 300 million cases we know that wines have a long way to go. India by the turn of this decade will turn into the youngest nation of the world with an average age of 29; this demographic dividend gives India the opportunity to let its market grow not by one or two but three digits. In my opinion two factors can lead to exponential growth; pricing and knowledge.
I strongly feel the day we can buy a good bottle of table wine for less than 250 Rs, a price equaling two 650 ml bottles of beer, wine trade can flourish and capitalize on the growing middle class and urbanization in the country. Currently most recognized or rather acceptable quality of Indian wines start at Rs 500; even higher in Maharashtra because of the taxes and go up to Rs 1700. Grover Zampa which sells its Chene at Rs 1700 also sell Sante a sub-brand at around Rs 400 and many other prominent wineries like Sula and Charosa have sub-brands at a lower price. What distinguishes Santé from many other sub-brands is that it comes in single varietals like Chenin and Shiraz than ambiguous blends and secondly it has a story to tell on its label and also otherwise. A good part about these sub-brands is that it helps narrow the gap between a 330ml pint of beer and a 150 ml glass of wine in a restaurant but at most restaurants the latter if twice the former. Lastly the SKUs are mostly 750ml, we need more of 375ml and also 175ml bottles in retail firstly to get consumers to try wines and secondly to cater to a large population who do not drink at home and like to buy drinks for the evening. Indian wines are selling in the UK at 7 pounds including costs of export and margins; I do not see a reason why a winery can’t reach the said disruptive price point back home.
The price without knowledge would be a half hearted effort. ATL marketing of any kind is banned for liquor in India and what works best is experiential marketing to get to know the product better. Sula wines pioneered the wine trail in Nasik, people got acquainted to wines through experiencing the vineyards, wine festivals and events across metros have got people the first hand experience to taste wines in the guise of a fun weekend afternoon or an employee engagement session at work. For a serious wine drinker lot of structured courses from WSET-London and the like are being offered in the country. But what will make sell wine more in a nascent wine market like ours is when the custodians, people at the consumer point of contact are trained well to share their opinions on wine. Restaurant servers, floor staff in retail and the wine buying authority need to be well versed with what they sell,sadly most of them especially in wine retail are lagging significantly. In a recent wine buying episode of mine, I was being upsold a rose wine at around Rs 3000 from the year 2004, this wine perhaps would have shown at its acceptable best in 2007 and I was being sold one in 2014. The retail employee from that very popular retail brand wasn’t trying to fleece but he was completely ignorant and went by the adage “Older the wine the better it is”. Knowledge is the crux to people coming back to drink more wine after the first trial, I perhaps would never had gone to buy wine after drinking that 2004 rose.
Assuming quality and proper storage of wines is in order; the above two factors should be the calling for wine business’ in the country.
Mariano Garcia the legend of Spanish winemaking was in Mumbai on invitation from the Spanish embassy and I was glad to seek an opportunity to interact with him over 2 hours and also taste his wines at the Arola, J W Marriott, Mumbai.
Son of a winery worker, Mariano then a teenager got his shot to fame when he was pulled into a blind tasting by a winemaker as they were short of one taster. With no knowledge of wines he was the only one in the group who could identify two identical wines from the 20 they tasted and the rest is history. He became the Chief winemaker of the illustrious Vega Sicilia at the age of 24 and was with them until 1998, 3 decades to be precise. Mariano now runs his own, Bodegas Mauro in Tudela de Duero which he had established in 1978 and the more recent Bodegas Maurodos in the D.O of Toro.
Mauro is located west of the D.O of Ribera Del Duero in the province of Valladoid and is named after Mariano Garcia’s father Mauro. Located at an altitude of 760 metres it is subjected to a continental climate with cold winters and very warm summers. The temperature variation between day and night allows a long ripening season for the grape thus the increased intensity of aromas. They plant Tempranillo and syrah in a 55 Ha plot and bottle around 270k bottles a year including all labels. On asking if the D.O of Ribera Del Duero will extend its boundaries to be associated to Bodegas Mauro, Mariano with a smile on his face said, “Vega Sicilia was not a part of Ribera once, Ribera extended its boundaries just to get Vega Sicilia in and gain from the latter’s fame. We at Mauro are striving to offer consumer’s the best, we are happy to sell as a ‘Vino de la Tierra’ as long as the patrons are happy."
Mauro 2010 (Rs 9645):The flagship wine of the winery. A blend of 90% Tempranillo and Syrah, it was bottled in 2012 after aging in French and American barrels. This is a big chewy wine with structured tannins, great acidity, a spicy palate and a long finish. It’s big in alcohol like most Spanish wines and you can feel it.
Mauro VS 2003
Chosen from the best pockets of land this wine is meant for the long run. It was still lovely Ruby in colour and had held up so well. Leather and meat in the first nose and then was minerality and fruit. Again big in alcohol, a very robust wine with plenty of seasoned tannins with a lingering finish.
Located in the D.O of Toro, a region which faces an extreme continental climate, minimum rainfall and has abundant hours of sunshine. The DO was formed in 1987 but never got as much fame until Mariano Garcia opened his own in the region. Tinta de Toro is a strain of Tempranillo adapted to the climate of Toro, with berries slightly smaller and with thick skins with a potential to make age-worthy wines.
Prima 2010 (RS 4300):
A blend of 90 % Tinta de Toro and Grenache, this was a very big wine, one can actually smell the potency of alcohol of this one from a distance. The nose was of sour berries with a palate full of bracing acidity, smooth tannins and a good finish. The acidity in here is very surprising for the climate it comes from. I strong feel it to be a food wine.
San Roman 2009 (RS 9389):
This was my choice, or if I take the liberty to generalize, then most suited for the Indian palate.A 100% Tinta De Toro with 24 months in French and American Oak, this wine is a storm in the glass I must say. The initial whiff was full was meat, leather, foresty aromas underlying which were a lot of fruit scents couple with floral elements. The palate too confirmed the nose and complementing it were big chewy tannins.
It was a super evening with big names and big wines. The question remains, are you the consumer ready to experiment with your wines???
Selecting a wine can be a real challenge for most, especially if they are facing 100 labels or brands in a store; a high number in the Indian scenario! Some can get spoilt for choice in such a situation, some settle for a wine recommended by the store chap who does not understand a word of wines, but most will succumb and bring back home a bottle of their favourite spirit and guzzle down a beer on their way to celebrate their “wine failure” yet again!
So how can you have a more informed wine shopping experience? If you can “phone a wine friend”, nothing like it…..if not then some broad guidelines as below
Understanding wine basics
It will be my endeavour to keep the description as crisp as possible, the idea here is to empower you with enough information to choose and savour wines.
Wine is a fermented beverage made out of grapes. Well it can be made from anything that has sugars but for anything other than grapes, the ingredient goes as a prefix. For e.g Plum wine, Pineapple wine, Rice wine. So when we just say wine it is understood that it is made from grapes.
Types of Wine:
Made out of black grapes; these wines can come in a spectrum from very light bodied to highly robust wines. These wines are consumed between 12-18 degrees celsius. This is the European room temperature. So always leave your reds in the refrigerator for some time in India.
These can be made out of white or black grapes. A white wine from a Black grape? Yes because in a black grape only the skin is coloured but the juice is not. So how does a Red wine get its colour? The skins are soaked in the juice for a day or two to extract colour and that is how.White wines are consumed at temperature ranging from 8-12 degree celsius, based on the style of wine.
These are in-between whites and reds; the pink colour is obtained by soaking the skins for some hours. These wines are again are consumed at 8-10 degree celsius.
The above three types are together called as still wines as these wines do not have trapped carbon-di-oxide and the fizzy wine does. C02 is a by-product of fermentation in still wines it is released and in sparkling it is not. When poured in a glass it the bubbles or the mousse give it a sparkling appearance. You can easily distinguish these wine bottles by their shape which is distinctly different from still wines. Have them chilled; if you want a number then it is 4-6 degrees. Champagne is the most famous sparkling wine.
Fortified because these wines are fortified with spirit and hence the alcoholic percentage of these is anywhere from 16-22 % v/v. They may or may not be sweet, but all of those readily available over the counter in India are sweet ones. The famous ones are Port from Portugal (Port from Goa is an Irony!), Sherry from Spain.
Let us look at some popular grape varieties and their pronounciations
Red Cabernet Sauvignon Ca-bur-neh So-vi-ni-yon
Red Merlot Mer-lo
Red Shiraz or Syrah Shiraz…no complications
White Sauvignon Blanc So-vi-ni-yon Blon
White Chenin Blanc Che-nin Blon
White Viognier Vi-yo-ni-eh
White Semillon Se-me-yon
Common wine terms to begin with:
A dry wine:
Wine with very less sugar, to put a number; it is less than 6gms per litre of wine as opposed to a sweet which is more than 50 gms. The ones between the ends are called off-dry, semi-dry. Many time people get awestruck by the sweet-smelling aromas from the wine and call it sweet when in fact the residual sugar in the wine is hardly any.
Body of a wine:
The body of a wine is essentially its weight on ones palate. For E.g. If you compare Water, Milk and Slice (The seductive mango drink), Water is lightest and Slice the heaviest.
It is the one which causes the mouth to water. The next time you sip a wine, take notice of how profusely or not does your mouth water the more it waters the high is the acidity.
These are elements in a red wine which makes your mouth go dry, the same feeling like when you have black tea. Tannins give structure to a red wine. They come from the grape skins and oak barrels
This term in India is predominantly used for wines to indicate their aging over a longer period in Oakwood. Oak gives certain characters like vanilla etc which makes the wine more complex. But this term is not legally governed and hence does not have the same meaning across wineries when you see it on the label. Reserve wines are more expensive for sure.