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I Spy Wine: India Wine Trends 2016

It is that time of the year when I dust my crystal ball and peer into it, in the hope that the wine gods will jump out and make a power-point presentation of their 2016 plans. In the absence of that, I am once again left with my nose to sniff out what can be, keeping in mind wine trends that have been emerging lately.

Much after a few years of deceased consumption until 2011, the Indian wine industry has witnessed a steady growth in its wine consumption since 2012, recording double digit figures in 2013 and 2014. Vinexpo studies forecast a striking recovery in the India wine market with an assumed growth of 73.5% by 2017. This translates to 2.4 million cases of wine consumed by 2017. Whilst these figures are a tiny speck in the face of China’s whopping consumption of 178 million cases of wine more recently, for India, it is still little baby steps in the right direction. Indian wine business continues to survive and dare I say grow, in the midst of battling punitive import taxes on imported brands. Wine is still considered a luxury, heaven knows why. The central level tax on wine imports is 150%. Then there are state level taxes, all of which layer up as quickly as a polished diamond gathering lint and grease.

But don’t let this lose your sparkle. Crystal ball predicts that a vast majority of all wine consumed in 2015 will be produced in India. As wine manufacturing matures and quality of Indian wine improves, the consumer will opt for more and more Indian wines as their first choice for both quality and affordability.

Here are my wine consumption trends for 2015.

1. Premium Indian Reds: The Big and the Bold

Vinexpo studies confirm that Indians predominantly drink reds. Given that nearly 61% of all wines consumed are reds, it is about time we graduated from the poor excuse we’ve been drinking to something world class. The Indian wine drinker today is more informed and aware, and expects his wine to be like his ego - big and bold. Indian wine producers are pulling out all corks to meet the expectation by investing in expensive oak barrels, better quality fruit, sophisticated winemaking processes, higher extraction methods, and international intellectual capital by way of flying winemakers. In fact, at a recent judging, I was surprised to discover that from the 90 odd wines we tasted, some of the Indian Reds are absolutely fantastic – great balance, succulent and bright fruit with some ambitious winemaking. Hardly any of the wines displayed unclean funky aromas – a stigma attached to Indian wines for long before now.

But, because it is “Made in India”, does not mean it is going to be cheap. Starting at Rs.800 for a Myra Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, a mid-priced Sula Rasa at Rs.1200 and all the way upto Rs.1700 for a Grover Zampa’s Chene Grand Reserve, this level of pricing competes with entry-level imports from Jacobs Creek, Yellow Tail and Mannara. Will consumers buy into the Indian wine story, remains to be seen. But I believe they will. Indian consumers are smart enough to quickly realise that they would rather pay up for more value of wine (than taxes) in a bottle.

2. Women, Prosseco and Sangria – taking big baby steps

A woman goes through two kinds of initiation rites in her life. Let’s talk about the third one that’s emerging. Drinking is a taboo for Indian women. But as we all know, the fun is in breaking rules right? Wine has a softer tone and connotation thus making it more acceptable to consume in public.

Prosseco, Italy’s lighter, crisper, economically priced answer to Champagne, seems to be the choice of the wine newbie lady. It’s bubbly enough to seem light, and heady enough for that much desired happiness. At 11%, is it even alcohol, they say! Besides, who doesn’t love the feel of a champagne flute in her hand?

The once dubious Sangria is also fast becoming a ladies’ friend! It has fruit, it is sweet and it is so enjoyable even during the day. So popular is this trend that Turning Point Wines has recently launched a ready-to-drink Sangria in a bottle in a truly creative packaging of a pint bottle with a crown cap. Simply uncrown like a soda bottle, add the fruit and you’re good to go!

3. Private labels by 5 Star chains

First, we fell in love with the word ‘designer’. Now it’s private label. Luxury hotels import spirits and wines without local levies in exchange for their foreign exchange earnings. Between 30-50% of imported wine is actually free of central duty making private label a compelling business proposition for these hotels.

The Taj group of Hotels has already made a strong foray into this space with 6 curated private labels (4 reds and 2 whites). From flirty whites to ruby reds each wine has been carefully hand-picked, procured and bottled.

The ITC chain has introduced one label and is scheduled to expand their range in the coming months. The Leela Hotels plans to debut collections of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc procured from California, Italy and Australia, this August.

For the Indian wine drinker who seeks exclusivity, this is as exclusive as he can get. For the hotel chain, this presents another opportunity to reinforce trust in their brand creating faster acceptance. For consumers, this trust translates into greater confidence while making their selection.

Personally, I feel private labels will redefine wine economics in India. We will gradually see these curated collections gracing the shelves of retail stores. This will make the markets more competitive and force local producers to be more stringent about quality.

4. Enter the Pinot Grigio

The world cannot seem to have enough Pinot Grigio. There seems to be an unsatiable thirst for Pinot Grigio across international markets of U.S.A and U.K. But before you rush out to buy a bottle, remember that the 2nd ‘g’ in Grigio has an unusual pronunciation, much like how a Frenchman would pronounce ‘J’ in Jean.

The light, crisp and dry Pinot Grigio typically made throught the Veneto region in North East Italy, plays its part well when paired with any food, much because it is too

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unobstrusive and lends itself to manipulation by the food dish. Hence when consumed with Italian or Indian flavours, the piquancy of these dishes enhance the otherwise neutral fruit of this wine. Indian consumers will soon realise that its un- dominating character is in-fact its biggest strength, and its bracing acidity and refreshing quality is in-fact a boon for tropical climate countries such as ours.

5. Merlot Tempranillo and Malbec

When Sula’s Founder Rajeev Samant admits at the Masters of Wine World Symposium in the presence of all top wine influencers around the globe, that Cabernet Sauvignon in India has been a dismal failure and he has decided to replace Sula’s plantings in favour of Tempranillo, it means business. At the same Master of Wine Symposium in Florence in May 2014, grape geneticist José Vouillamoz stated that “the greatest growth between 2000 and 2010 had come from Tempranillo, followed by the Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.”

This further testifies the fact that the trend towards ripe rich reds with ripe rounded tannins is growing. Other than Tempranillo, grape varieties like Malbec and Merlot will reveal and revel in their greatness. Have you tried the Indian red wine Vallonne Merlot yet? If not, go grab a bottle to see what I mean!

These are my humble forecasts, but like I always say, forget the future and just follow your palate. It’s your best judge.

Salud!

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