The spurt in love for wine sits comfortably with Delhiites who love anything with snob value, which is about mouthing long twisted names of wineries in distant Europe or Italy, and discussing vintages or bouquets of a good red or white they picked up on their trip to Spain. The plush set in Delhi, however, are not the only ones trying hard to get a grip on the latest fad to hit town - being an "instant expert" on wine for its "sophistication". Restaurants holding wine tastings and housing wine cellars at stand-alone multi cuisine restaurants are signs of the new astute tastes of Delhiites who don't mind shelling out over Rs 10,000 for a Pinot Noir at the dinner table with friends especially those who know their Pater 'Marchesi Di Fresco-baldi' from a Gevrey Chambertin 'Les Murots'.
This new interest saw wine sales nearly double in the past year in the national capital region (NCR). About 3.46 lakh wine bottles have gone off the shelf this year as compared to 1.94 lakh last year. And the outlook also seems cheery and high for the rest of the country as India has become the 10th largest growth nation for wine consumption, in value and volume terms, for the period 2009-13, according to the Vinexpo/IWSR 2010 study. The Delhi State Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (DSIIDC) saw an increase of 31% sales in imported wines, as compared to last year (as of December 31, 2011). "Out of the 111 DSIIDC outlets, say around 20 stock up wine, and of these most sales of imported wines are seen in South Delhi and Central Delhi, with women making up 30-40 % of footfalls," says a senior official at DSCIIDC.The allure and the tag of "stylish" drinking aside there is also a conscious decision of the well-travelled Indian who wants to enjoy a "longer" evening says wine connoisseur Sonia Mohindra. "In restaurants you could earlier get away with house wines. Now, people are more specific. And there is also a lot of exposure. Once people have travelled to Europe and America they realise that wine is the drink of choice internationally," she says.
Wine is traditionally not the first drink of choice. "Youngsters will want to experiment with hard liquor and will graduate to wine only later in their 30s. Also the health angle helps. Wine has alcoholic content of only 10-15% and lets you enjoy the evening for longer without the fear of a hangover," says Mohindra. For Sorabh Singh Khurana, a businessman in Delhi, "the leathery sensation of wine on the tongue and the aromas" got him to switch from whisky to wine.
"I try wine from Chile, Russia. I joined the wine society of India, based in Mumbai and I meet with friends once in two months in Delhi to discuss the new wines we have discovered," he says. Introducing most Delhiites to wine are restaurants that stock up on international wines and it's not just French wines, but a whole lot of Chilean, Russian, Italian, American and Spanish wines. "Wine is the future. People today ask for Argentinian, Chilean wines. They ask for wines by the names of the grapes and for premium quality wines," says Diksha Pande, beverage manager, wine library at The Oberoi, Gurgaon. "We also host many activities around wines like wine samplers, menus paired with wines and we now even serve piccolos (small pints or half bottles) of wine for our customers," says Saurabh Khanijo, CEO of Kylin and Sartoria. Wine by the glass is also a popular way to get people to try and experiment, ranging from Rs 595 to Rs 1,595. "We need to stock at least 20 labels by the glass. And have over 700 bottles at the restaurants at any point," he says. Enoteca at the Oberoi in Delhi even has a 'tasting table' where guests are invited to taste wines from different parts of the world before making a decision on their preference.
And it is not just a swirl of white or red in a glass, sparkling wines are also a new-found love for many. Termed as a celebration drink, Champagne and a lot of sparkling wines were kept only for certain occasions, but not any more. "There is a demand for sparkling. With more brands apart from Moets and even Prosecos (Italian sparkling wines) entering the market there are a lot more options," says Kumar Saswat, F&B Manager, Spectra Leela Kempinksi Gurgaon, which houses more than 3000 wines in its wine list, ranging from Rs 2,200 to Rs 3 lakh per bottle.
Wine tastings are also another way for corporates and hotels hosting these events to get their clients and employees to taste good wines. "A lot of corporates ask us to host events to involve their clients. We are called by overseas wine promoters who want to launch new labels," says sommellier Gaurav Anand of Wine Forays, that hosts wine tasting events in Delhi. "We hold around 4-5 wine tastings a month in Delhi and NCR.
"People want to know what the fuss is about, they want to know how to open the bottle, how to taste it, what are the accessories that go with wine. Corporates are holding workshops for their employees who have to interact and host clients from other countries," says Vikram Achanta, CEO and co-founder of Tulleeho, that runs a wine academy, and offers courses by the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET), London, in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. "We also get individuals and hold workshops for large groups. These courses can range from three hour courses costing R1,500-2,000 per person to a day-long extensive course with over 12 wines being tasted that can cost R9,000," says Achanta, who sees around 10-15 people per day-long course held every month. Tulleeho wine academy is one of the three wine academies in the city that have a WSET London certification (the only international wine certification in India). Wine Forays and Wi-Not Consultations are the other centres that give these certifications.
"We get around 12 people per class for the one-day WSET course that costs around Rs 9-10,000. The three day sessions cost Rs 25-30,000, these are the fixed costs for WSET courses, for wine enthusiasts, who get a certificate after writing an exam," says Anand of Wine Forays. But the more popular sessions are the three-hour sessions where there is no certification, but it costs around Rs 1,500-2,000. "We do workshops of over 30-40 people per workshop, and host 3-4 of these a month," says Achanta.
Wine importers have also seen the business booming. Sumit Sehgal, Director, Prestige Wines & Spirits Pvt Ltd, says demand for premium quality wines has increased and people ask about the soil and year with each batch that is ordered. "Travel is the biggest factor, and European and American wine are now favoured the most. Torres wines is one of the top importers in Delhi. The other big players are Brindco sales, Aspri Spirits, Indospirit and Mohan Brothers. "More people are getting involved with wines and there are over 100 importers. The demand for imported wines is also high since the last three years. People want cheap and good wine, and you get that from the new world (Australian and South African) wines," says Vibhuti Sharma, sales manager (institutions) Indospirit. Aspri Spirits, which imports over 140 different labels of imported brands, especially ultra premium French and Italian wines to Taj and ITC hotels, has seen the wine market become big over the last two years. "Australian wines like Jacob's Creek and Two Oceans wines from South Africa are popular with lots of restaurants. The five stars and restaurants with foreign currency flow also see a lot of premium wines being used," says Arijit Ghosh of Aspri Spirits.
People are also picking up imported wines for their collection at homes and as gifts for friends from duty free shops. "Wine is now 10% of our sales in the liquor category, it used to constitute only 1% a few years ago," says Abhijit Das, marketing head of Delhi Duty Free Services Ltd citing that the French Sutter Home Cabernet, Columbia Crest Riesling and the Castillo Di Molina Pinot Noir among the popular wines.
Apart from wines, wine accessories are also being picked up by many Delhiites who want to uncork good times and keep their expensive bottles at the right temperature. "Normally restaurants and bars are the ones with large wine coolers, but now we see a huge surge in the home market. We sell, 19, 36, 48 and even 124-bottle wine coolers in the country. And though the category is new, it is picking up, selling around 150-200 wine coolers across India, " says Sanjeev Dayal, country head, KAFF Appliances that sells wine coolers along with other brands such as Haier, in the country. "We have over 300 items: pouring, presentation, etc. but we look forward to the Delhi market," says Tomoyoshi Kobori of Dozo wine lifestyle (www.winegiftindia.com), who presently supplies wine accessories to top hotels and restaurants in the country and sees a lot of potential for the capital region.
While tastings and academies are taking baby steps in helping people learn more about wine, it is only natural that Delhi has already warmed up to the drink of the gods.