Ten years into its economic boom, India has transformed itself: Though poverty is still widespread, millionaires abound. Their new drink of choice – Wine
Though the annual per capita intake of wine is low, among India’s rapidly expanding middle and upper classes, wine drinking is the latest craze. Like luxury cars and watches, it is an obvious badge of “I’ve arrived”-particularly for the 20-somethings staffing India’s new call centers with lots of disposable income to burn-and drink.
Wine sales have grown a staggering 30% annually for the last five years to the tune of 700,000 cases a year. This is despite religious and social taboos against drinking alcohol-a phenomenon many refer to as “the Indian paradox.”
About 40% of the wine consumed in India is being poured in Mumbai, India’s party and entrepreneurial capital, where packed wine bars like Olive’s Kitchen and Bar have proliferated and Bollywood and cricket stars, ex-pats and investment bankers are lining up for their glass of champagne or chardonnay.
Wine classes and seminars are being offered at every turn. Those new to the grape can read all about sniffing and swirling in the glossy India Sommelier magazine. It’s drawing such reputable contributors as Jancis Robinson, editor of The Oxford Companion to Wine and the wine correspondent for The Financial Times.
Large wine makers from France, Spain, Italy and Australia are vying for a piece of India’s vast market potential. It’s estimated that by 2010, wine consumption will have jumped to 1.8 million cases annually.
Sopexa, the food and beverage marketing and promotion board of France, set up shop in Delhi to preach “buying French.” Faced with competition from New World wines, Asia, India in particular, has become a big-stakes playground for French wine makers.
They’ll have to compete with Indian wines, which are also making a name for themselves and stepping out on the global market.
The three largest wineries of India are Chateau Indage, Grover Vineyards and Sula Vineyards. The latter was founded by Rajeev Samant, a Stanford grad who worked in finance at Oracle before he returned to his native India to plant mango trees in the late 1990s and discovered his soil was better suited for grapes. His winery is in Nashik, in the state of Maharashtra, also known as “The Napa Valley of India.”
Samant’s timing could not have been better: He released his first cases of sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc (two wines that go down well with India fare) in 2000-just when India’s boom was uncorked.
Samant has opened an industrial-chic wine bar, The Tasting Room in Mumbai, that attracts a celebrity clientèle. Chateau Indage plans to open 1,000 casual wine bars – Starbucks-style across the country to expose Indians of lesser means to the pleasures of sipping primarily Indian wine with their local cuisine.
Wine Hot Spots in India
Travertino, The Oberoi, New Delhi
Best Italian Wine Selection
Launched in association with Hotel Hassler in Rome, Travertino offers a quintessentially Italian dining experience with such dishes as braised lamb shanks with lentils and sweet garlic. Their signature pasta is made in-house, but the wine hails from every corner of Italy, including Sicily, Venezia and Piemonte, Veneto and Toscana.
Diva, New Delhi
This minimalist restaurant run by Ritu Dalmia is a favorite among India’s stylish crown and ex-pat Italians. It boasts a wood-fired oven and dishes out modern riffs on Italian classics like Duck Carpaccio with feta cheese and artichoke hearts. These vegetables are notoriously tough to pair with wine–but you’ll be sure to find something among Diva’s 450 labels.
The Spice Route, The Imperial Hotel, New Delhi
Best Riesling Selection
The Spice Route serves Southeast Asian cuisine, and from a design and culinary standpoint reflects the journey of spices from the Malabar Coast in Kerala through Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia to Thailand and Vietnam. Wines at all of the Imperial restaurants have been exclusively selected by consultants throughout Europe and the New World. Its Rieslings are considered tops.
Best International Wine List
An ex-pat favorite, this intimate restaurant set in a candlelit old mansion on a Colaba side street offers Indian-Western fusion cuisine, such as pepper tuna and tandoori rosemary chicken. The global wine list trots from Alsace and Bourgogne to Germany and Austria, Australia and the Napa Valley. Indigo was one of the first restaurants to pour better domestic wines, like the award-winning and pricey Sula Dindori Shiraz 2003.
The Zodiac Grill, The Taj Mahal, Mumbai
Most Bordeaux And California Verticals
This elegant dining room featuring a fancy French menu that changes monthly (like the Zodiac) received Wine Spectator’s Best of Excellence Award for its breadth and depth. Expect to find some exorbitantly priced heavy-hitters to go with your foie gras and truffles.
Pure, Taj Lands End, Mumbai
Best Organic Wine Selection
Smack in Bollywood’s swanky suburb, Pure has the feel of an airy white spa. But the all-organic cuisine–salmon with caramelized cauliflower, lobster and sweet corn succotash–tastes more delicious than righteous. All of the wines on the list are organic or biodynamic to match the kitchen’s sensibilities.
Olive Bar & Kitchen, Mumbai
Best Place To Drink Bubbles
Bollywood babes and cricket stars are all over this Mumbai hot spot, which serves Mediterranean dishes like lobster risotto and peppercorn-crusted calamari–made with actual olive oil instead of clarified butter. The wine, champagne and cocktail list is extensive and pricey.
Masala Art, Taj Palace Hotel, New Delhi
Best Food And Wine Pairings
Widely regarded as the best showcase for Northern Indian cuisine, this modern dining room features an open-display kitchen and traditional Mughal delicacies. Must-try dishes include the Gilouti Kebab, Khushk Raan and Katliyan Aloo. The wine list, recently honored with a Best of Excellence Award by Wine Spectator, features many bottles carefully chosen for the rich and spicy dishes.
Orient Express, Taj Palace Hotel, New Delhi
Best Selection Of Trophy Wines
The Orient Express dining room at the Taj Palace Hotel looks like the legendary train and features cuisines from all the countries through which it passed in its prime, with a particular emphasis on France. One of the few restaurants in India to offer amuses bouche and palate cleansers, the exorbitant wines that cost more than the average salary of most Indians. Consider the 1992 Petrus ($1,200) and a 1999 Chateau D’Yquem Sauternes ($640).