With so many labels striving to get into the small Indian market it is important for the imports to already have it or create brand image in India. However, not all brands may carry bragging rights. These may still find market for their brand value but would not garner value for the bragging rights. The classic example is Jacobs Creek from Australia. The biggest selling foreign brand has a brag factor but only for the novices or those belong to a segment that is impressed with anything that is foreign. Being a well-known international brand, it has an expanding market but it cannot command a premium and a major factor in the sales are the low, affordable prices for the mass market.
Another wine in this category used to be Mouton Cadet. A decade ago when the wine knowledge was as limited as the brands available, people had the misconception that when they drank Mouton Cadet, it was the real McCoy- Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Although that myth was shattered soon, it still sells for a premium to the brand value as there are many who get away by bragging to their lesser informed friends, convinced that it is one of the most sought after Bordeaux wines.
One of the fastest growing brands with immense bragging rights is Brunello di Montalcino. Brunello is a brand in India- it is generally not very material who the producer is. There are not many who have heard of the iconic brands like Biondi Santi or Soldera. A Label like Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino may not cut much ice for its bragging rights but if you tell someone it is a Gaja wine, then you will see the eyes widen.
Gaja is of course a world-famous brand that put Barbaresco on the world map. They also have iconic single vineyard labels-blended with a small quantity of Barbera- like Costa Russi, Sori Tildin, Sori San Lorenzo and Sperss. But the bragging rights are pretty much the same for their Barbaresco or even Tuscan label Promis which sells for almost a tenth of the price. I don’t mind confessing that I served Gaja Promis at my daughter’s (and later my son’s) wedding and though it was the first time ever that a Gaja wine was served at a banquet in India, I chose to tell my guests afterwards that one of the wines was a Gaja Promis! Nobody cared to know it was a Promis and not a Barbaresco. But they were impressed enough that it was a Gaja. Even today the buzz word and the brand with bragging rights is Gaja. This implies that to sell more of the other labels the bragging rights have to be created to make them more prestigious and iconic.
But Gaja does not have as strong bragging rights as, say Sassicaia. One of the billionaires, who I used to work for many years ago, is a wine connoisseur and buying the most expensive wines would be a small change for him. Since he knows about my passion for wines, he always asks how the wine ‘business’ is doing whenever I run into him. Once when I commented that he should nothing less than the iconic Gaja wines from Barbaresco since he could well afford them, his innocent reaction was ‘What is Gayya?’ He drinks Sassicaia! No bragging rights for Gaja for all the people who are invited to his house for numerous parties!
Talking of Sassicaia-I had a phone call a few years ago from the PA to some minister in Punjab, who wanted to know if I could help him procure a couple of cases of a wine called...Sasi..saso...Sass(he could not pronounce the name). When I said-Sassicaia, I could hear him jump off the chair with excitement as he said, ‘yes, yes! That’s the one!’ When I told him I did not sell wine and didn’t know the importer who could sell him a few cases but I could direct him to the importer of an equally iconic wine-Gaja, he said with a tone of disappointment, ‘no, no-the minister wants only this label as someone has told him this is the best Italian wine!). Same goes for the Super Tuscan Ornellaia which has perhaps more bragging rights than the super iconic Masseto by the same winery Ornellaia in Maremma.
To get things in a proper perspective and comparisons, I chose a decent year 2005 and checked the average prices from my favourite site www.wine-searcher.com. Ornellaia costs $200 whereas Sassicaia is priced at a close $204. But Sassicaia has bigger bragging rights than say Gaja Sori Tildin ($330), Costa Russi (($360) or even the pricey San Lorenzo ($390). But all these pale in front of Masseto, a 100% Merlot which sells for a whopping $702 (If you don’t know who the owner is, it is the most iconic wine of Italy-check it out its history and it will make you salivate). Yet, if you served it at a party of friends who are connoisseurs but not collectors, they would not be as impressed with a Sassicaia or even a Tignanello. The latter is a great value-for money ($92) wine which qualifies to be the top appellation of Chianti Classico, Gran Selezione Chianti Classico docg from Tuscany but might lose some of its sheen if Antinori did it. Reason for the brag factor- many of the HNWs (High Net Worth individuals) in India love this wine even though they cannot pronounce it (not important-though it might even have adding to the exotica and hence the bragging factor)
Same is true with Barolo as a brand, which has become synonymous with top quality Italian wine. It is not important in most circles whether it is Giacomo Conterno Monfortino or Bruno Giacosa or Giuseppe Mascarello, the brag factor of Barolo as a brand has immense pull. It’s enough to serve any Barolo to a big number of people even at a banquet or as an aperitif. All they know is Barolo is a well known ‘brand’ and they can brag about it while serving ‘the wine of kings and king of wines.’
Cristal has enough of bragging rights to talk about the history of Tsars and how it was produced especially for the corrupt and rich tsars while finishing the whole bottle of champagne of Cristal 2005 costing at $225. But this is still less than Armand de Brignac Gold Ace of Spade costing over $300 but with much less brag factor.
The list is endless; I have selected only a few examples from my experience to illustrate my point. A Louis Vuitton, Prada or Gucci purse would set you back by over Rs. 100,000. But Indian women carry it, not necessarily because it functions better or even because the quality is better or it would last for ever. They want to be seen carrying it by as many friends as possible-because of the bragging rights created over the years. The same logic would apply to wines when the well-known brands reach a level where enough people understand the bragging factor. Just like the Chinese line up at the Louis Vuitton store in Paris to pick up a bag for themselves or even to sell (imagine with over 200-250% taxes on these wines, how many would become carriers) , people would carry them back or buy at the Duty Free shops in India. But, eventually the luxury wine shops that are waiting in the wings up would gladly carry such expensive wines because of the brag factor.
And like that minister from Punjab, even the rich villagers would clamour to serve Sassicaia... or hopefully several other Brands with Bragging Rights. Of course, like women’s bags the fake wines would spring up soon. This will also create a new market –of fake wines Fortunately it is too early to forecast the size of the market.