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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Monday, 26 July 2010 10:43

Blog: Wine with Food – Reality Check

Significant time and efforts are being spent to match wine with Indian food by producers and importers, oblivious of the reality that Indians are not really accustomed to drinking wine or generally alcohol with their main meals even as I believe that the campaign must carry on to get consumers to enjoy the synergy that only wine offers for a total gastronomical experience.

Photo:: Adil Arora

At a recent seminar in Santiago in which I made a presentation to the Chilean producers about the Indian market, one producer asked me if I was aware of the ‘Carmenere with Curry’ campaign being launched in UK by ProChile. Replying in the affirmative I said it would be a good match due to slightly higher acidity and spiciness in the wines made from this signature varietal from Chile when produced from the grape with correct ripeness. I also cautioned that people in UK are now accustomed to drinking wine with curry or other cuisines. But in India we are still years away culturally from drinking wine with food, as I illustrate with an example- a birthday party I attended at the residence of a very good wine connoisseur friend.

 It was one of those typical Delhi parties where over fifty guests were enjoying delicious, catered snacks with a multiple choice of drinks. A Rosso di Montalcino and an Italian Sauvignon Blanc from Friuli were quite adequate for the occasion, with the traditional Champagne popping with the cake cutting ceremony for the hostess. DJ was dishing out music that matched the mood and chronological age of the guests.

By conservative estimates, the net worth of the guests present was above $2.5 billion-the idea is only to stress that they all belonged to the ultra High Networth Individual (HNI) category which is always highlighted when one talks of the potential of imported luxury wine or high end liquor market and growth in purchase of high fashion goods in India.

It would be no surprise for those who know the penchant of Indians to drink scotch and single malt  that only about 10 bottles of wine (6 whites and 4 reds, the typical drinking pattern in Delhi summer) were consumed, till dinner after which we decided to leave. Here is an interesting observation: not one-repeat, not one glass of wine was consumed at dinner which had a spread of over 20 dishes- Indian and not-so-Indian.

It was not a sit-down dinner like the ones organised by wine clubs like the Delhi Wine Club where 40 members routinely consume 34-36 bottles of 5 different wines typically with a 5-course meal; different cuisines including Indian, every time. However, in a similar situation both the wines would have been adequately matched with most dishes on the table. Yet, none of the guests drinking wine earlier, felt the urge to drink wine with the main meal.

The primary reason and I make this point often, is that Indians are not accustomed to drinking wine with food. It is not in our DNA as it were, it is not in our culture to drink wine or any other beverage with food. At times, beer is the accompanying beverage when the food is chili hot; at times people do walk over to the dinner table with the glass of whisky or vodka in their hands from the pre-dinner cocktail. But the only traditional drink is water-even that is not recommended by the ayurvedic practitioners with the meals. Granted there are exceptions, like lassi (buttermilk)in summer or juices, coke etc- but no wine (I remember when I used to live in the US, the jar of cold milk used to be routinely kept on the dinner table). It might be in order to remind readers that there was practically no wine available a decade ago.

This is the true reality. When we drink wine, it is before dinner during the cocktail time. I have observed this repeatedly even at dinners at my house where pre-dinner cocktails turn out to be wine tasting, san spitting bouts where each bottle is interesting and has a different label enticing the friends drink away as there is no tomorrow. But come dinner time, and any odd bottle with left-over wine is difficult to finish.

Surely, there are exceptions-especially in restaurants where people do drink wine with food- though obviously not everyone and not always. Even Indian food is enjoyed with wines of one’s personal preference. But the wine consumption is unlikely to escalate unless the potential group of middle class which is expected to jump to 584 million by 2025 with 95 million people with higher purchasing power, according to a Mckinsey study- fitting into the mould of potential wine drinkers, actually start enjoying wine with food.

Events like wine club dinners help promote this concept. It is not out of place to plug for the wine lover to come together and form more such groups- we need this number to be in hundreds and drink wine with food. Wine-by-the-glass concept is finally catching on in restaurant, though it has not taken off yet at desirable levels. The importers and restaurants need to work together for promotions where a glass of wine is complementary with the main dish. Buying one glass and getting one free is another possibility. There are many innovative options including better availability of half bottles in retail as many times people shun opening a bottle at home as it is not practical to finish it with the meal…

…so that I may hope that at my friend’s birthdays bash five years hence, I would see the clinking of a few wine glasses at dinner time too.

Subhash Arora



Gangesh Khaitan Says:

Very well written article that had some interesting observations. I agree that Indian food and wine in India is not an accepted combination. Indian food abroad may still be served with wine which works more as a replacement for water than a food accompaniment By choice I am a teetotaller, surrounded by friends, family and guests who enjoy their drinks; I take pride in serving the best varieties of drinks to them at home. Wine in India has been introduced only in the last 20 – 25 years. I believe this is consumed more as a status symbol mainly in upmarket homes where individuals are repeatedly exposed to international travel and lifestyle. Most people consuming liquor are keen in getting the buzz quickly at a reasonable cost. India has traditionally served only water with food and replacing water with wine may not be easily acceptable in India. Most of the times wine cost becomes a deterrent too on a regular basis and hence the combination of wine with dinner in India may always be restricted. Though a teetotaller, I am fond of white wine with pizza. On the insistence of my wife I tried a sip some time back and loved the combination, though I would prefer just a glass of wine followed by a couple of bottles of Coke without being afraid of feeling giddy. Wine for me is for my palate and a reason to give company to my family. Coke on the other hand, completes and truly compliments my meal of pizza. Regards, Gangesh Khaitan

Posted @ April 25, 2013 16:47


Subhash Arora Says:

I agree with you so long as the oak does not overpower the fruit in Chenin Blanc. Both the wines you suggest are a perfet match, I feel. Thanks. Subhash

Posted @ August 05, 2010 11:43


Pieter Louw Says:

Very interesting discussion. At our Wine Guild in Johannesburg we recently had a Indian cuisine evening. Wooded, Off-Dry, and even sweeter Chenin blanc's were a perfect match to the mild Indian dishes. Softer styled Shiraz was also good match to mild and stronger spiced lamb and beef. Food and wine pairing excellent medium to promote stylish wine consumption. Wine regards, Pieter Louw

Posted @ August 05, 2010 11:40


Warren Edwardes Says:

"I am sorry I have to disagree with totally. I love oloroso and palo cortado with tapas. But, as a match with Indian food, it's a big no-no" Actually we don't disagree at all on this. Though I should have added a smiley ;-). Sherry just doesn't go with spicy Indian food. The alcohol is almost always too high (burning with chilli) and the acidity is too low (not nimboo pani like refreshing). But Oloroso is a less bad match with spicy food than India's favourite tipple, Scotch Whisky, with a somewhat similar palate (whisky gets much of its flavour from Oloroso casks) but with half the alcohol (though still a lot). And much as I try and persuade people to avoid tannic reds with spicy food they insist on doing so despite the poor match. So we have to go easy on appropriate wine and food matching as most people take no notice and drink their favourite drink with their best liked food. Hence I wrote "I am working on an (impossible) Sherry and Indian ..." But here are my (impossible) thoughts on a competition entry: Nothing more than mildly spicy of course. 1. First course Freshly baked Yeasty Nan stuffed with mildly spiced chicken tandoori with Manzanilla en Rama (so extra yeasty) 2. Main Course Mildly spiced Hyderabad Mutton (pre-marinaded in Dry Oloroso) Biryani Mango and Moscatel pureé to accompany. (Alphonso of course as I'm Goan) with Rich Oloroso. (Rich i.e. slightly sweetened rather than Dry to offset chilies. Though in general I wouldn't touch sweetened Oloroso) 3. Dessert Gulab Jamun and vanilla ice cream sandwich with Pedro Ximenéz . What do you think?

Posted @ July 29, 2010 10:23


D K Raju Says:

Have a customer in Chennai; Presidency club. Got an order for 24 cases, yet to be supplied. Secretary of the club tells me that couple of years ago, wine sale was about 2 % of total liquor sales, But to day it is 10%. I have about 45 customers active on our list. Education and promotion are key and we have certified Sommelier ( wset advanced course)on a full time and whose job is only to train hotel boys and conduct wine tasting and dining events. If I can get through the problems involved in wine lover getting his bottle from a decent retail store in Chennai, I can be busy supplying only to chennai market at least for two years before I think of other Indian markets. Awareness is spreading and what is needed is understanding of wines.

Posted @ July 28, 2010 17:00


Subhash Arora Says:

I am sorry I have to disagree with totally. I love oloroso and palo cortado with tapas. But, as a match with Indian food, it's a big no-no, I believe. Yours is a perfect example of producers trying to hammer their wines with Indian food. It is one thing  pairing for a competition- I was president of the jury at Vinoble 2010 wine competition recently and tasted some fabulous sherries entered, but they are not for Indian food as on today. Mind you my blog is restricted to the consumer scyche in India! Subhash

Posted @ July 28, 2010 14:15


Warren Edwardes Says:

Or forget wine and food matching and go for Oloroso from Jerez. Just a small step from the compulsory Scotch. ;-) I am working on an (impossible) Sherry and Indian Cuisine matching menu for the Copa Jerez competition. I have a three course menu in development: first course with Manzanilla; main course with an Oloroso; and finally the dessert with a Pedro Ximenéz.

Posted @ July 28, 2010 12:10


B.Shankaranarayan Says:

Subhash, I must share with you a very noteworthy incident. A few of us quite liked a particular red from Nashik and wanted to pick it up. So I sent a mail to PGC members. 18 club members ordered one case each! Repeats followed. In all the winery sold 25 cases to 20 buyers. Others bought a dozen each. I bet they are all drinking it at home. Had Nielsen done a study in Pune, "the wine consumption at home" statistic would have been quite different. Pune is where the action is.

Posted @ July 28, 2010 12:08


D K Raju Says:

Subhash, read it and your insight is great. Wine legend is thinking about ways to make wine and food compatible to Indians. Big players should address questions like this and bring in the transformation

Posted @ July 28, 2010 12:07


Maureen Kerleau Says:

A very realistic article Subhash. Hopefully a tip for would-be exporters to India to concentrate more on the wines that can be sipped purely for pleasure before the meal rather than to concentrate their efforts on mind-bending food-pairing. I did however try the Carmenere with curry experience at the London Wine Fair recently - you should give it a try Warren. Its rich, sweetness is somewhat overbearing on its own but similarly to a full-bodied Shiraz I find it an excellent match for rich meaty, not too over-chili dishes.

Posted @ July 27, 2010 18:10


Subhash Arora Says:

Thanks. I was thinking more about the cheaper Rieslings available in India- the kind that have not yet developed the petrol/ diesel nose. Even Pinots from NZ would go better than the Premier or Grand Crus-they are far too elegant and expensive here, though the generic village appelllation wines from Bouchard and Drouhin etc are available in retail in India and are fairly adequate. Some peope would even love the Gewuerztraminer, though I believe it is more of a foreplay so far as Indian cuisine is concerned. Obviously, the choice is far and wide and experimentation is the key-once the kick off takes place. Subhash

Posted @ July 27, 2010 15:39


Warren Edwardes Says:

Yes Off-dry Riesling from Germany and Beuajolais are great with curry. I alluded to them up on my "sweetness" and "no tannins" check list. But "diesel nose" Riesling is a love-hate. Many people not used to aged Riesling hate the diesel notes that typify the wine. BoJo and Pinot Noir are IMHO the best still reds, being low in tannin, with (mildly) spicy food. But not quite the refreshing wines I seek.

Posted @ July 27, 2010 15:37


Subhash Arora Says:

That's great, Shankar! Congratulations. This is a good sign. It will help us all predict that the wine culture in Pune will continue to grow faster than the rest of the country- I think it has been over 50% annually, though on a small base. This is heartening and I hope we shall hear likewise from other states as well about their experience. Good luck. Subhash

Posted @ July 27, 2010 15:34


B.Shankaranarayan Says:

Subhash, The answer to "how many of your members went home and had wine with the Indian food in the following month?". I think a great many do. Just last weekend at a friend's, all seven of us including two 80 year olds had wine and then a home cooked Indian meal. Some of us took the glass to the table, others did not. I'm working on how to create a home cooked Indian meal (by the host or the help)that can be accompanied by wine at the table. The key is lies in designing the appropriate menu.

Posted @ July 27, 2010 15:30


kskarnic Says:

Dear Sri. Arora, You have rightly pointed out the drawbacks in the marketing strategy being followed most of the wine makers. Irrespective of the class Indians are fascinated over foreign made liquers than the the real healthy, sober and finer wine. Time is needed to convince he consumers about the advantages of wine over other drinks

Posted @ July 27, 2010 12:02


Subhash Arora Says:

I agree. But you forgot two main wines, I think. Off-dry Riesling from Germany and Beuajolais (I recommend Cru Beaujolias as it gives the best value with the best quality it has to offer-otherwise Village is fine too). Even Verdicchio from Italy, Albarino from Spain are great-and the list is endless. We need to get into the habit. Incidentally, DNA was being melodramatic!!! Please remember I am not a priest but an evangelist.As we know, even in the US and Australia, wine was not a 'given' with food till a few decades ago. Subhash

Posted @ July 27, 2010 11:59


Warren Edwardes Says:

Great article. But culture, perhaps, but DNA no. In the UK a few decades ago there was hardly any curry eaten. My recipe is REFRESHING = beer cold; naturally semi-sparkling (not gas injected like beer and frizzante rather than fully sparkling to leave room for food); no mouth-drying tannins (so no reds maybe rosés - or maybe some sweetness which offsets tannins) good nimboo pani like mouth-watering acidity; no oak as it leads to bitterness with cumin, coriander and ginger. some residual sugar as sugar calms chilli and chilli offsets sweetness. So a Champagne, Moscato, Brachetto, sparkling Shiraz or similar.

Posted @ July 27, 2010 11:58


Subhash Arora Says:

You are absolutely right and I know your club is doing a wonderful job of promoting food and wine. Our wine dinners in Delhi Wine Club are a roaring success with 5 wines paired with food. We had a dinner at Hyatt with fusion Indian- a fabulous meal at the end of which we realised that no dal or roti had been served and no one missed it. We were the first ones in Delhi to organise a dinner at the Fire Restaurant at the Park with Gaja wines when Brindco started importing. We had iconic wines like Barbaresco as part of our 5-wine portfolio. But despite out explicitly requesting the chef, the food was so hot that it was a disaster as a match. Believe me, each dish was superb by itself. Therefore, while agreeing with you I'd like to know how many of your members went home and had wine with the Indian food in the following month. Not many-I am sure. It may be of interest to you that I am incorregible. the next dinner of Delhi Wine Club is at Diya Restaurant (Indian cuisine) in Hotel Leela Palace at Gurgaon. Subhash Arora

Posted @ July 27, 2010 11:54


B.Shankaranarayan Says:

You are absolutely correct in your assessment. The answer to the big question - How to make Indians enjoy wine with food? - probably lies in reinventing the Indian meal to make it more suitable for consumption with wine. Before you know it, the plate with Indian food when served is full and the red you so wanted to enjoy with the rogan josh sits forlornly on the side. Nobody lingers over dinner to savour the meal. Once the plate is filled, the objective is to finish it asap. To see if we can actually consume wine with an Indian meal, I tried out an experiment in the Pune Gourmet Club. I announced a 25 course sit down dinnerwith pan India cuisine served by the course, paired with two whites and a red. Everyone had a blast. If in western cuisine, a main course can be paired with wine, why not in Indian cuisine? All one asks is to create dishes that do not overpower the wine but complement it. Our chefs need to give a light touch to our traditional dishes and get away from this cream-onion-tomato gravy fits all recipes. I have no doubt that in the coming years there Indian dishes will be enjoyed on their own, with a glass of wine.

Posted @ July 27, 2010 11:28


Subhash Arora Says:

I agree. I have no doubt that Indian market has a great potential. This is a market which has a potential- where people are capable of drinking Chateau Latour or Lafite, Gaja or Sassicaia, Grange or Hill of Grace, Screaming Eagles or Harlan without knowing or caring what is inside the bottle once they know the social status involved withe these brands. But what I meant to empasise is that there are other more important means and channels of promoting the wine culture. Even pizza and beer is an accepted, popular combo whereas 'pizza and wine' still crawls due to not many promotions. We need to look at such channels more closely than matching wine with Indian food as the primary and secondary objective. And i must emphasize i am talking about India. Subhash Arora

Posted @ July 27, 2010 11:25


Curtis Marsh Says:

It is indeed refreshing to read commentary on the reality of the India wine market, with wine producers around the world starting to believe the Asia markets are their Eldorado and a reality check much needed. On the positive side, I personally view Indian cuisine (in global terms)and subsequently the Indian wine market as the most exciting of all wine and food evolutions - it is a blank canvas with an infinite kaleidoscope of flavors and textures to explore. And with 514 million projected middle class people, I'm following this trajectory closely. Emphasizing the initiative of promoting wines by the glass as strategic cultural progression, consumers should take note of a watershed development in wine preservation with WineSave - without question the most full-proof and affordable way to facilitate wine by the glass without any spoilage or waste, both at home and restaurants. Cheers The Wandering Palate

Posted @ July 27, 2010 11:06


Nainaz Shroff Says:

My Compliments to you. This is a fantastic read & article. You have touched on to a topic which has been very close to my heart and also as suggested is very Deep Rooted due our Indian Cultural Customs & Traditions. Having said that, I bet there is ample room for adventure and the never ending spirit to provide the same !! ...... All that's missing is perhaps A CLINK ;)

Posted @ July 26, 2010 17:45


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