Enhancing Wine Cultures


A conversation with Mr. Ashish Varma, Bar Executive, Sheraton Grand Chennai Resort & Spa

Wine tourism is rising in India. It has reached a peak where the Government has declared it to be a kind of tourism. With the same context please tell us about the rise of wine in Indian in the past decade and its future in the land of whiskey lovers?

Mr. Ashish Varma:- The Indian consumers have started exploring other wine variants and not just red wines. Today it is just not about the color of traditional Indian red wines, it’s also about the increase in popularity of white, sparkling, rose and other wines into the Indian market.

The consumption of Wine in India is found to be increasing with the rise of awareness of wine as a drink that’s good for one’s health. The wine market of India observed growth with a CAGR of more than 25% in the past five years.

The growing popularity of Vineyards as tourism places, higher disposable incomes, steady growth of foreign tourists, promotion of wine as beneficial to health etc. are some of the reasons for such growth. Global travel and exposure to other countries where drinking wine is a part of the lifestyle is also helping to drive the sales of wine in India.

One of the major obstacles in the growth of the wine market is the price of wine, which is comparatively higher than other alcoholic beverages, and India being a price-sensitive country people generally doesn’t prefer consuming wine. Despite this, the number of Indian winemakers is on the rise and the consumption of imported wine is high in India. 

Wine is considered to be a fairly new and a very young category in India, but there is a demand, has a strong performance and a high potential that is leading to the entry of several new players. While at the same time existing companies are expanding their product portfolios and presence in various regions of the Indian market. 

The wines in the Indian market are generally segmented as Red wine, White wine, Sparkling wine, Rose wine and other wines. Red wines are the most popular and most consumed wine having a large market share. While white, rose and sparkling wine are emerging segments. 

Wine is sneaking its way in the F&B Industry. It has evolved to be a major part of the fine-dining concept. Please tell us about its current importance in the industry?

Mr. Ashish Varma:- The luxury hospitality industry has been expanding constantly and so does the importance of the Wine Consultant. A wine consultant’s job is not only highly specialized but also a necessity in ensuring that any hotel or restaurant that offers a fine dining experience should serve an appropriate accompanying wine in the right conditions.

As a wine consultant, he or she should have a thorough understanding of the history and geography of wine, viticulture and viniculture, the wine market, vintages, sourcing, pairing with foods and, finally, a discernible nose and palate to identify the top wines.

A wine consultant primarily assist those in the service industry by instructing them on which wholesalers to use to import wines as well as independent retailers to stock up on specialty wines. It is also important for them to work with restaurateurs to create a top-notch wine list and guide them on how to properly store and display their wine goods.

It is a known fact that keeping a qualified wine consultant can increase wine sales by 25% to 50%, as it is his/her business to know what to buy and how to sell – like, for example, advising on how to price listed vintages.

The best recommendation for any hotel or restaurant is to work with a wine consultant at the conception stage of any venue. This will help in using optimal methods of storing and displaying wine seamlessly and also working towards design and structural issues of the building, while trying to accommodate a wine room.   

Biodynamic wines will be the next big thing this year. Please tell us about the evolution of wine in a more sustainable and healthy manner?

Mr. Ashish Varma:- Since the evolution of wines, the trends have been changing in the way of producing it. In the second half of the 20th century, chemicals were used significantly, in order to control pests and diseases and produce a better harvest. 

Winemakers are taking a few steps that would help in producing wines in a more sustainable way would be to reduce the use of chemicals. This in turn will help in improving the health of the farmers, the vines and the greater ecosystem. 

Vineyards across the globe are focusing more with sustainability in mind and Biodynamic wines are a small subset of sustainability, which winemakers are trying to focus and implement to help nourish the soil and take care of the land in a sustainable fashion.  

Along with the age of wine its beautiful packaging and the choice of glassware to drink it plays a major role in enjoying it. Please tell us about it?

Mr. Ashish Varma:- A wine-drinking experience is made up of two parts; first is the wine chosen and the second being the glassware. It is said that there is a real science to the wine glass and how it makes wine taste even better. A wine produces a distinct flavor based on factors such as climate, terroir, and the choice of clone, the viticulturist’s methods and different techniques used by the winemaker employees. Sula Vineyards’ Shiraz differs subtly to Cabernet but can be distinguished with Chardonnay entirely. The real motivation is amplifying the aroma as 70% of taste comes from the aroma. Thus, during the wine tasting session, the guests are explained about the 5 S’s – See – Swirl – Sniff – Sip – Savor. 

A wine’s aroma is broken up into four categories:

Fruit and floral

Earthiness and spice

Oak (or tannin)

Alcohol (Ethanol)

The other important aspect is the importance of aging your wine. During the ageing process, the perception of a wine’s acidity may change even though the total measurable amount of acidity is more or less constant throughout a wine’s life.

 Indian made wines are now available in flavors like Rose and Sapota. What is your take on this uniqueness?

Mr. Ashish Varma:- India is not traditionally a wine-drinking country. Due to an earlier period of prohibition in India and higher price compared to spirits like whisky and brandy manufactured in the country, the manufacture and consumption of wine in India is insignificant, when compared to other countries. The Indian wine industry has been steadily growing over the last ten years and wine is gradually becoming a part of the urban Indian lifestyle. 

This is mainly due to excessive exposure to new cultures, western concepts, changing choices of the young population are increasing its acceptance, especially in the upper and middle classes. 

The other global trend for drinkers who are vegan and many vineyards are now focusing more on developing vegan wines or vegan-friendly wines.