Liquor inspired colours !!

Mumbai, India


Marsala - colour and liquorMimosa - Colour and LiquorMarsala after being declared the Pantone colour of the year is already in vogue for the upcoming spring collection.  What’s more to Marsala than its allure??  Did you know you know the colour got its name from Marsala a fortified wine made in the city of Marsala in Sicily, Italy?  It is used in a lot of Italian cooking and it’s famous for its use in the popular Zabaglione.  However Marsala is not the first colour inspired by an alcoholic beverage, with Holi, the festival of colors coming up let us look at some more colours that are just not warm to the eyes but can also get you the happy high.

Mimosa: It was the 2009 colour of the year from Pantone, was inspired from the flowers of the Mimosa and the sparkle of the cocktail Mimosa. The cocktail is as fresh as the colour, with Triple Sec and orange Juice topped with Champagne.

Chateau D' Yquem Colour and LiquorSauterne:  The region on the southern end of Bordeaux, it’s known for its sweet luscious wines which command a fortune and age for decades. And this enchanting colour gets its name from the elixir made from the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grape. Chateau D’Yquem has led the pack here for more than a century.
Champagne/Pink Champagne:  When I-Phone came in its gold variant, people and the press called it the Champagne colour, haven’t researched enough but perhaps for convenience Apple still mentions it as gold.  Champagne the epitome of sparkling or fizzy wines can only be made in Champagne a region in France using the methode Champenoise way of production which outside the regions is called the methode traditionelle or the traditional method.  And the pink variant of it find place in the Pantone’s list.
Champagne  colour and liquor
chartreuse Colour and liquorBurgundy: Not very far from Champagne is the region of Burgundy in the north-east of France. The colour Burgundy gets its name from the perfumed red wines the region produces from the Pinot Noir grapes.  These wines can fetch astronomical prices and very often goes in to lakhs for a bottle.
Chartreuse : After all the grape ferments above this one is a liqueur made by steeping more than 130 plants and flowers  and is the world’s only naturally green coloured liqueur. Made by monks, this French product still uses the recipe from the 17th century and only two monks at the distillery know of it.  At 55% alcohol, this ‘elixir of long life’ as the original manuscript read is best enjoyed cold; people have it on ice or in long drinks these days too.Cheers!!!

Drink your wine …. the world doesn’t care!!

Mumbai, India

“ Give me a sweet wine’ asked a seemingly well heeled customer at a prominent South Mumbai wine store and the store associate handed him a bottle of ‘port no X’ without even a blink. The customer left happy but not before confirming, ‘Pakka meethi hai na’ he said. Well sweetness could be one of the factors that influences and perhaps the reason why a group of mid-management executives whom I ringed in the New Year with, drank sweet fizzy wine worth 350 a bottle and also declared their love for port.   Is it that simple when it comes to people’s buying behavior in the country which consumes around 10 ml of wine per capita as opposed to France’ 40 litres!

I was in Bengaluru recently and met a finance honcho at his home. Knowing my background, he instantly let me see his collection of wine bottles, all Indian which he had bought at a ‘shut down’ sale. The collection included everything from a shiraz to a merlot to a cabernet sauvignon, all grape varieties and even a Goan port wine which is overwhelmingly sweet unlike all others which were dry (not sweet).I asked him his favorites and he said he like them all, his said his work involved a lot of stress and the customary glass of wine with dinner gave him a good night sleep and he also cited the health benefits from the red.  In this case the wine was more therapeutic and the finance man he was, he just spent wisely!!

Another therapeutic use of a wine I stumbled upon with good evidence was when businessman at a plush Delhi hotel ordered a 12 liter bottle of sparkling wine. This therapy was psychological, he asked the server to get the bottle with all pomp and show to his table and then take it to his car, yeah he did not open it since he knew he couldn’t finish it between two of them, all he got was the eyeballs from fellow diners and he left a happy man after paying close to a million rupees in cash!!

As most of you would think, I am trying to pass some judgement about the people in contention above!!  No, what I am trying to do here is to demystify wines and want to tell you that people won’t be passing judgments about you when you did not know your wines!!  Did you know about hops in a beer when you had your first or did you know about peat when you really liked your first Scotch whisky, you perhaps still do not know about them; then why does wine come with such a halo that people almost take wine drinking like an examination!!! Please stop believing that people around are sitting to test you on wine jargons, they are there to enjoy their tipples and so are you.

Your wine drinking should start with a random bottle of wine; the price would depend on your propensity to pay but ideally; start lower.  Savour the wine and pass your judgement, you liked it or you didn’t; to begin with and as you gain more experience with them; you can create your own scale. Wine becomes complex as there are close to 5000 grape varieties and all are distinct in their flavor profiles, the more you taste the more you know. Hence making small notes of the wine you have had becomes imperative as it is easy to forget and you could someday go back and pick the same bottle of wine you did not like!! Wine expert reviews are only good to begin with as you would eventually understand if or not your tastes match. Lastly try to pick up a short course on wines, well it surely can help you impress people if that’s your agenda but importantly it will help you drink better. Like someone has said, life is too short to drink bad wine..

Vegetarian Indian food paired with wine!

Mumbai, India

‘Economy forced me to become a vegetarian, but I finally starting liking it.’ admitted Mr. A P J Abdul Kalam, ex-president of India, John Cleese the famous British author once questioned ‘If God did not intend for us to eat animals, then why did he make them out of meat?’ and Sir Paul McCartney of the Beatles fame declared ‘If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.’ Well I am not here to debate about food choices but this topic of vegetarianism or consumption of meat is in contention many a times, with both parties trying to convert each other with the odd Vegan scorning at both of them. I am a vegetarian and strongly believe in eat and let eat.

We vegetarians would inadvertently choose a paneer or a mushroom  considering them being ‘celebratory’ or ‘ exotic’ from a menu and when it comes to choosing a wine from a list to match with our vegetarian food, you memory goes for a spin as nothing much is spoken about vegetarian food and wine pairing. Well it is difficult to pair specific vegetables to specific wines but we shall some broad principles for food and wine pairing whilst witnessing some pairings done by the Sommelier and Chefs from leading hotels in the country.

Rich and Oily:

Any food preparation which is creamy or fried will require a wine high in acidity, the acidity helps to wash down the fat on your palate to make the food experience better. For e.g.: the humble Indian samosa could be paired well with an Indian Chenin Blanc, a grape which is naturally high in acidity. Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Burgundy Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Dolcetto are some wine grapes known for its refreshing acidity.

Tangy and tart:

Tomato, tamarind, vinegar  etc are ingredients which bring the acidity in your food and when pairing a wine with food high in acidity like a tomato pasta or a salad with lemon dressing one should pair it with wines with good acidity, the ones which an stand and shine through the food. Sparkling wines like Champagne, Prosecco or even local produce have mouth watering acidity. Note: Acidity should not be confused with the medical term; it refers to the mouth-watering element in food and beverage.

Chef Debdash Balaga and Sommelier Madhu Sudhanan from Jamavar – Signature Indian restaurant at the Leela Palace, Chennai with their pairing

Veg Food and wine at Jamavar, Leela Palace chennai

Gucchi Makkai Mushrooms:  Kashmiri morels with golden corn and mushrooms in a creamy tomato sauce

 Chassagne-Montrachet, 1er Cru Morgeot, Louis Jadot, 1999: The heavy duty Chardonnay from Burgundy, France

Why does the pairing go well? This golden Chardonnay laden with ripe apple and almond aromas and juicy acidity, complements the opulent sauce and the earthy mushrooms very well whilst allowing one another to unleash themselves to the end. Truly a Royal affair!

Sweets and desserts:

The thumb rule is that the wine should be at least as sweet as the food. Indian gulab jamuns, considering their sweetness are a difficult bet however to put a figure to sweetness in wines, it could be as low as 50 gms of sugar per litre and can go as high as 400. I am sure the jamuns have their soul mate somewhere. The easiest available sweet/dessert wines in India are from local producers like Reveilo, they label it as the ‘late harvest’. Also in contrast; a salt and sweet pairing works well too, a salty cheese and a sweet wine, it pairs  just like goat cheese and honey, like it; don’t you!! Lastly, people also say when in doubt, crack open a bottle of sparkling, see if it works for you!!!

Spicy and hot:

Spice in the food flares up our palate and the wine has to refresh it with every sip. In my opinion for the wine to do its job well, it has to either be sweet on the palate or at least smell sweet. Grapes like Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Merlot do good justice, also bold juicy  reds like Shiraz from hot climates like India, Chile or California fit in well. Albeit when we are speaking of very hot Indian Cuisine, it is very difficult to pair a wine, I would go with a glass of water.

Chef Deepak Dange and Sommelier Manoj Jangid from Tuskers the pure vegetarian Indian restaurant at Sofitel, BKC, Mumbai with their pairing

Veg food and Wine at Tuskers Sofitel ,Mumbai,BKC

Sangri ke kofte: Cottage cheese dumpling, stuffed with pickled Ker Sangri cooked in tomato and yogurt gravy

 Nobilo Icon, Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand: A wine with good body, oak nuances and excellent finish.

Why does the pairing work well? Sangri ke Kofte in sharp and mildly spiced gravy receives the refreshing element in the pairing from Nobilo Pinot Noir, bursting with dark berry fruits and spice from the oak, it is well rounded with soft tannins only to leave one amazed after every morsel.

Proteins and Soya:

Dishes high in protein should be matched with wines high in tannins. Tannins which dry your mouth out and are only present in red wines soften the proteins and thus making both the wine and food more enjoyable. Aged cheeses like Cheddar work very well with heavy red wines. Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Barolos are example of some heavy red.


The fifth sensory element, which really heightens one’s gourmet experience and one, cannot really stop at one!! Mono Sodium Glutamate also called ajinomoto is the artificial form but there are natural glutamates which are not harmful present in fermented products like Soya sauce, aged products like parmesan cheese, also in ripe tomatoes, mushrooms etc. Care must be taken while paring a wine high in tannins as the combination feels only bitter and less fruity. Crisp and juicy aromatic white varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Arneis etc work very well.

Chef Ramandeep Kukreja and Sommelier Manu Manikandan from Riwaz, the Indian restaurant at the Ritz Carlton, Bengaluru with their pairing

Veg Food and wine at Riwaz, Ritz Carlton, Bengaluru


 Subz aur Gucchi di Galouti (Galouti kebab): Cardamom and saffron scented ‘melt in mouth’ dumplings prepared with seasonal vegetables and morels, pan seared.

Dr. Burklin-Wolf , Riesling, Germany: A perfectly balanced wine with fresh pineapple, pear and spicy aromas rounded off with balanced mouthwatering acidity.

Why does the pairing work well? The vegetarian Galouti kebab is made with seasonal vegetables and edible mushrooms, morels. In this preparation the mushrooms dominate the flavour of the kebab. A dry Riesling wine balances the rich flavours and goes well with Indian cuisine.

Last but not the least, every palate is different and food pairing principles are for giving you a head start into the intriguing world of wine and food. Sooner than later you should call the shots, you make your rules, remember you are the consumer!






Want to export wines to India????


Many foreign wineries now want to rise with the Indian wine tide; a market which is growing by close to 20% y-o-y has caught global attention over the last few years.  France and Italy were go to nations a decade back and now Spain,Australia, Chile, New Zealand , South Africa , Argentina, California have  also made their presence felt.  Even Georgian wines have carved their way out on to the shelves of the Indian modern retail and are seeking audience. The discerning Indian consumer; a fractional percentage of the population is making an effort to wake up to the wine phenomenon by knowing his Cabs from the Pinots. The picture looks rosy and I am Gung-ho about it too in the long run.  I would however play a devil’s advocate when it comes to the imported wine scene in the country.  India imports around 500k cases of wine per year however those many cases comprise, conservatively speaking at least 1000 labels. If you do the math, it is 500 cases a label. If you are still optimistic, great! I am too.  Let us look at a few points to consider before you enter India:

(L) Francois Witasse of Demptos Cooperage with    Spanish winemaking legend Mariano Garcia  during their recent India visit

(L) Francois Witasse of Demptos Cooperage with Spanish winemaking legend Mariano Garcia during their recent India visit

Taxes and regulations:  By the time your wines reach India, they go to 8-10 times of your ex-cellar price in retail and sold at almost 3 times the retail price in institutions. Also every state in the country operates with its own set of taxes and regulations making it a hurdle in interstate supply chain both financially and in terms of logistics. Do you have a portfolio across price ranges!!  Lastly with FSSAI (Food safety and standards authority of India) being active, lot of customization with respect to labeling etc may be required, ingredients, additives etc on the label could become a mandate. The regulations here are still ambiguous; time will make things more clear.

Importer: Interstate regulations can be a roadblock for distribution impacting successful reach. A well entrenched importer with a good distribution network is essential.  With around 10-15 major distributors in the country, it becomes essential to go through their portfolio to confirm your interests do not clash with the brands they hold. Lastly Mumbai, Delhi, Goa and Bengaluru account for 80% of wine sales in the country; you know where to look now.

Storage: With hot and humid conditions in most parts of India it is essential to have air-conditioned wine warehouses. Ensure this part is covered or be happy to see your young whites being served deep gold and oxidized.  Also most of wine retail is not air-conditioned, a major concern in my opinion.

Marketing:  If your aim is to dump your first order, make money and get out then this goes not apply to you. For the rest, the importers have limited resources and a big portfolio of brands. Human tendency of getting the maximum out of least effort applies and the importers focus on brands which support them with marketing to push their brands in the trade.  It may be in the form of winemaker dinners, communication materials and memorabilia, stocks for sampling in private tastings and shows, sponsorships for winery tours for trade and media etc.  It is completely your call albeit in alliance with your importer, but do ensure you budget for it.  Remember alcohol advertisements are not allowed in the country so experiential marketing works best and your presence once in a while is solicited.

Credit:  In typical transactions, the time taken for the wine consignment to be shipped, received and released from the bond houses is around 40 days. Then the distribution in trade and their credit period especially with a product like wine is many a time 2 months and this leads to working capital lock-in period of at least 4 months for the importers. Are you willing to extend credit!!!

Lastly India habits are certainly evolving in terms of wine; knowledge and pricing are the crux to expand the wine market in the country (read more about it here). And for the seasoned wine drinkers; importers like Wine Park, Aspri, Brindco, Ixora, Fine Wines and more , Wine society of India  etc are keeping the audience engaged with some quality imports. 



Indian wine industry and growth



People including me are optimistic about the wine market in India; the growth figures say so too. A two million case (9 litre) market with around 25 % of it being for imported wines, it is growing at almost 19% CAGR year on year. However when we look at the Indian beer scene standing at 275 million cases and the spirits at well over 300 million cases we know that wines have a long way to go.  India by the turn of this decade will turn into the youngest nation of the world with an average age of 29; this demographic dividend gives India the opportunity to let its market grow not by one or two but three digits.  In my opinion two factors can lead to exponential growth; pricing and knowledge.


I strongly feel the day we can buy a good bottle of table wine for less than 250 Rs, a price equaling two 650 ml bottles of beer, wine trade can flourish and capitalize on the growing middle class and urbanization in the country.  Currently most recognized or rather acceptable quality of Indian wines start at Rs 500; even higher in Maharashtra because of the taxes and go up to Rs 1700. Grover Zampa which sells its Chene at Rs 1700 also sell Sante a sub-brand at around Rs 400 and many other prominent wineries like Sula and Charosa have sub-brands at a lower price. What distinguishes Santé from many other sub-brands is that it comes in single varietals like Chenin and Shiraz than ambiguous blends and secondly it has a story to tell on its label and also otherwise.  A good part about these sub-brands is that it helps narrow the gap between a 330ml pint of beer and a 150 ml glass of wine in a restaurant  but  at most restaurants  the latter if twice the former.  Lastly the SKUs are mostly 750ml, we need more of 375ml and also 175ml bottles in retail firstly to get consumers to try wines  and secondly to cater to a large population who do not drink at home and like to buy drinks for the evening.  Indian wines are selling in the UK at 7 pounds including costs of export and margins; I do not see a reason why a winery can’t reach the said disruptive price point back home.


The price without knowledge would be a half hearted effort. ATL marketing of any kind is banned for liquor in India and what works best is experiential marketing to get to know the product better.  Sula wines pioneered the wine trail in Nasik, people got acquainted to wines through experiencing the vineyards, wine festivals and events  across metros have got people the first hand experience to taste wines in the guise of a fun weekend afternoon or an employee engagement session at work. For a serious wine drinker lot of structured courses from WSET-London and the like are being offered in the country. But what will make sell wine more in a nascent wine market like ours is when the custodians, people at the consumer point of contact are trained well to share their opinions on wine.  Restaurant servers, floor staff in retail and the wine buying authority need to be well versed with what they sell,sadly most of them especially in wine retail are lagging significantly.  In a recent wine buying episode of mine, I was being upsold a rose wine at around Rs 3000 from the year 2004, this wine perhaps would have shown at its acceptable best in 2007 and I was being sold one in 2014. The retail employee from that very popular retail brand wasn’t trying to fleece but he was completely ignorant and went by the adage “Older the wine the better it is”.  Knowledge is the crux to people coming back to drink more wine after the first trial, I perhaps would never had gone to buy wine after drinking that 2004 rose.

Assuming quality and proper storage of wines is in order; the above two factors should be the calling for wine business’ in the country.


How Oak affects wine !!!

Grover Cellars in Bengaluru

Grover Cellars in Bengaluru


Demptos as a brand may not evoke any memories in you as a consumer but ask a winemaker and you would know that it does make an impact by giving us complex wines to drink. Tonnellerie Demptos is a French company which makes Oak barrels and the aging in these oak barrels is what gives you those complex wines. With a history of  two centuries, it has a long list of clients including Bordeaux First growths, top St Emillions, benchmark of dessert wines Chateau D’Yquem, American Opus One, Ribera’s Mauro, Tuscan Tenuta San Guido , Chilean Almaviva and many more.  Francois Witasse the President of Demptos was here on an India visit to meet wineries, understand needs and expand its existing customer base in the country.  He also addressed the media and took us through some nuances of, Oak which is always spoken of but never understood, as well.

Oak Staves.....

Oak Staves…..

What does Oak do to a wine?

–          Adds richness and complexity by giving in toasted nutty aromas, and other like Vanilla, Coconut, Caramel etc depending on the kind of oak

–          Elagitannins a kind of tannins which bring  roundness and structure to the wine

–          Porosity of the barrels allows a little amount of oxygen to seep through, improving the aromas and the keeping quality of the wine.

–          Lees or yeast which has broken down results in proteins in the wine giving a creamy mouthfeel to the wine.

Can all wines be aged?

–  Only 2-3% of the wines in the world  are currently being aged in barrels and approximately 20% acquire oak effect though Oak chips, powder, staves/planks etc.

–  Oak gives a lot of flavour and can mask the delicate nuances of the wine completely. Hence only opulent styles of white and most styles of red can be aged for different periods, as low as a few weeks to a few years.

–   Aging in barrels is an expensive affair and hence is only undertaken for wine which has the potential to age and thus fetch a price.  Remember an Oak barrel can start at $800 and can go as high as $4000

What are the different kinds of Oak?

–  French (Quercus Robur):  It has a fine grain and exudes subtle flavours of vanilla and wood aromas into the wine. Most of the renowned wineries use this and the porosity of the wood also helps it to age longer.  Also Limousin Oak has fine but loose grains making it for Cognac/Spirit aging.  The yield is 25% and hence the most expensive.

–   American (Quercus Alba): It is loud and opulent and gives out generously so much as to completely kill the wine. It used in moderation by wine makers and often combined with some French oak aging. Vanilla and Coconut and strong woody aromas are characteristic of the oak. Their yield is 50% and hence come at half the price of French.

–  Hungarian: Same as a French oak but from a different topography. Favoured over French oak these days because it is less expensive.

Barrel in process....

Barrel in process….

Journey from a tree to a barrel:

– Tree is selected based on the finesse of the grains. At Demptos most the trees that are felled are over a century old.

–  Logs are quickly split into smaller pieces along the grain.

–  Best pieces or staves are selected for seasoning. They are laid out in the open in stacks and they age for close to 2 years braving all seasons including rain. This process gets rid of excess tannins.

–  Seasoned staves again undergo selection and the best go into making of a barrel.

–  Barrels once ready are toasted based on requirement of the winery. Toasting is process of toasting the insides of the barrel with fire for the wood to caramelize.

–  There is no glue or any kind of adhesive used. In some cases stainless steel or wooden nails can be used at the head of the barrel only.

(Watch this video for the barrel making experience)

Indian wines and oak:

Many Indian wines are taking the extra effort of putting in their money to get in barrels from France and America to age their wines. Reserve as a term on Indian wines doesn’t have a legal binding but often indicates aging in oak barrels.  Brands like Sula, York, Charosa, Zampa- Grover, Chateau D’Ori, Reveilo all have Oak aged wines in their portfolio. Though oak aging is a process mostly suited to reds, even some whites can benefit from oak ageing like Reveilo’s Chardonnay reserve or Charosa’s Viognier which has seen oak for a few months.  As mentioned early the cheaper alternatives of aging wine in barrels are using Oak staves or sticks, Oak chips, Oak powder or oak essence.  ‘Oak- aged’ on the label on the bottle means barrel aging and just ‘Oaked’ should rather get you a cheaper bottle of wine.


Wine can be addictive, Drink responsibly!