By Alyssa McDonald
New Delhi/Gurgaon, Feb 5 (IANS) Standing in front of a wine tasting class of restaurant managers, wine importers and producers, Cavaliere Subhash Arora declares: "People in India waste too much time in matching wines to food."
The crowd looks up from their booklets filled with notes about each wine and stares at him curiously. Matching wines with food is why many of them are there. But most understand the frustration of trying to match wines with the spices in traditional Indian dishes.
"We had a dinner last night with the Indian Wine Academy and we heard members say it was hard," Michele Shah, an Italy-based wine critic, told the audience about a dinner of 44 enthusiasts at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Delhi. "There aren't that many wines to match to Indian food spices."
Shah says it is best to find a rounder and fuller wine with pairing Indian dishes.
"In particular, wines that are fruit driven and have softer, velvety tannins are a better match," Shah told IANS through email.
Whether or not people have found a way to match up wine and Indian food has not stopped the wine industry from booming. It is just one of the ways that wine is transforming from a trend to a lifestyle product. Industry lobby Assocham says the wine industry is growing at a rate of 35 percent and would reach Rs.2.700 crore (500 million USD) in 2012.
"Drinking wine as a lifestyle choice is catching up very fast," Arora told IANS. "Wine is now always there at places where it hadn't been even offered before, like parties and weddings."
Arora is president of the Indian Wine Academy and has judged over 24 international wine competitions since 2006. He says that over the last five years, wine as a drink choice has started to become a trend. Indians are known for drinking spirits, especially whisky, and Arora says many of these people are not changing from their signature drink, but adding wine as a selection.
"I think (some people) have figured out the downside to hard liquor like whisky and rum, which was quite the done thing in the evenings for health reasons and wine is a good alternative," said Anasuya Gupta, one of the only purely wine enthusiasts at the tasting.
Gupta could be described as a typical wine drinker as she is a well-accomplished woman who drinks wine with company, as well as uses it in the kitchen. She says her two children, aged 23 and 20, have also started to enjoy the taste.
"There are a lot of young urban people who enjoy drinking wine," Sovna Puri, Head-Tastings & Training at Sula Vineyards, told IANS.
"Budget wine is very affordable from the point of view of college students and most youngsters do prefer a wine on the sweeter side."
Gupta gets her wine delivered to her house through a programme designed by the Wine Society of India. She likes to pick smooth wines that she can drink and also uses it in the kitchen when cooking special dishes for her family.
There are over 500 liquor stores selling wine within Delhi: 423 government-run, 90 private and 16 mall-based liquor outlets. Wine is no longer restricted to beer and wine stores and is sold as a lifestyle product in most hypermarkets.
Spar Hypermart opened the liquor store portion of its store in Gurgaon less than a month ago. It says that 25 percent of its business comes from wine. It has signs between the aisles describing different features of wine, information on how to store it and even what type of glasses should be used for each different kind. Sales of imported wine are greater but the Indian selection is growing.
Cavaliere Arora says that although local wine is not as popular as its imported counterpart, "it's a niche market and it's growing".