“Wine quality” is a contentious and controversial subject, as every wine maker tends to think that his/ her wine is the best, and will rarely accept a dissenting voice.
Alok Chandra has 20 years of experience in managing sales, marketing and the supply chain for beverages in India. He has been an independent wine consultant for 10 years.
Nevertheless, we know that the quality and price of various wines vary enormously. The question is, what is the intrinsic quality of Indian wines, and how is this perceived by consumers? Also, can consumers understand these differences, and do differences in wine quality affect consumer choices?
It has been said that 80 percent of wine quality depends upon the grapes; in other words, one can make indifferent wine out of good grapes, but there is no way anyone can make good wine out of poor-quality grapes.
In India, grape vines are subjected to two prunings, and wine grapes are harvested at the beginning of summer. In contrast, the practice in other wine-producing countries is to prune only once, and harvest in autumn. Quite clearly, Indian wine grapes are different in quality – different, not inferior. So wines produced from Indian grapes will also be different from imported wines – again, different, not inferior.
Blind tastings have proved that most well-made Indian wines are as good as well-made wines from anywhere, with the best Indian wines holding their own against good international wines. Of course, we have miles to go before being able to produce wines equal to the best international wines, but who knows.
Indian wines have yet to develop a ‘signature grape’, in the sense that German wines have the Riesling grape, or that Argentina has Malbec or South Africa the Pinotage. However, India is a sub-continent, with a range of terroirs, and the wine story here is really just 20 years old, so let’s give it time — we may yet show an ‘Incredible India’ in this field too!
Unfortunately, most consumers in India know little about wine, so there is a large element of subjectivity in how wines are perceived. Many think that an expensive wine is better than a less-costly bottle, quite forgetting the high customs duties on imported wines. Even among Indian wines, consumers will tend to go for a known brand rather than a new or unknown brand, again forgetting that a new brand is often priced lower than an established label just to get trials.
Can consumers differentiate wine quality? Yes, of course — but they rarely get an opportunity to do so: if you were to get ordinary consumers together for a blind-tasting, many would give preferences quite matching scores by experts.
To summarise: the quality of Indian wines is as good as that of wines anywhere, but they are perceived to be of lower quality as they are lower priced. The quality of wines will improve over time, and so will perceptions.
Are Indian wines as good as imported wines?
Many well-made Indian wines are actually better than entry-level imported wines as they are fresher and have more complexity. This has been proven time and again in blind tastings by experts.
Then why are imported wines priced higher than Indian wines?
Imported wines are more expensive as they suffer a customs duty of 150 percent (among the highest in the world), in addition to local taxes. A wine costing US$ 1.00 per bottle FOB ends up being priced about `900 per bottle at retail.
Does that mean that we should drink only Indian wines?
Certainly not. Wines from other countries bring us a world of varietals, styles, and quality levels that are still to develop in most Indian wines. For example, our wines are yet to match the ‘ripe guava’ aromas for a Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand, or the chocolate and leather and cedary notes from a good Bordeaux.
So, which is the best Indian wine?
There is no one ‘best wine’ – but when talking about the better wines, I would include reserve wines from Sula’s Dindori, Reveilo, York, Mandala, Zampa, Nine Hills, and Four Seasons, as well as the unique Luca Lychee wine.