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Australians are here to sell wine
Kishore Singh
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May 14, 2005

John Harris is looking tired: it's almost the witching hour at Diva, the diners on the first floor of the restaurant are clearly in gregarious spirits -- which should be a good thing, really -- but no one's listening to him.

And Harris has already had a long day at various presentations. Tonight, too, he's brought fork to stem glass to draw attention to the wines being served, but groups of friends have settled behind tables, there's laughter, and no one's listening to poor Harris.

"I've had a long day," he yawns, "it does get tiring." A peripatetic winemaker, he's in India to hawk Green Point wines, being distributed in the country by Moet Hennessy. The interesting thing? Green Point is an Ozzie wine.

But New World wines are stale news, no one gets excited any more over Argentinian or Chilean appelations, and the buzz is no longer over snobbery of origin as much as telling a good wine from plonk.

The Australian winemakers -- three decades in the biz but thinking fast on their feet -- have converted their steady climate into a wine institution, are making good wines (not complicated, usually light, simple wines where you can actually taste the flavours) but -- and this is interesting -- have realised the importance of internationalizing their produce.

For, no matter what they might say about increasing domestic consumption (and it's true, more wine is being drunk in Australia, beer has plateaued, vodka and white spirits continue to increase, but -- Commonwealth country that it is -- it isn't doing too badly with its consumption of Scotch either), the Big Money is in selling it out of the country.

Asia is increasingly an attractive market (Japan, going by consumption patterns of most liquors, should have a serious dependency problem), and as China enthusiastically opens up to more spirits and wines, vintners are finding they can't afford to ignore India.

The market might be small (currently), the duties may be skewed (affecting the retail price sharply), but with more people drinking wine by choice, and an increasing number of wine clubs getting members to sign up and appear for appreciation evenings, it's clear that India is waiting for the big mop up when wines will become affordable and accessible for more middle-age people as their daily tipple.

At the Delhi Wine Society meet in at the Sky Lounge at ITC Maurya Sheraton, Rob Raffa is doing what he does best (and trying hard not to look bored). A powerpoint presentation on a screen, some bottles of Jacob's Creek wines on the podium, he looks at the (largely silver-haired, but let that pass) members of the Society (the members of

the Delhi Wine Club and its chapter in Gurgaon are younger; also noisier) to introduce them to the core wines (selling in India for two years now, distributed by Seagram) on the occasion of the country launch of the Reserve range.

"Is the Reserve label just a marketing initiative, or are the wines actually superior?" a Society greyhair wants to know. "Hell," says Raffa, "I'm being heckled." But points out, "Drink the wine, you'll find out for yourself."

So, in case you didn't know: yes, the Reserve is superior, definitely, but the core Chardonnay and Shiraz Cabernet won't shame you, if you serve them.

At lunch the following day, at San Gimignano (that's the Italian restaurant at The Imperial, the ideal place for sipping wine on a summer afternoon), the Shiraz Cabernet Reserve winks a wicked red (the table of four is evenly divided between whites and reds) and, with the rabbit on my plate, is a great fit.

Raffa is being talkative, can't stop warbling on about Jacob Creek's "reliability" and "range", that it's terrific "value for money" around the world because at its price point "it delivers more than you anticipate". He's also sold on its Pinot Noir Reisling, still to make it to Indian shores. "It will be worth the wait," he promises cheesily over his pasta.

But -- and we're going to see this increasingly, if unfortunately (for us; it's fortunate for the environment, though) -- Jacob's Creek has screw caps, not corks. It takes away the romance from the wine. Green Point, though, opens with a satisfying "phump!"

At Diva, chef-restaurateur Ritu Dalmia's paired dinner is paling in comparison with the Green Point wines. The NV Brut as aperitif leaves behind a tingle of celebrations, just right for those who ordered the bruschetta with prawns, to follow, but killed by the sharp tartness of the avocado mousse; the Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2003 that's paired with it ("smoky lees notes") takes a superior spring.

The Pinot Noir 2002 is a great follow up, but then the grape is enjoying a particular resurgence internationally. If you're drinking wine, you have to be drinking pinot noir, and again, it's a great effort for Dalmia to catch up (the spinach gnocchi is com si, com sa, the risotto in quite a superior league).

My mistake -- a silly one, no doubt -- is the "veg" selection. For the main course, the duck (somewhat parsimonious) is brilliant; the Victoria Shiraz 2002 perhaps the best pairing of the evening (proving, I hope not stupidly, that wines work best when chewing on flesh). The shiraz enhances the mood philosophical.

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