Wine and dine

Last Updated: Fri, Jan 25, 2013 20:20 hrs

Given the ban on using normal media channels for marketing wine (indeed, any alcoholic beverage) in India, producers and importers fall back on one-on-one methods: tastings at fairs and promotions and wine dinners.

A wine dinner is a sit-down affair at a good restaurant or hotel for anything from 10 to 60 people, where an effort has been made to pair each course with a (different) wine, the idea being to demonstrate how each wine accentuates and complements the food being served. The event would normally have a Master of Ceremonies’ in the winemaker concerned or a wine expert who would talk about each wine served; nowadays the restaurant’s chef (they’re no longer just cooks’!) may also be roped in to talk about the food.

If well-organised, a wine dinner is a win-win for all concerned: the wine company gets potential consumers to sample its wines and receive direct feedback (and sometimes orders); the restaurant gets to demonstrate its culinary and hospitality skills (which hopefully will induce some participants to return); and participants get to sample new wines and foods, and perhaps make some new friends.

The wine dinner may be free (if someone is feeling very generous) or paid; even if it’s a paid event the participants would get to taste a range of wines and cuisines at bargain rates, which may be anything from Rs 1,500 per head to about Rs 2,500 per head. If that sounds like a lot, do consider that similar events overseas normally cost anything from $150-200 per head upwards.

Too, there’s the cachet of being part of a select group, and the privilege of rubbing shoulders with and getting gyan from world-renowned experts in the arcane subjects of wine and wine-making as there’s nothing a winemaker likes more than to mix with people who like wine.

Is this not a very expensive way of promoting a wine? Yes and no. Bringing down a winemaker and organising a multi-city tasting does take time, effort, and money, but the impact is tremendous in generating pull’, provided you have been able to get the right people (opinion leaders) to participate. Of course, this sort of thing will work only for wines that have been crafted, not mass-produced — for the latter time-honoured tools for generating push’ (discounts and deals) work better.

Would this work for Indian wines? That would depend upon the wine. Indian wines are improving in quality every year, and there are at least a dozen wine companies producing wines that will do well in wine dinners. While our consumers are spoilt for choice and the image of domestic wines has a long way to go, companies like Four Seasons, Nine Hills, and Big Banyan are doing a lot of work in promoting their wines through wine dinners — way to go!

Wines I’ve Been Drinking: Sicilian wines, brought down for a tasting and dinner by cavaliere Subhash Arora and wine consultant Michele Shah for a four-city tour this week. I was surprised to learn that Sicily (which people associate more with the mafia and The Godfather) has a larger vineyard area (300,000 acres) than either Tuscany or Piedmont and produces some 420 million litres of wine annually!

Their most famous grape is the Nero D’Avola, and the Tasca D’Almerita Limuri 2010 was good, but what was terrific was the Feudo Montoni 2009: dark red, loads of fruit aromas, soft tannins, lots of complexity, and a great finish. Will go well with most Indian cuisines — let’s hope they find an importer.

Cin Cin!

Alok Chandra is a Bangalore-based wine consultant

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