A sommelier, author and columnist, Magandeep Singh is an award-winning sommelier with over two decades of experience in the wine industry. A professional wine taster, Singh has published two books— Wine Wisdom: Buying and Drinking Wine in India (2005), and The Indian Spirit (2017), which speak about the drinking culture in India. He is also the founder of ‘Wi-Not Beverage Solutions’, the only professionally qualified wine and beverage solutions company in India that consults top hotels and restaurants on their beverage selections.
In a conversation with LuxeBook over the telephone, sommelier Magandeep Singh spoke about the Asian wine industry, the budding appreciation for Indian wines and the growing homegrown wine industry.
How has the wine industry evolved in India over the years?
In the last couples of years, I’d say the last decade— which is a small amount of time in the wine world— we’ve come from not having enough consistency to having consistently, drinkable wine. That was the first achievement for us. And secondly, there’s been a little consolidation, because suddenly, in the middle, we had a lot of brands. But all of them weren’t making sense, or, weren’t making great wine. They were either acquired by other brands, or they shut down so the distribution has more reliability for the consumer on the shelf.
Would you say there is a growing interest in Indian wines?
More than interest, there’s a growing appreciation for Indian wines. For the longest time there was the attitude that Indian wine was of sub-standard quality. People would rather have a cheap foreign wine with no pedigree rather than have an Indian brand. That was the attitude we had for the longest time. That has changed quite a bit. Typically, if one goes to a friend’s house and there is an Indian wine on the counter, they don’t mind having it anymore. It’s not a taboo to drink Indian wines anymore.
Are Indian wineries attempting to improve the quality that they bring to the table?
I think they’re always trying to improve the quality. But improving the quality of wine is only a by-product. What they can do is understand their vineyard and their wine-making technique. The better one gets at improving the by-product, the better the quality of wine. There’s nothing you can do to directly improve the quality. Typically, 80 per cent of the work is done in the vineyard. If you’ve taken good care of the wines and your vineyards, they will give you good grapes and a good product. So, improving the quality for me is more about getting more conscious, using organic methods, less intervention, and understanding how the weather cycles work. Understanding this process contributes to good winemaking.
Nashik has often been called the Napa Valley of India. Do you agree/disagree with this statement? Why?
The comparison is not really correct. The amount of quality, variety and infrastructure in Napa Valley won’t be comparable for Nashik. Nashik is nowhere close to Napa Valley right now. So, I don’t think it is worthy of the comparison. Nashik is Nashik and Napa Valley is Napa Valley. They’re both different areas; developing at their own pace.
There are a lot of homegrown wine brands today, how do you think these fit into the wine industry?
I think choice is always good because it allows the consumer to have more availability. Choice is what leads to competition and better wine in the end. People will have more variety. And that will make them more aware, more educated, which overall improves their palates, which is going to make the wine makers make finer wine, and that improves the overall wine portion of the company. The price is always good for the market.
China recently announced their desire to turn its primary wine-producing region of Ningxia into one that rivals France’s Bordeaux. Do you think it’s a farfetched dream?
I think it’s absurd to think you can make one region like another. You can model it a bit. But every region is unique because the climate, the soil, everything is different for each region. You can never take things from one region and make it applicable to another. Bordeaux cannot emulate Burgundy, and wine cannot be champagne. Everything can’t be mass produced. I feel like the Chinese attitude is a bit displaced. But if they’re only doing the modelling, it means they want to identify something. They might have bigger studies to substantiate their research and see how it works out.
China is finally getting its recognition for being a wine country, how do you think this shapes the wine industry in Asia?
They started much before us but they started in a larger state. A lot of it originally was bad wine, but today, their winemakers are producing some fine wine. They’re really focused. And they are doing it right.
How do you feel about the future of the Asian wine industry?
I think it is too vast. There’s a production site and there’s a consumption site. The consumption in South East Asia is really advanced. You have some great production, market and consumers in South East Asia — I won’t say India specifically. But in South East Asia, Hong Kong is a good example of a consumption site. Examples for production sites would be Thailand, Vietnam, India and China. We’re very young. We’re barely 20-30 years old in the field and the other countries that make wine are all 400 or 2,000 years old. So, we’re finding our way.
What can be done to further the homegrown wine industry?
I think Indian wine brands are already getting articulated abroad, showcasing themselves in international blocks, which is a good thing. I just think what we really need is support from the government more than the consumers buying local wine. The Indian wine is overpriced on the retail chef. It’s not the winemakers fault. It’s not the consumers fault. It’s the administration that has to do something to make it more conducive for the state to happen. Overall, the high taxation and the high levies are making it a bit difficult and those needs to possibly come down.
What are the luxury wines from the Asian market that one needs to know about from this year?
The only two brands that I wait behind on a regular basis used to be Charisma. I love them for their high-end wine. And then I’ve enjoyed Junoon by Fratelli a lot. And of course, Grover Zampa with their Insignia and Vijay Amritraj. These three wines would be my top picks.