Steven Spurrier was in Mumbai but thinking of Paris. He is the British wine expert best known for organizing the so-called “Judgment of Paris” — a 1976 blind tasting between French and U.S. wines in which the Americans improbably came out on top. The contest was a sensation, and sparked the explosion of the American wine market. Now, 33 years later, Spurrier is hoping to witness another revolution, this time in India. Jyoti Thottam who was at the Sommelier India Wine Competition in Mumbai and Elliot Hannon report for Time in the Indian alcohol scene.
He came to Mumbai in November to co-chair the inaugural Sommelier India Wine Competition, in which a panel of India-based experts judged more than 450 wines, most of them imported, in a country where the market for wine was virtually non-existent 10 years ago. “The enthusiasm to try wine is just tremendous,” Spurrier says. “To me, it’s an enormous pleasure and a rush.”
The Indian market for alcohol — mostly spirits and beer, as well as wine — totaled $14 billion last year, and was one of the fastest-growing alcohol markets in the world. Imports account for only a tiny fraction of that, but with India booming while demand elsewhere stalls, no international beverage company can afford to ignore it. Over the next five years, the Indian market for alcohol is projected to grow at 10% a year — more than China, the U.S. and Europe combined, according to an estimate by KPMG India. “You’ve got a sizable population, a growing middle class, a growing economy,” says Nigel Fairbrass, a spokesman for SAB Miller, one of the world’s largest brewers. “All of that is driving increasing consumption of alcohol products.”
Drinking patterns in India are unlike those of any other major market. Hard liquor is far more popular than beer and wine, with spirits accounting for about 70% of the market. Nearly all of that is whiskey — a legacy of the colonial fondness for Scotch. India is the largest whiskey market in the world, so American whiskey producers figure they’ve got a head start in India compared to other new markets. “Indians are pre-ordained whiskey drinkers,” says Frank Coleman, senior vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a trade group for American spirits makers. “They’ve developed a taste for whiskey.”
Read the full story at Time magazine.