“Quality will take over from price, proving cheap not always sells”

New Update

Ankur Chawla, Co Founder – One Fine Meal and Scope Beverages

The  knowledge  and  awareness among niche wine consumers about champagne and other sparkling wines have shown a remarkable improvement in the past five to seven years primarily because of the sharp rise in international travel by outwardly mobile Indians, who are now more ready than ever to explore new wine offerings, and the hard work by the Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), represented in India by Rajiv Singhal, who has been hosting tastings and dinners to educate the country about champagne.

To this opening statement, Ankur Chawla, independent     beverage     consultant     who was   formerly  with  the  JW  Marriott,  New Delhi Aerocity, adds a caveat. “We have to understand, though, that all consumers cannot be categorised generically under the same umbrella,” Chawla points out. “India is still a developing country and there are different categories of consumers, and those who can figure out the difference between champagne and other sparkling wines in a blind tasting are still in a minuscule minority,” he adds.

Chawla notes with regret that “a lot of times a  bubbly,  be  it champagne, or just another sparkling wine, is considered just another bubbly in a glass”. What pains him is the sight of sparkling wines being pre-poured and served to guests at banquets and brunches. But in this difficult scenario, he see rays of hope and opportunities for improvement. “As a category, sparkling wines are growing for sure,” says Chawla. “The good part is  that  the  size  of  the  overall  pie  is also  increasing, instead of categories slugging it out for greater shares of the same static pie.”

Numbers can’t lie. Sparkling wine consumption in the country has increased by almost three times between 2006 and 2016, with the “Imported Sparkling Wines” category notching up a four-fold growth. But there’s a difference. The consumption of champagne has only gone up by 150 per cent between 2006 and 2016, whereas local sparkling wines  have  registered  a  three- fold growth. Champagne is suffering because it is much more expensive than other sparkling wines.

In fact, at Sunday brunches, most guests today pass over the champagne offering and settle for other sparkling wines. At bars, too,  guests  order  either  bottles of sparkling wine or champagnes listed  “by  the  glass”  (these  are the   commercial   brands),   and   very few go for the really expensive ones, such  as  Dom  Perignon  and  Cristal. On the positive side, though, guests have started realising and accepting a bubbly as an aperitif, and at times, as an accompaniment to a meal. This shift in popular attitude has increased the volumes of bottles sold.

In Chawla’s view, the most popular brands of champagne and other sparkling wines (both imported and domestic) are: Champagne: Moet & Chandon; GH Mumm; Louis Roederer; Dom Pérignon; Louis Roederer ‘Cristal’; Billecart Salmon Rosé; Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin Brut; Taittinger Brut Reserve; Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut; Krug Grand Cuvée Brut. Sparkling Wine: Sartori di Verona Prosecco Brut DOC Ti Amo; Carpene Malvolti Prosecco di Congeliano Brut Prosecco, Zonin; Sula Brut; Fratelli Grand Cuvee Brut; Chandon Brut; Grover Zampa Soiree Brut; Bottega Gold Glera Brut.

“The price of the bottle has to hit the sweet spot -- neither too high, nor too low. A low- priced wine is treated with suspicion by the average consumer. I always used to tell my servers: ‘It is easier to sell a bad wine if priced right, but difficult to sell a good wine if priced wrong’.”

Within the sparkling wine category, Prosecco has seen a tremendous surge in popularity, followed closely by Cava, says Chawla. India is a price-sensitive market and yet the consumer’s palate is continually evolving. The proseccos coming   into   India   are   playing   the price point card and they have gained popularity   because   of   this   factor. They are doing really well in Sunday brunches and weddings -- both big market segments -- and being lapped up as gifting options.

Here, too, the scene is changing. Of late, prosecco houses such as Carpene Malvolti and Gramona, a leading cava producer, are making the game more interesting -- and serious. These are not regular  run-of-the-mill  sparkling  wines and  are  surely  not  cheaper  versions.

“These serious bubbles are made with equal pride, love and labour,” Chawla declares. “One can easily say that these are the serious sparkling wines that have raised the level of the category.”

On  the  acceptability  of  sparkling wines,  Chawla  says,  “We  are  in  a developing   country   where   the

wine culture is still spreading its wings. When  a consumer orders a bottle of sparkling wine, the price point matters the most, followed  by  the  label  and  the liquid inside. The price of the bottle has to hit the sweet spot  neither too high, nor too low. A low-priced wine, ironically, is treated with suspicion by the average consumer. I always used to tell my servers: ‘It is easier to sell  a  bad  wine  if  priced  right, but difficult to sell a good wine if priced wrong’.”

The demand for champagne and other sparkling wines does see seasonal spikes because these are viewed as celebration drinks. The demand therefore goes up during Diwali and the wedding season, and that for rosé champagne   jumps   during   the Valentine’s Day week. The good thing is the acceptability of the category. Be it a social gathering or a wine dinner, a bubbly in one’s hand is always in fashion!

The   past   has   been   really   good for the domestic sparkling wines, but proseccos, followed by champagne, are registering a growing presence. Chawla believes  the  trend  will  continue  for some time, but going forward, “quality will take over from price and the market will prove that it is not always what is cheap that sells”. The future, according to Chawla, belongs to quality domestic sparkling wines, serious proseccos and cavas, which will overtake the market, and boutique, family-owned champagne houses as well as labels from individual growers.