Connect to share and comment

A glass of wine with your samosa?

India's new cutting edge fashion: Women drinking wine.

A woman drinks wine at the Olive Beach restaurant in Bangalore, India. Foreign winemakers and domestic companies are promoting wine to women as the sophisticated and healthier alternative to other alcohol. (Namas Bhojani)

BANGALORE — Ever thought that a chicken tikka could be paired with a rose, or a palak paneer (cottage cheese in spinach) with a sauvignon blanc?

Aparna Bhagwat, 26, an architect who works at a Bangalore-based design firm, absolutely thinks so. So do her girlfriends.

In a country where drinking used to be taboo for women, and socializing meant sitting around watching the men get smashed, record numbers of urban women are taking to wine drinking, making it socially acceptable and even fashionable.

“Wine drinking is classy,” said Bhagwat, who has acquired a taste for red wine in the past year. She has enrolled herself in a wine appreciation course.

As Indian women increasingly become independent, financially and otherwise, and begin asserting their spending power, wine drinking is becoming the rage.

Women constitute a big chunk of the growing market, said Abhay Kewadkar, chief winemaker and head of business at United Spirits, which is setting up India’s largest winery, United Vintners. “The sophisticated, cultured appeal of wine drinking is converting many,” he said.

United Vintners, part-owned by India’s flamboyant liquor baron Vijay Mallya, will also import and promote wine drinking in India.

The fast-paced Indian economic growth of recent years has brought about many social changes.

Bhagwat is single and lives in Bangalore. On a recent trip to her parents’ home in the conservative Chhattisgarh in central India, she sipped wine while her father drank scotch and soda. Her mother, she recounts, looked on silently. “Wine is the only drink I can have without offending the family elders,” she said.

The ubiquitous “Wine shop” signage on Indian streets is a misnomer for stores that stock every type of alcohol but wine. That wine drinking is a recent Indian phenomenon was evident when the travel editor of London’s Financial Times was at a cocktail party in a New Delhi hotel last year.

Upon asking which wine he had just been served, a member of the waitstaff blithely responded, “Red wine, sir.”

Gaffes are common among the new wine drinkers, but most are learning quickly.