|It is a common perception that Indian wines have ‘come a long way, baby’ but they still have some way to go before they measure up to international winemaking. Rajeev Samant invited seven leading international winemakers and wine experts for the first and biggest-ever international tasting of Indian wines in early November at his Sula Vineyards.|
He was seeking an international perspective on what Indian wines are really like. Alok Chandra joined them for the tastings.
The panelists were in India for the final phase of the India Wine Challenge 2008 organised by Robert Joseph, and included Gina Gallo (Gallo of Sonoma), John and Brigid Forrest (New Zealand), Vanya Cullen (Cullen Wines, Australia), John Quarisa (Australia), Roberto Bava (Italy) and Mike Ratcliffe (South Africa). Also present were Vikram Doctor from the Economic Times Mumbai and myself. Sommelier India editor, Reva Singh, missed the tastings because of a delayed flight but was present for the panel discussion in the evening.
We tasted 45 wines in 10 different categories – all from wineries in and around Nasik, as samples from other wineries (Indage, Grover, Big Banyan) were not submitted. However, this represented nearly 75% of all wine labels available in India as of date, and was sufficiently representative to allow the panel to draw some very interesting conclusions. The panel discussion was held at the stunning new amphitheatre next to Sula’s winery complex, and was attended by many neighbouring winery owners and winemakers as well as invitees from Nasik and Mumbai.
Essentially, what emerged was the following –
• Indian white wines were considered better than the reds. Some of the Chenin Blancs approached world standards with good fruit definition and honeyed, nutty notes – in particular those from Vinsura, Sula, Vin & Vouloir and Chateau D’Ori, all 2008.
• Both the sparkling wines from Sula and Vinsura were considered reasonably good.
• The Sauvignon Blancs were generally clean and subtle, but tended to be acidic and subdued, without the cut grass and guava aromas found in the best varietals – with the exception of Chateau D’Ori and Sula 2008.
• The Sula Viognier 2008 stood out as a unique new wine with an aniseed background and good drinkability despite a high 14% v/v alcohol content.
• The standard of the rosé wines tasted was generally good. They were fresh and aromatic, in particular the Nine Hills Shiraz Rosé 2008 and the Sula Blush Zinfandel 2008.
• Most Indian reds tend to lack ripeness with green tannins, Many were over-oaked which sometimes mask faults in the grape and/or winemaking. Indian winemakers were advised to experiment a lot more, both in blending different types of grapes as well as with red varietals from Italy, Spain and South America, to explore which red wine grapes were most suited to India.
• Shiraz showed the best potential in India amongst the reds, and some of the Shiraz blends that were tasted displayed excellent fruit and spice aromas, balance, and expressiveness. The better examples included Reveilo Shiraz 2008, ND Shiraz 2006, Nine Hills Reserve Shiraz 2007 and Sula’s ‘Super Dindori’ Reserve Shiraz 2007. The Château D’Ori Shiraz Merlot 2007 (tasted separately) was the most impressive wine (It went on to win a silver at the India Wine Challenge).
• Almost all the Cabernet Sauvignons disappointed as they tended to display either green, under ripe features or suffered from poor winemaking. The exception was the Nine Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2007, which was almost perfumed, with good berry fruit aromas, toasty oak and a lingering finish.
• The three sweet wines tasted were of very different styles. The Sula Late Harvest Chenin Blanc 2008 (which also won a silver in the IWC) was all honey and nuts, with balanced sweetness while the Reveilo Late Harvest 2006 was reminiscent of oranges and figs, although the high alcohol gave a bitter aftertaste. Sula’s Dia was completely different, being made in the Asti Spumante style.
The international visitors suggested that Indian wine makers experiment with new varietals such as Tempranillo, Marsanne, Grenache, Malbec, Moscato, Semillon, and Petit Syrah. Indian wines should develop an ‘Indian’ style and identity. Although vineyards and winemaking in India were still very young and new, it was recognised that the next 10 years would bring about big changes – much in the same way that winemaking has developed in other New World areas. At the end of the day, the winemakers agreed unanimously that it is possible to make great Indian wine – provided wine producers worked at growing good grapes and invested in good winemaking practices.