India’s Rosé Wines Bloom To A New High

I wonder how it feels to be a crowdpleaser, yet struggle for an identity at wine stores, restaurants, or in a tasting lineup. Does it feel like you’re teachers’ favourite student, but when the bell rings and all your pals gather to play together, no one bats a glance at you? You want to be popular amongst them, but no one cares to acknowledge your presence? Your teachers come to comfort you and reassure that your time will come, but will your time really ever come? And anyway straight A’s and being your teachers’ favourite doesn’t guarantee you success in life. I reckon that’s what rosé wines have been since the beginning of time. They’ve pleased more thirsty tourists and virgin oenophiles, beaten more summers, and rocked harder than any other vino at parties. Yet, they seem like an outcast and undernourished, far from the affection and regard they deserve. They’ve perpetually remained the biggest underdogs amongst any wine style in the history of the world. But, India seems to be gleaming in the silent glory of its rosés. Has its time finally come?

A Growing Brigade

India has grown to be a strong winemaker, more matured and confident a playground. Look at what it has achieved in the last decade alone, in winemaking, new labels, international collaborations, accolades, and creating its own genre of tourism. Young Indian winemaking talents are sharing top podiums worldwide, bringing fresher thoughts and verve in the game. They’re not following what the books tell them, after all, they were neither written in India, nor for Indians. Our winemakers haven’t let their wings of aspirations be clipped under balance sheets & P&Ls, and the rosés they’ve crafted are a testimony of that free spirited flight. Between the prominent brands, there’re unprecedented experimentations and reinventions in styles, and increasing toying with varietals. Fratelli Vineyards has their classic Shiraz and MS Sangiovese rosé, Sula Vineyard’s blush Zinfandel has been a milestone and they’re the first to make one with Grenache under The Source umbrella. York Vineyards too took the Zinfandel route, while Vallonne Vineyards are the first and the sole Cabernet Sauvignon rosé makers. Grover Zampa Vineyards Shiraz rosé needs no introduction, and then there’s Reveilo Wines with their current experimental Nero di Avola rendition. That’s six varietals between six makers!! Did you even realise that? For a category which isn’t the bread-winner for any winemaker, this is an amazing feat. It’s hard to find another new winemaking country that has done such wonders in the category, setting India apart! Not to mention, the unfairly dealt hand of our geographic location, crisp winemaking history for most producers, and a monster constantly bogging them down called the excise system.

Why Rosé Wines At All?

So, what makes rosés so special in India? There’s a delicious ratatouille of factors that makes them a phenomenal proposition. Firstly, they’re climate friendly. India’s fairly warm climate promotes experimenting with red varietals. “Weather ensures optimum ripeness and injects a generous dosage of sweet flavours that makes rosés taste fruity even when they’re dry, which’s what we prefer making”, says York Vineyard’s Kailash Gurnani. He adds, “it also allows winemakers to play with different shades of colours, textures, and tannin levels”. Sanket Gawand from Vallonne Vineyards agrees in entirety. He says this has allowed them to make a rather confident move of producing a Cabernet Sauvignon rosé. This basket of varietal also challenges the winemakers, and that’s where they thrive. They’ve to ensure they pick the right varietal, apply the right winemaking techniques, and bring out the most conducive rendition of the selected varietal, while being commercially viable. It pushes them to use their senses, apply their experiences and intuitions, and display their talents. And who’s victorious in all this? The consumer! It allow them choices at large.

The Rosé Wines Bridge That Pleases All

Secondly, it satiates all sorts of palates, from the amicable ones to the serious ones. They even work as a bridge between the fruity, citrus, light, and seldom oaked whites and the bodacious, tannic, chewy reds. It’s a no-brainer, chill them, put them on the table, and watch them vanish effortlessly. The ease of their haunting aromas, a soothing mix of red fruits and florals, vivacious citrus notes, round texture, all held together with teasing flirt of powdery tannins is alluring to any palate. 

Rosé Wines Loves Food Loves Rosé Wines

And thirdly, though I’m completely against the notion of pairing foods with Indian wines, or vice versa, they are the preferred choice on tables with majority of cuisines. At Vallonne’s Malaka Spice, you’ll easily see a rosé being uncorked at every second table. Sula and Fratelli’s premium rosés are gastronomic and deserve being on any degustation menu. I remember having a dinner at York’s and calling for additional rosé bottles while we already had their entire spread of liquids poured in our glasses. So, a pro tip here, when in doubt, call for a rosé, and make it Indian!! Thank me later.

The Demand For Rosé Wines Swells

Now put these factors together and it explains why their sales have only soared, even during the pandemic. “On both our rosés, sales have skyrocketed in the last two years”, indicates Fratelli’s Alessio Secci. Sanket shares, “since our first production in 2011, we’ve always depleted our rosé stocks”. All this, is a window into the potential of the category. It’s interesting to note that Vishal Kadakia, a proficient importer of fines wines, at WinePark, has also upped the tally of roses in his portfolio. “During the lockdown, demand for rosés grew like never before. We realised, people have identified them as a wine in itself, and not as a go between reds and whites. This encouraged us to increase our rosés selection. From earlier having only one South African rosé, today we have five, with different grape varietals, such as classical Provence style blend, Merlot, Rondinella, and Syrah from Italy, France, and South Africa”.

Premiumisation of Rosé Wines

What catches my attention is the premiumisation of the category. Fratelli’s MS Sangiovese rosé and Sula’s The Source Grenache rosé have elevated the game with their iconic styles and price points too. Putting them in the INR1000+ category is a rather gutsy move. It signifies their confidence, states that these labels are equally discerning amidst their reserve reds, oaked whites, and aged bubblies. And paying that premium will deliver a drinking experience the’ll renew your perception about the category, elevating their tippling rituals. Mind you, these are their second labels. Fratelli already had a Shiraz rosé, made by bleeding method, which Alessio describes as richer in colour, with spicy and aromatic notes, juicy, delivering good freshness. Why the need to make another one then? “MS Sangiovese rosé shows the soil of Akluj that adds minerality to the wine. Sangiovese has naturally higher acidity, and without much thick a skin, it gives a softer, lighter wine with richer aromatics”. Talks of minerality in Indian rosés, who would’ve though? 

Tale of Two Rosé Wines

Sula’s Zinfandel rosé was an ode to America’s love for their ‘blush’ ‘White Zinfandel’. They are darker, sweeter, and utterly playful with ripe red fruits, bubblegum, and a slight crunch at the back. Karan Vasani, Chief Winemaker at Sula opines “consumers have come to realise rosés aren’t just ‘frivolous’ anymore. Look at the difference between MS rosé, The Source, and Vallonne’s Cabernet rosé, they are the world apart, and that is super exciting”. Gregoire Verdin, Sula’s Brand Ambassador, distinguishes their two rosés by saying, “The Source aims at creating a distinct personality, hence, the departure from that giant smiling sun on the labels. They’re much serious, gastronomic wines, made on the French template. Grenache is a beautiful grape to show the provence style, and I’m excited to carry it back to France and show it to my family”. Rajeev Samant proudly calls it ‘affordable premium’, I concur. 

And this segment elevation isn’t lauded just domestically. Fratelli’s MS rosé was celebrated internationally when it became the first Indian wine to bag a gold medal for its 2018 vintage at the Sommelier Wine Awards, 2019. Decanter World Wine Awards, 2020 coveted Sula’s Source Grenache rosé  with a Bronze Award. And, I’m sure that’s just the start.

What The Future Holds?

It’s incredible how far in such little time our winemakers have come. It’s imperative to realise their flight of confidence in experimentation is controlled by the palates of our locals. Estimated 75% of Indian wines are consumed domestically, and amongst them rosés are a bullish. It’s a category thats filled with base level examples, which has beautifully set itself to only rise from hereon. Look out for more exciting avatars coming out and premiumising the game. Be prepared to experiment and find new experiences between a watermelon-hued to an onion-skinned and a salmon coloured chilled glass. And no, this isn’t only for the ladies in the house, it’s for men too. They look sexy when they vibe together on a bottle of rosé, or shall we say Brosé.

First published in Spiritz Magazine, June 2021

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