The Big Fat Indian Tasting Returns…

The success of ‘The Big Fat Indian Tasting’ was good enough motivation for the Wi-Not team to attempt Round Two, as promised. The venue and idea of the tasting remained the same, a silent walk-around tasting at the Sevilla Restaurant, The Claridges, New Delhi. A total of 43 wines from 8 different wineries were put on the ‘test of taste’ this time as the zeal to unveil the make-up and validity of Indian wines continued. As again, the wines were good and so was the experience. Here are excerpts from the event as observed by the team and noted down while talking with the gathered wine-enthusiasts:

BIG BANYAN: Big Banyan is the premium range produce of Bangalore-based wine house Chateau d’Banyan, part of the Paul John Enterprise. All their wines were straight varietals i.e. single grape variety produce. Headed by an international wine maker, Lucio Matricardi, the wines hold a mix of Indian, Italian, and Spanish touch to them. We had 6 of their wines on the tasting viz. Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Rosa Rossa Rose, Zinfandel, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Except the rose, which was 2007 vintage, the whites and the reds were 2006 releases. Though the Chenin was highly regarded, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz held a close battle for the top spot. Minus the flavour intensity, both wines have much in common. Sappy, spicy, dark berried and oaked wines have a strong grip of young dusty tannins and an extended aftertaste of stewed plums, black pepper and coffee. They also have a late harvest Muscat on the offering list which we weren’t able to arrange for this round of tastings though.

YORK WINERY: This is one winery which is certainly making its mark well and strong. Setup next to Sula Vineyards in Nasik, Mr. Ravi Gurnani, owner of York prides himself for its robust structured reds. They produce two styles of wines: the Regular range and the Reserve range. A Zinfandel rose, regular and reserve range Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz were available for tasting while Chenin Blanc was tasted earlier by the Wi-Not team during a visit to the winery. With regards to collective feedback, Reserve Shiraz ranked high on everyone’s list. It’s a deep dark purple wine with a dominating round sweet-oak bouquet. The intensity and quality of tannins, balance and aftertaste is impressive and it is most surely a food-worthy wine. The spice component could be seen as an aid in pairing the wine with Indian dishes. It is impressive to learn that the winery also produces wines for certain other players in the market and yet manages to maintain astonishing individualistic quality for all their own brands.

MANDALA VALLEY WINERY:  A colourful label with a peacock is the signature identity of these wines. Mandala is a Bangalore-based winery. We had their ’09 Sauvignon Blanc, ’07 Chenin Blanc, Shiraz-Cabernet, Zinfandel, and Private Collection Shiraz. All their wines hold an even 12.5% alcohol, for those who wish for such (trivial yet quirky) details. The general perception was that the wines appeared to have low flavour intensity all through, perhaps a crop condition symptom. The Shiraz was ruby coloured with a distinct berry bouquet, light body with young oaky tannins finishing with a typical (Indian?) Shiraz aftertaste which many people likened to that of cola and sap.

VALLONNE: Mr. Shailendra Pai’s boutique winery Vallonne released their first vintage in 2009. The wines were launched in Goa and Mumbai and are yet to enter Delhi. By far the cleanest and most balanced wines surprising everyone with their structure and European appeal. We tasted their Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Barrique Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The Chenin was relished well due to its crisp acidity and candied pear-drop character, sweet white fruit and flower notes, thus making it an easy sip and a food-worthy wine. In the reds, Merlot and Cabernet were well received. Merlot was a young ruby-coloured wine with purple hints, a spicy, rounded palate, medium-bodied and with a good touch of oak. It is a decent wine to experiment with at food pairings. With the wines of this good quality and limited produce, the prices, though considered high by some, seemed like a good value-proposition.

NINE HILLS: Wines by liquor giant Seagram’s, Nine Hills’s winery is setup in Nasik near Chateau d’Ori. Their portfolio includes ’07 Sauvignon Blanc, ’08 Chenin Blanc, Shiraz Rose, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. The wines have been in the market for a while and the Seagram’s name is good enough to provide them a push. As a general observation, the wines were light-bodied with low flavour intensity, “watered down”, as someone remarked. Amongst them, Chenin Blanc received mixed reviews. It is a clean young wine with medium flavour intensity throwing notes of sweet candied fruits. It is a good effort but a lot has to be put in to make these wines compete and emerge in the market as a serious threat to the other more established players.

RENAISSANCE: Mr. Shivaji Aher’s endeavour needs no introduction. This Nasik-based winery has been in the business for long and has marked a good standing for themselves. A mix of 7 wines was tasted including the ’07 Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, ’08 Zinfandel Rose, Pinot Noir, Merlot Reserve, Shiraz-Cabernet, and Cabernet Sauvignon Classic. The company holds their Merlot Reserve as their signature wine and it was definitely the most well received one of the lot at the tasting. It’s a young wine with light ruby colour treated well with oak showing notes of Indian spices, plums and is slightly herbaceous, a character that certain hot-country Cabernets and Merlots are known to show. Tannins are still young and compliment the acidity to create a sense of balance in the wine. We feel some more efforts will be needed to be put into their wines to bring the best out of them.

SULA VINEYARDS: Mr. Rajeev Samant’s dream project producing the most talked-about and iconic wines of India. With its endless wine profile, it was hard to reach a mutual consensus and crown one wine as the best. On tasting were ’09 Riesling, ’08 Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Reserve Viognier, Zinfandel Rose, Cabernet Shiraz, Red Zinfandel and Late Harvest Chenin Blanc. The whites have already proven their presence on the market but the reds showed good mettle, especially the Dindori Reserve which had character and depth of flavour. What surprised most was their latest release: the ’09 Riesling – A ‘wow’ product with a clean nose, balanced sweetness, hints of grassy + mineral + floral + oily notes. It is a fruit forward wine with a bit of everything. A great effort and a must-have, by itself or with food. Apart from this, it was difficult to ignore their handsome yet romantic Rose. The thing is that with Sula at least you know the wines are home-grown and not bulk imports pawned off as Indian, which, to the sad state of things, is the case with certain wineries. But if the government is willing to look the other way, Wi-Not isn’t going to play whistle-blower. Not just yet anyways…

The tasting ended with everyone noting their likes and dislikes and going off in different direction to pour themselves another wee bit for now drinking. With a total of over 100 wines tasted in this two-part series, we were all amazed as tohow fast how much has been achieved. And still the list is far from exhausted: we certainly have a couple of wineries’ produce to taste before we can put a cross against their names on our list. As we saw the attendees walking in for these tastings, another interesting observation was registered: Indian wines are definitely an interesting topic for those in the Indian wine trade: both wine enthusiasts and wine professionals. Ironically it were the foreigners working in the Indian industry who showed a keener interest than the local managers who were conspicuous by their absence. Sad that they lack the passion for wine which is the only thing that could actually help them sell wine like in the West, or East, or North or South for that matter. So the verdict stands: Indian wines are fast becoming a sound and laudable reality, gradually getting enough matter to stand their own even in International territories. What now remains are for easier laws to help bring the wines closer to the consumers. Till then, more tastings, more testing, more fun…

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