The Great Indian Red Reserve Wines Report

For the first time in India a tasting was put together of the reserve reds produced by the Indian winemakers. While it can be hard (almost impossible) to define what exactly constitutes a ‘Reserve’ wine in a country where even the appellations aren’t clearly defined, it can be safely assumed that any wine touted as a reserve should have a majority of these attributes:

  • Better grape selection
  • More concentration
  • Possible oak ageing or oak-induced notes
  • Revised packaging (not a necessity)

Indian winemakers were invited to send in what they felt would hence qualify and, on the destined day, all wines were lined up shoulder to shoulder, and people were invited to taste.

The tasting was not blind and the wines were arranged by houses as in some cases, there was more than one wine from a certain producer.

Here are the results of the tasting, ranked in order of their scores as awarded by the tasting panel. In case of suspect bad bottles (where someone awarded a wine zero marks), the scores were not added to the total (in order to not affect the average). Lastly, a conscientious effort was made to reach out to every winery but some of them were unable to be a part of this tasting for various possible reasons. As such, this study is in no way a commentary on their quality or relative standing on this chart.


On the whole the wines seemed targeted at a knowledgeable consumer, one who has travelled and tasted the wines of the world, especially wines which are meant for ageing and cellaring, and carry a certain prestige value. The packaging was slick with many opting for heavier bottles (in some cases seemingly larger too) as if to give the Reserve range a visual (and tactile) dominance over their standard line-up. Corks were preferred over screw caps but not as is in Europe where certain countries would never consider screw caps for anything they label Reserve. Thankfully, we Indians are more accommodating.

The aim of most winemakers was to emulate established wine styles and to create local blends that were worthy of being aged for a while (even if not for decades endlessly) and would benefit from being decanted before service. The grapes were the pick of the most popular international varieties and the handling trend showed a distinct tilt in favour of the New World styles with jammy fruit and punchy oak.

Speaking of which, oak is definitely on the rise, liked by one and all, and favoured by most tasters on the panel, knowingly or otherwise. The marks awarded reflected this affinity. The only trouble was that with oak it was easy to lose varietal character and come up with a wine that was pleasing at first but daunting overall. Also, some winemakers seemed to have used oak to mask winemaking flaws which may have passed unnoticed on an untrained palate. This would be an expensive ploy to resort to for a wine that isn’t great to start with would not improve with oak but only show more lack of harmony and balance. Such wines often displayed a certain dirty stale wood stink on the nose, one that was worsened by the over-indulgence of oak. Consequently these wines were penalised. Wine is a fruit-based beverage and wood is to be used to enhance it, give it layers and make it complex, not strip down the freshness and natural zing to replace it with something that resembled wood-juice – that was the guiding principle for the panel and thankfully they seemed to have held on to it fast.

But the role of oak (chips or barrels) is definitely increasing and we shall see more of it in times to come with wines marked Reserve. What we hope improves is the winemakers’ understanding of this shaping tool and how to tactfully utilise it with their produce.

Another trend spotted was the increase of concentration of both colour and flavours in the wines. This could be attributed to selective pickings followed by deeper extraction during the winemaking stages. In some cases, especially where the vines are young, this leads to extremely bitter wines with thick, almost green tannins as was the case with certain samples. In such cases the introduction of oak only deteriorated things further and the wine was too daunting to be enjoyed beyond the first few sips.

Luckily most wines were on the dry side with Residual Sugar (RS) less than 6-8 grams/litre but the ripeness quotient combined with the hot climate did impart a certain ‘sweetness’ to some wines. So, safe to assume that the Indian winemakers understand the notion that a Reserve wine must be generally dry and not off-dry or semi-sweet as it would detract from their Reserve tag.

Most wines were filtered fine to the point of bright with a glossy sheen. That isn’t a bad thing, as long as it wasn’t done at the expense of flavour but we do know that some brands that already scored high are planning to cut back on the fining to further enhance flavour and personality in their cuvees.

Bottle variation still remains the industry’s biggest plague and we would love to see more consistency in the wines. Certain wines which have consistently scored high in previous sessions fared miserably this time and unfortunately we didn’t have back up bottles for some of them. Conversely other wines did remarkably better than they have ever at any tasting. This sporadic behaviour is not commendable as we would rather see wines showing consistent behaviour rather than spurts of excellence followed by troughs of imbalance and disharmony. So winemakers, all of them, definitely need to seriously focus on consistency. In many cases we found that what we had tasted as barrel samples at the wineries was much more lively and exuberant than the product that we uncorked for this tasting. This could point to bottling issues and an unclean bottling line is not a rare problem – not just in India – one that can do much damage to an otherwise well-made wine.

One last point, evaluating wines is an on-going process and just because a wine has scored high here doesn’t imply it will always be the case. It just means that on the appointed day the wines from a certain winery showed well and the general consensus was in its favour. The tasting panel we had was by no means exhaustive or definitive and we in our turn have tried to best reflect a balanced picture of the tasting. The personal scores of each taster may still show a different picture but this is what emerged after diligently compiling the scores of the day and weeding out the anomalies.

We do hope you will enjoy browsing through the list, ticking off the ones you have tried and resolving to try a few others. We intend to add short tasting notes shortly (it has delayed this post long enough so we decided to publish this rather than postpone any more.)

As for our dear winemakers, even as we thank you for being a part of this endeavour, we hope you will see the outcome in a positive light and continue to participate in similar exercises in the future for the collective benefit of the industry and consumers everywhere.

Thank you.

(Wines marked out of 20)

1Fratelli SetteCab. Sauvg. + Sangiovese+ Cab. Franc16.88
2KRSMACabernet Sauvignon16.80
4Charosa Tempranillo16.60
5Vallonné Malbec16.50
7Zampa Tempranillo + syrah16.30
8Sula RasaShiraz16.10
9Big BanyanShiraz16.10
10Vallonné Merlot15.90
11VallonnéCabernet Sauvignon15.80
12MyraCabernet Sauvignon15.80
13SDUCabernet Sauvignon15.13
15Sula DindoriShiraz14.88
16Grovers La ReserveCabernet Sauvignon + Shiraz14.80
17Charosa Cabernet Sauvignon14.50
18YORK ARROS (blend)14.40
19Seagrams Nine HillsShiraz14.30
21Chateu D’ OriCabernet Sauvignon + Merlot13.75
22Seagrams Nine HillsCabernet Sauvignon13.60
23ReveiloCabernet Sauvignon13.50
24Chateu D’ OriCabernet Sauvignon + Syrah10.00

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