A TOAST TO LIFE: Drinking wine has come of age in India. And leading the way is Bangalore, with the launch of two new wines this month. Arun Katiyar spends some time on the grape vine to give the low-down
Early this month, two new wines were introduced to the Indian market. Paul P John, Chairman of John Distilleries, launched both from Bangalore. The Zinfandel Rose, called Rossa Rosa, and the stunningly light late harvest Muscat desert wine, called Bellissima, brought the total of local wine labels in India to 123 between 28 different companies. Count the imported wines available, and there are over 540 labels from 50 companies to choose from. If you are a wine drinker, there never was a better time than this to raise a toast.
The Rossa Rosa and the Bellissima, crafted and produced under the supervision of Italian Master Winemaker Lucio Matricardi, have been created for the Indian wine market. Says Matricardi, who studied wine science at the University of Bologna and acquired a doctorate in wine technology from the University of California, “Although wines are available from all parts of the world, only Indian wines are in a position to profile and understand the Indian consumers. India must not emulate any European winemaking style where the palate and the climate are different, the food is different and the wine drinking tradition goes back ages.”
Wine drinking is changing rapidly in India. Rajeev Samant’s Sula Vineyards has been attracting VC investors, proving that Indian wine drinkers are maturing. A Stanford graduate, Samant brought Indian wine to international attention by carrying two bottles of his Sula Sauvignon Blanc to Tokyo’s 2002 Vinexpo, the industry’s annual wine show. His wines floored respected Italian winemaker Angelo Gaja, who placed an order for Samant’s wine. In 2008, Sula produced over 220,000 cases of wine, becoming a leader in the Indian wine industry and setting off the Indian wine story on an exciting journey.
In April this year, Federico Castellucci, the director general of the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV), announced that India would become “the first eastern Asian nation to join the organisation.” The OIV affiliation will help give India – which currently has no laws concerning grape growing and wine production — access to the government bodies of 43 wine making nations as well as the resources to make better wine.
A Nielsen Syndicate Wine Study, released in mid July, said that the Indian wine industry was witnessing phenomenal growth. The study was aimed at understanding wine drinking habits across the major metros. Its finding: 82 per cent of the wine consumed in the last three months was red. The survey found that wine drinking was associated with business in Delhi, as a drink for all seasons in Mumbai and as a drink to relax with in Bangalore.
At the bottom of the boom is a discernable trend. Lucio Matricardi, who re-christens himself Laxman the moment he lands on Indian soil, believes that wine makers should respect winemaking tradition and yet not copy any style. “The Indian consumer at this moment wants to have an excellent quality wine comparable to any international standard but at the same time is more readily accepting wines which are fruity, less acidic, less tannic, non-oaked but balanced,” he says.
As things stand now, the range of wines available in India are simple, non-complex and easy to appreciate. According to Matricardi, who keeps a close watch on the international wine scene, Indian wines are a work in progress. He points out that it took French, Italian and other wine making countries hundreds of years to achieve the levels they boast of today. “Indian wines do not have to undergo those years of evolution of learning from mistakes,” says Matricardi, suggesting that India can soon have wines that qualify for international dining tables.
Back home in Italy, Matricardi’s friends are excited and intrigued by the progress made in India. They are pleasantly surprised by the quality of the wines he takes back. Many of his winemaker friends and viticulturists are now very keen to travel to India and offer their expertise. Richard, the Seventh Earl of Bradford, who visits Bangalore often, refuses to go back to London without trying Indian wines. He believes that Indian wines can’t be under rated. He should know – not only is he royalty, but also runs a restaurant business in London. You can see the growing popularity of Indian wines. Clearly, it won’t be long before Indian wines are a toast across the globe.
The Top Five
Bangalore-based Darshan Jadav, CEO of Widget Factory, loves a good glass of wine. His love for wine began in an unusual way when his software company began work on an online wine widget for a global wine distributor. The widget helps consumers choose from a selection of wines based on a variety of factors. “Wines can be drunk almost any time of day,” says Jadav. “And in moderation, they can be quite refreshing.” Here, he gives us a list of his Top 5 Favourites and the reasons behind each one. Doubtless, the list will help anyone navigate the world of wines with ease and panache.
Moet Hennessy Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin: This is champagne (you pronounce it as “vuhv klee-koh”), but it still counts as a wine. During the Napoleonic Wars, it became popular amongst the royalty of Europe and Russia. It has a nice straw colour and is just right for any major celebration or for truly memorable gifting (along with a box of Belgian chocolates). This one is special.
Australian Shiraz from Jacob’s Creek: Not only is it reasonably priced but goes well with the spicy Indian food I like to enjoy. The food tastes much better if the wine is chilled a bit extra. My personal taste veers towards wines that have a little less alcohol; around 10 to 11 per cent is just fine. You should look for the alcohol content on the back of the labels to see what works best for you.
Indian Sauvignon Blanc from Big Banyan: I sometimes like to indulge in spicy Kerala food (who doesn’t?). But most restaurants serving good Kerala food don’t serve wine (unless Karavali at the Taj Gateway is your kind of place). So get the food home, keep a bottle of Big Banyan Sauvignon Blanc ready to go with the fish moilee or the vegetable moilee. The mild coconut curry and the Sauvignon Blanc sing to each other.
Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon from Anakena: Let me admit it: I love the label of this wine first and its inexpensive nature next. The label has an Aztec bird on it. This one is good with simple grilled food. It is distinctively fruity with a hint of minerals. Now, I am not sure if I imagine the minerals – from time to time, a good wine also fires your imagination – but as a native Gujarati, I like the rounded, fruity flavours.
India Viognier from Sula: The Dindori Reserve is a real winner from a price and quality point of view. It’s rare to find a good Indian Voigner, ripened in sunshine, with a distinctive hint of peaches, apricots and jasmine that is lean but not too dry. Good to go with Indian chicken dishes made with cream and plenty of cashew nuts in them.
The online connoisseur
There are several online resources that the wine lover can depend on. These range from organisations that just get together for the love of wine to those that deliver formal education in the subject. A small but rounded selection of such sites is presented here.
* Wine Instincts (www.wineinstincts.com) is a site for Indian wine lovers with reviews of Indian wines, tips on what to do with left over wine, wine cocktails, articles on wine drinking – all contributed by the community of wine lovers.
* Tulleeho (www.tulleeho.com) is amongst the oldest sites around beverage consulting, training, workshops and events. Started by Vikram Achanta, more than a decade ago, the Tulleeho Wine Academy is an approved programme provider for courses and certification offered by the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET), London.
* The Bangalore Wine Club (www.bangalorewineclub.in) was started about a decade ago by Alok Chandra, Nina Kanjirath, Kalyan Ganguly, Chippy Gangjee, Sunil Chainani, and Rekha & Vijayan Menon. It organises wine tasting sessions and generally shares its love for wine drinking with fellow wine aficionados. It has about 150 members.
* The InDrinks — Beers, Wines,Spirits & Beverages Network (www.linkedin.com) on LinkedIn is a serious, well-informed group meant for the professional.