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Buyer's guide to the best Indian wines
Local oenophile and writer Bhisham Mansukhani hand picks the Indian wines most likely to succeed in the new world, including where to buy in Mumbai and how to store wine in this climate
Ten years ago, the idea of drinking Indian wine would draw sniggers and the odd 'vinegar in a bottle' dig. Since then it has won praise from international wine experts and importantly gotten Indians to drink more of it than they ever have in the history of this spirit-loving nation.
Indian vineyards started their careers by sticking to predominantly four French varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. But other interesting varietals such as Viognier, Merlot, Chardonnay and Reisling are gaining prominence. The Indian basket is getting more diverse and better.
There's also plenty of it to confidently recommend. These 12 would make the case for Indian wine.
Six of India's finest reds
Reveilo Reserve Syrah
There was both incredulity and anticipation when Vintage Wines decided to introduce a premium wine with half the range priced around Rs 1,000 a bottle. After a pour, however, both issues were flushed out. Bottled under the brand Reveilo, this wine is estate grown -- picked from the producer's own Nashik vineyards and matured in new French oak barrels for nine months. This is a big wine and its elegance makes it a special one. The wine has a smokey character, it's peppery with flavors of dark berries predominating. There's more than just a hint of oak which sits well with this Syrah's flavor profile and the tannins are balanced without being too soft. Syrah hails from the Rhone valley in South East France where it yields a peppery, medium-bodied red. Interestingly, the Indian style is more robust and tannic, similar to the Australia one which is referred to as Shiraz, though Reveilo insists on calling their wine Syrah. This is one Indian wine that can actually get better with some ageing. So pick it up, store it well and there’s no telling what other interesting characteristics you might discover six months to a year on.Sula Rasa (Shiraz)
Concentration delivers students to distinction. Concentration does well for the vines too and Sula scores great points on that account with this Shiraz. Straight Shiraz hasn't been popular until recently, prior to which all of Sula’s Shiraz were going into blends. This effort though makes that decision seem ever more curious. This wine has intense, spicy aromas and the sheer concentration of fruit comes through on the palate while the oak element is subtle, at best. The tannins are however very present which gives the wine good structure. Sula maintains that it will only bottle the Rasa during the best of vintages. The first batch, a 2007 vintage, contained only 600 cases and they don’t come cheap. This is an occasion wine and putting it away for a while longer, to further soften the tannins, will only do it more good.
Grover’s La Reserve (Cabernet Shiraz)
It's long held the mantle as India's best wine, becoming an almost household name for the first generation of wine drinkers in India. The legacy has filtered through to the current generation to whom it has endeared, in spite of the variety of international reds they’ve drunk. Ironic then that this iconic wine was produced in Nandi Hills in Karnataka, not Nashik, regarded hitherto as the Indian wine capital. The first adaptation of the patently Australian style of Cabernet Shiraz was grown under the uncompromising attention of revered French wine maker Michel Rolland. Even today, the grapes are hand picked from the oldest of the estate’s vines and given six months in French oak barrels. La Réserve is a rush of ripe fruit but in a good way. There are also notes of chocolate and vanilla. The fruit and oak contain one another and the tannins balance the two. The wine has a near perfect landing so to speak. Its astonishing consistency over the years justifies the grand name.
Indus Cabernet Sauvignon
On the way to Nashik from Mumbai, Igatpuri is a well-known home to a cult of meditation and draws trekkers during the monsoons. Last weekend it drew a certain curious trio of city professionals, out from their urban lives towards the valley’s soil and the consequent result was not just sterling wine under the brand name Indus, but the discovery of a sub-region and micro-climate that for long lay under the noses of wine grape farmers and is only now gaining recognition. The Indus Cabernet Sauvignon is a great one not just because it outdoes the standard but that it bares another all together interesting style with hints of mint and eucalyptus, not a hint of sweetness and a full body that fills the mouth and the senses. The dry finish is the proverbial icing on the cake. This wine goes down very well indeed and the bottle looks beautiful too.
Chateau D’Ori Cabernet Shiraz
When you describe a wine as rich, there’s the invariable association with expensive. For the quality, this wine isn’t and has emerged as by far the most worthy challenge to the La Reserve (ditto red blend). The laterite soils of Dindori and the keen stewardship of Monsieur Athanese Fakorellis, flying French wine maker, has yielded a fine result. It’s got expressive red fruit character and spice as well as a powerful oak influence. This is probably the one Indian red that can unquestionably age and the time to drink it depends on what you prefer -- robust tannins and rich oak flavour (drink now) or ripe fruit with soft tannin (age it). In any event, the impressions stays long on the palate, perhaps long enough to tempt one to stock up. Uncork it or put it down for some but get it you must.
York Cabernet Sauvignon
If the consistent mention of Cabernet Sauvignon in this piece is a dead give away so be it. This grape has thrived in Indian conditions and York upholds this modern tradition with a luscious red and its expression gets better the longer it stays on the palate. The wine has good body, hints of dark cherries, pepper and pencil shavings even. This is a pleasantly complex wine and the oak on the finish is a nice touch. Not bad at all considering that it's the producer's first vintage.
India's finest whites
Indus Sauvignon Blanc
In India good white wine is harder to find than red. Much, much harder. So when an Indian white fits that description of bouquet and palate, you want to hold onto it and enjoy it the way you would a rare flower. The Indus Sauvignon Blanc has found a good home in Igatpuri Maharashtra. This white wine exemplifies balance -- the aromas of citrus fruit and cut grass, citrus and passion fruit on the palate -- and with pleasing dry finish, defines India's posit in the universe of the new world Sauvignon Blanc styles.
Reveilo Chardonnay Reserve
It works in Burgundy, has been received with mixed reception in America and never succeeded in India until recently. Chardonnay. More specifically, Chardonnay fermented and matured in oak. Without getting to technical, Chardonnay is the one white that gets the oak treatment while more white wine is held in metal tanks. Reveilo is the only one to attempt it here and has created a peach of a wine. In fact, it's got flavors of peach and passion fruit, an almost flinty character and a sweep of oak towards the end. It's a touch creamy as well. The wine maker has improved this wine with every vintage and with the current one, he's hit the sweet spot.
Mercury Chenin Blanc
This wine has earned accolades and won awards and the fact that it's only been bottled for three years does it no harm whatsoever. It stands apart from the typical Indian style of Chenin Blanc which experts have come to define as modestly acidic with a discernibly sweet finish. Not so with Mercury's star white -- all floral nose and honeydew and melon on the palate, crisp acidity and a dry, contrasting finish -- which lends the wine a distinct character and makes it the pick of the bunch.
Grover’s was the first to grow this Rhone Valley grape in India and still retains the edge even though there's now competition. The Viognier traditionally turns out a perfumed and floral wine which is the delight of those who prefer the lighter style. Grover’s Viognier retains those attributes but also boasts visible acidity which only makes it more fresh and appealing. Look out for the apricots and tropical fruit flavors. This wine is highly underrated and can only get more popular.
Chateau D’Ori Sauvignon Blanc
The producer surprised everyone by using oak chips to mature its Sauvignon Blanc -- a French style rarely tried elsewhere -- but while this is no longer the case the wine still attains a fine balance between alcohol and acidity. It's crisp and floral. Grapefruit and citric aromas come through on the nose while on the palate the wine has mineral characteristics that complement the fruit. An obvious Indian summer afternoon choice.
It finds mention on our list not just because it’s the only Riesling ever made in India but because the style is more Germanic than New World. There’s a whiff of petrol on the nose and honeyed notes. The Sula Riesling is an elegant wine with low acidity and a tinge of sweetness on the finish. It's a darling for those who like lighter white wine styles. Unfortunately there isn’t much around so it’s one to look out for and stock before it runs out.
Message for the bottle: Storing wines in tropical climes
While good Indian wine may no longer be hard to find, the bad news is that storing wines in India, domestic or imported, is a challenge. Making good wine isn’t enough. Storage is that vital second step without which the first is rendered irrelevant. And Indian weather contains all of wine’s enemies -- heat, fluctuating humidity and harsh sunlight.
Heat and sunlight have the detrimental effect of dissolving the wine's delicate aromas and flavors while higher temperature and the absence of humidity can oxidize wine that is bottled under cork -- ie. the cork dries up, contracting in the process, letting the air in which oxidates the wine which is why wines are stored horizontally so that the wine can keep the cork moist and air tight. Alas, keeping wines in the fridge isn’t the way out because its doors are constantly being opened. Besides, the wine is likely to be chilled beyond the point of improvement, canceling out the potential of ageing. Colder temperatures can also lead to crystal sediment forming at the bottom. Worse, the wine might have already been doomed by the store keeper who proudly put it on the display shelf along with the vodka, and toasted it under the sun turning the liquid into vinegar.
It's not all hopeless though. There is a solution and it's two pronged. First, strictly buy wine from shops that store their wines laid down and in temperatures constantly below 18 degrees and recessed from the sun. Then, at home, the wines need to be stored in a cool dry place, again away from the light. Buying a wine cooler from any of the reputed home appliances stores (Croma, Vijay Sales, E Zone) should solve that problem. In India, both red and white wines need to kept in wine coolers and served chilled.
The only caveat and drop of accidental good news is that most Indian wine is meant to be drunk, and in fact is, within three months of purchase. A lot of it is also closed with screw cap, in which case, simply buying it from any of the shops recommended below and keeping them away from sunlight should do it. Anything more precious and age-worthy can be laid down in the cooler where it may be allowed to rightfully get better.
Wine-friendly retailers in Mumbai
Globus Wines, Unit Number 209, Infiniti Mall, Second Floor Gate Number 3, Link Road, Andheri (W). Also at Star Bazaar, Thakur Shopping Mall, near Dahisar Check Naka, Mira Bhayander Highway, Mira Road. And at Haiko Supermarket, Hiranandani Gardens, Central Avenue, Powai. Hotline for all the outlets +91 (0) 22 2632 9005
Nature’s Basket, Shop No 30, World Trade Centre, Cuffe Parade; +91 (0) 22 2215 2006. Also at Tirupati Apartments, Shop No. 6, Bhulabhai Desai Road, opposite Mahalakshmi Temple; +91 (0) 22 2352 6775
IN at Annie Beasant Road, Worli; +91 (0) 22 6654 7939
Santé, 10, Ridge Road, next to Cafe Ridge, Malabar Hill; +91 (0) 22 2368 4128. Also at Shop No 1 Sahina Apartments, Pali Mala Road, Bandra +91 (0) 22 2640 2126. Also at Big Bazaar, Phoenix Mills Compound, Senpathi Bapat Marg, Lower Parel; +91 (0) 22 6662 6713; Chawla House, Woodhouse Road, Colaba, +91 (0) 22 6450 9779 and Raghuleela Mall, Vashi, Navi Mumbai, +91 (0) 22 6450 9777
Shoprite Hyper Nirmal Lifestyle Mall, LBS Marg Mulund (W); +91 (0) 22 6649 0641