Think of India and the last thing likely to come into your mind is a picture of vineyards straddling its vast countryside. But with a climate ideal for the cultivation of the grape, ever- ingenious growers have discovered that they too can produce a range of highly palatable wines that may soon rival established growers.
When I published The Complete Indian Wine Guide, people were shocked to learn that there were so many producers of good-quality Indian wine. Most wine enthusiasts in India, even regular drinkers of Indian wines, had only heard of the major wineries: Chateau Indage, Grover’s, Sula, and those with more experience had also heard of Vinsura. (Of course, anyone who had spent a nice holiday in Goa would have known about Vinicola, but this producer hardly fits into the current discussion of premium domestic wines.)
I revealed in the book that India was currently producing over 75 different wine labels in the premium category alone, and that there were about 20 major wineries pumping out the nectar of life in a relatively consistent manner.
Now, over a year after the Indian Wine Guide was first released, the range of domestic wineries just continues to grow. This boom that skeptics call a bubble just keeps on booming. Happily, the quality seems to grow along with the quantity, at least among certain producers. It is worthwhile, therefore, to mention a handful of totally new names which did not even make an appearance in my wine book – which, of course, was supposed to be complete.
The first is Renaissance Wines, situated in Ozar just outside of Nashik. The current Renaissance range includes a Chenin Blanc and a Sauvignon Blanc, two noble white varietals that have been tried over and over again with good results in the Nashik region. Their reds include a standard Cabernet Sauvignon and a new-world style Shiraz-Cabernet blend. I understand that they have also released a Zinfandel Rosé, although I have yet to see it on the market shelves.
I am not terribly excited about the whites, but I would say that the Shiraz-Cab is a wine with great potential, provided that Renaissance is willing to take the risk of offending the anti-tannin majority. A fair number of aficionados have, however, praised their entire range of wines in my presence, and thus I believe that any wine from Renaissance can be recommended for a trial.
The next new winery that is turning tongues is Vintage Wines, better known under the label-name Reveilo. Vintage, also in the Nashik region, is regarded as India’s lesser-known elite producer, not bothering with profits and markets, but only with producing the best wine possible at any cost. They offer up the standard varietals, Chenin Blanc, Syrah (that is, Shiraz), Cabernet Sauvignon, but they have also brought out the much less common white varietal Chardonnay.
There being so few domestic Chardonnays on the Indian market (Indage dominates here in quantity, but only by default, till now, in terms of quality), I am a big advocate of any wine house that tries to bring Chardonnay wines to our table.
I would strongly suggest you to run through a tasting of Reveilo Chardonnay side by side with whatever other Indian Chardonnays you can get your hands on (Indage is the easiest, and thus the obvious choice, but you can consult the Wine Guide for a complete list of Indian Chardonnays). It is essential to have a good, consistent Chardonnay as a standby for whenever you wish to throw a dinner party where continental appetizers are served.
Mandala Valley, the third new winery which we should mention, is based not in Nashik but in the Bangalore area; nevertheless, it operates through the Solapur-based Mohini Winery in Maharashtra, and thus has not yet started competing with Bangalore’s Grover Vineyards, one of India’s oldest and largest wineries. They do intend to operate in Karnataka in the future, and so it is only a matter of time before the older wineries all around are forced by all the tiny newer ones to innovate and improve.
I have not yet had a chance to taste and evaluate Mandala Valley wines, but I have heard that their production, though as young as 2006, is certainly worth looking into. As a serious supporter of all the smaller players, I must encourage you to take the effort to try to find and try wines from all the new players such as this one.
Indeed, all the wines from domestic Indian producers must first be tasted and evaluated before they can be dismissed in favour of the imports. As I set out to show in the wine book, we have some very good wines at good prices here in India, and even if you are not a great fan of Indian wine now, the only way you can ever hope to taste better quality Indian wines is by doing what you can to support the industry in its infancy.
Aakash Singh Rathore (author of The Complete Indian Wine Guide) can be contacted at: [email protected]