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08.08.2007

Tasting Notes for Indian Wine: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Shall I reveal to you the true depths of my wine geekness? One of the most exciting things that I've done in the last few months was to get together with a friend of mine named Kimberly, who owns a wine marketing and communication agency and taste a whole bunch of wines from India that one of her colleagues had convinced a family member to send them.

Indian wine is unknown territory for most wine lovers, and rightfully so. Winemaking, at least modern winemaking with vinifera grapes in India is a relatively recent phenomenon, though winemaking in some form has been practiced in the country for nearly 2000 years. It's not entirely clear to me when the first modern commercial wine was made in India, but it was certainly probably in the 1980s at the earliest. National laws about winegrowing and winemaking were only instituted in 2001 and the Maharashtra Grape Board, a marketing organization for the country's major wine region, was established in 2005.

There are about 40 wineries operating in the country with about 3000 acres of vineyards planted to Shiraz, Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay, and http://www.vinography.com/archives/images/indian_wines-thumb.jpg Riesling. In total the country produces about 700,000 cases of wine per year -- less than some of California's larger single wineries.

Wine consumption in India is miniscule by anyone's standards, though it is rising rapidly. On average, each person in India drinks less than one bottle of wine per year, though there are huge swaths of the country where consumption is zero. Most of the wine consumption is confined to the urban centers of Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore, which together account for 61% of the wine consumption in the country.

Just as in China however, as the middle class increases in size, demand for wine and interest in wine grows. Likewise, as wine production becomes expensive elsewhere in the world, and the global demand for cheap wine grows, India may grow as a player in the world wine market.

Indeed, wine projects in India are already attracting the attention and efforts of some heavy hitters in the wine world, Michel Rolland among them. International winemakers and winemaking consultants are increasingly paying attention to the developing wine industry in India.

I always get excited about tasting wines from new regions, so it was a pleasure to sit down with my friend Kimberly and a few other folks and taste through the wines that she had managed to get a hold of. Here are my tasting notes for your pleasure.

It's probably worth noting that these wines were not necessarily transported in the most optimal conditions by professionals. They were shipped internationally via Fed Ex and may have suffered a bit in the journey. Take this into account when reading the tasting notes below.

TASTING NOTES:

2005 Grover Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Nandi Hills, India
Light gold in color, this wine as a nose of yellow apple and lemon aromas. In the mouth it offers a smooth texture with bright citrusy flavors of lemon juice and lemon zest with a hint of yeastiness, and a thickness that betrays some oak aging. The vineyards sit at 2000 feet elevation. 8/8.5

2006 Sula Vineyards Chenin Blanc, Nashik, India
Light gold in the glass, this wine has a pleasant nose of honey and dusty, yeasty aromas of hearty bread. In the mouth it offers decent balance with honey, caramel, and yellow apple flavors wrapped in a smooth, silky body. Decent finish. 8.5

2005 Chateau Indage Chardonnay, Sahyadri Valley, India
Light green-gold in color, this wine smells of buttered popcorn and cold cream. In the mouth it offers very nice acidity with primarily lemon zest flavors that fall flat around an empty, slightly watery middle for the wine. What starts well, ends with little complexity. 7.5

2006 Grover Vineyards Rose of Shiraz, Nandi Hills, India
Medium bright pink in the glass, this wine has a very distinct nose of candied apples. In the mouth it offers relatively simple flavors of red apple skin, which would be pleasant enough were they not to migrate to a very bitter acetone note in the finish, which effectively makes this a bit of an unpleasant quaff. 6.5

2004 Grover Vineyards "La Reserve" Red Wine, Nandi Hills, India
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a classic Cabernet Sauvignon nose of green pepper, plus some notes of artichokes. In the mouth the wine is relatively simple and one dimensional with straightforward flavors of cherry and leather, with. The finish falls well short of pleasurable. 7.5

2003 Grover Vineyards "La Reserve" Red Wine, Nandi Hills, India
A medium garnet color in the glass, this wine smells unfortunately of wet band-aids. In the mouth it offers simple flavors of tart cherry that end up wooden and blocky in the mouth, with a lousy texture and poor balance. Avoid this wine. 5.5/6

NV Satori Merlot, Nashik India
Medium ruby in color, this wine has a dusty nose that smells of wet dirt and vaguely of plums. In the mouth it has a hint of candied plum which is unfortunately immediately obliterated with the bitter, acrid taste of alcohol and acetone that linger with heat in the back of the throat until you very sincerely regret taking that last sip of wine. Avoid this wine. 5.5

2005 Chateau Indage Cabernet Sauvignon, Sahyadri Valley, India
Dark ruby in the glass, this wine has a promising depth of color and a deep nose of licorice aromas. On the palate the wine has flavors of candied plum and dried fruits, with light tannins, but very little to speak of in the way of body or texture. The flavors of the wine are shallow and thin, and lean towards the oaky. 6.5

* * *

In short, if you're gonna experiment with Indian wine, stick to the whites rather than the reds. It's important to realize that this is not necessarily a representative tasting of the wines of India, merely what we could get our hands on. I look forward to the opportunity to taste more someday.

Comments (13)

Jon Wolfsthal wrote:
08.09.07 at 3:25 AM

20 years ago when I starting tasting wines from Virginia, I noticed that the whites were much better than the reds and assumed it had somethng to do with the age of the vines, as well as the experience of the vintners. Is there anything to the idea that it takes white wine grapes less time to fully develop and produce decent products than red wine grapes?

Homer S. wrote:
08.09.07 at 7:38 AM

The Sula sauvignon blanc is pretty good (around an 8.5), and I've seen it several places. In fact, it's the only Indian wine I've ever seen (and tasted). I seem to remember that the winemaker spent many years here in Sonoma/Napa.

Alder wrote:
08.09.07 at 9:39 AM

Jon,

Thanks for the note. Let me say right off that I don't know enough about winegrowing or winemaking to be able to answer your question definitively, but I don't think there is any significant difference in the development of white versus red grapes when first planted. You may be on to something, though, when it comes to the experience of the winemakers. There may also be climactic or geologic (soil) conditions which simply favor white grapes in both locations, though, again, that is beyond my knowledge and experience.

Arthur wrote:
08.09.07 at 10:12 AM

Jon,

A winemaker once told me that it is actually harder to make white wine than red wine. I don't know if that is a universal truism but much of what determines a wine's quality happens in the vineyard. Some varieties ripen earlier than others. Whites, generally, tend to do better in cooler climates with better acids while in the same climate, a late-ripening red might have trouble hitting the sweet spot in ripeness. Many wineries in the east and Midwest use hybrid grapes better suited to the climate, while others cling to traditional varieties. In both cases the results are varied. Yield and harvesting affect the finished product. Then, there is the question of what you like and look for in a wine - white or red. Were the Virginia wines you had sweet or generally crisp and acidic? I would love to hear from you about what wines you tried (varieties and producers).

Arthur wrote:
08.09.07 at 10:13 AM

Alder,

Sounds like a number of these wines you tasted have brett and VA issues. Isn't China producing some wines? I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on those. And how about some Easter European wines?

Alder wrote:
08.09.07 at 10:35 AM

Actually Arthur,

There were not specific faults like those two which immediately jumped out as apparent. Generally the worst of these tasted just like poorly made wines with perhaps not such good fruit.

Arthur wrote:
08.09.07 at 10:42 AM

Ahh, OK.

When I saw "band aid" and "acetone" it sounded like you were indicating those faults.

Shaddon wrote:
08.09.07 at 4:00 PM

I got to sample the Sula Chenin Blanc & Shiraz when he was at the Vancouver Wine Festival in 2006. The Chenin Blanc was pretty good, but we loved the Shiraz, all smoke & cherry from what I remember. I believe he mentioned he was part of the whole dot com boom, perhaps Napa inspired him to try it in his homeland.

wine blog wrote:
08.09.07 at 10:33 PM

Thanks for sharing this with us, i've never tasted wine from india. I'm going to try to find some 2005 Grover Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Nandi Hills.

JJ

Shiv wrote:
08.10.07 at 8:28 AM

Alder,

I enjoyed reading your tasting notes. While Indian production is quite small, consumption is around 4.6 million liters annually and growing at a growth rate of 25%. Still, I agree compared to many other countries it is a small market.

I'm glad you mentioned that the wines had been transported via fedex.
It may have affected some of the wines. In fact, many retail shops in India itself have bad storage conditions making it harder to know exactly what the wines originally tasted like.

boyce wrote:
08.15.07 at 7:48 AM

Hi Alder,

I came across a post on Indian (and Chinese) wines by Chris Devonshire-Ellis, who has spent much of the past two decades in those countries and, I'd guess, tasted more than his fair share of wines.

Here is the link: http://www.2point6billion.com/2007/03/22/home-grown-chinese-indian-wines/

Cheers, Boyce

Anonymous wrote:
01.07.09 at 9:56 PM

Hi,
Great article about indian wine market that this one :-)
I will take the time to read more content from you .
Shinning sun on indian wine :-)

Shiv Singh wrote:
09.07.09 at 4:48 PM

Alder, I thought I'd follow up my earlier comment with a note that my magazine is organizing a wine competition - an Indian competition created by Indians, judged by the best Indian palates for the benefit of the consumers. Steven Spurrier is leading the a panel of Indian judges that will be tasting all the wines imported and sold in India. This includes both Indian and foreign wines. The competition will be held in November and I'll share the results with you. It might be of interest to the readers here.

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