When you mention Indian wine there are a few reactions. There are the ones that are surprised India even produces wine, and then there are the ones that pull a face which can only mean they have tried a few (or even only one) and didn’t enjoy them. Last week I visited India’s main wine region, Nashik, and am proud to report that India has really stepped up it’s game and is producing some fabulous wines we should all watch out for.
I was lucky enough to be accompanied by another wine lover, Melvin D’Souza from one of my favourite Indian wine brands Soul Tree. Nashik in the western state of Maharashtra (about 3 hours drive from Mumbai) is not only picturesque but happens to be known as the wine capital of India. As any wine enthusiast, I wanted to learn it all, from grape to glass and hear what future Indian wine holds in the International marketplace.
Much like Napa Valley is the perfect short break away from San Francisco, Nashik is an ideal place to get away from busy Mumbai. Grapes have been grown in the region since 1925. These table grapes sparked a revolution and were soon exported to the Middle East, Europe and Asia. I was told by a local winemaker that the grapes were also made into wine, not good wine, but wine none the less. Wine tourism has really taken off and you can do vineyard tours, wine tasting and buy your favourite wines by the case. It all started when Rajeev Samant decided to plant Californian Chenin Blanc and French Sauvignon Blanc on his 30 acre family estate in the late 90’s. With the help of a Californian winemaker, Sula was launched and it is now India’s largest wine producer. Others followed, as did grape varieties, and with Nashik sharing a similar climate to Spain and Australia, it’s no wonder there are so many acres under vine.
After much vineyard hopping and tasting (possibly too much!) – some good and inevitably some not so good – I was particularly impressed with a brand called Charosa. They are the first to adopt open tank fermentation and the new world wines produced are spectacular. Worth noting is their Reserve Tempranillo that has been aged for 12 months in French oak barrels. Wonderful ripe red fruits and a hint of vanilla, make this wine perfect to drink on its own but why would you want to when it will pair so well with hearty red meats. Their Viognier from their Selection range is floral on the nose with hints of cinnamon and apricot making it a good white to try with light to medium spiced Indian dishes.
Another of my favourite finds was Soma’s Dessert Chenin Blanc. Suitably sweet with tropical notes and honey tones. It’s no surprise that I also loved SULA’s Late Harvest Chenin Blanc which was sweeter still and shared a similar flavour profile. And while we are on the Chenin Blanc wagon, I was happy to hear of a relatively young wine brand called York that is producing a stunning sparkling Chenin Blanc. If you see it I urge you to pick up as many bottles as you can as you won’t be disappointed.
India has got some hidden wine gems and for those who feel Indian wines are no match for their well known International wine producing counter parts, I encourage you to try them once again. You will be pleasantly and palatably surprised. When you next pick up that wine menu, or visit your local wine store, have a look in the New World section, and pick an Indian wine or two. You may just be converted. Indian wine has an exciting future and it’s only going to improve. With only a few brands exporting out of the nation, we are limited on choice, but what a great choice there is. Have a look out for Soul Tree’s new sparkling wine (Aikya). It’s a must try and utterly delicious.
For those visiting the region and fancy doing some wine and food matching, what better than to learn about a local forgotten cuisine from Khandesh. Wandering Foodie conduct food and wine weekends offering you the chance to not only sample the cuisine, but to learn how to cook it. These bright young entrepreneurs also organise a wine tour and expertly pick wines for their menus. Yummy food and great wine…it was the perfect weekend away.