As the sun climbs over the vineyards, the greens embrace a golden tinge, making you think of ageing wine. And there’s no better time than winter to experience the goodness of citrusy whites and berry-flavoured reds. We are in the hills of Nashik, India’s largest wine-producing region.
“The weather is perfect for a trip that can offer you a hedonistic wine experience,” says Nikhil Agarwal, sommelier and director, All Things Nice, a city-based wine and spirits consultancy. “Nashik has the perfect climate for growing grapes. The terraced slopes and fertile soil bring out the flavour of the grapes,” says Ajoy Shaw, chief winemaker at Sula. And the city’s 15 vineyards make for the perfect getaway for weekend warriors from Mumbai.
Follow the trail
In 2014, India produced a record 14.2 million litres of wine (according to a report in the Hindu Businessline). Maharashtra accounts for two-thirds of the national production, and is home to some of the best-known Indian wineries. Familiar names (you can’t miss these on the wine list of restaurants) like Chandon India, Charosa Vineyards and Sula, call this region home.
With the onset of the harvest season, wine tourism kicks off. The segment has grown exponentially. Increased government support coupled with rising interest from patrons has led vineyards to follow the success seen in California’s Napa Valley. For instance, Maharashtra provides each winery with a bar and retail license along with its production licence. Mushrooming resorts, spas and restaurants along the trails have added to the attraction.
At Sula, La Plage — a popular restaurant from Goa — has set up a permanent outpost. York Winery, a stone’s throw away, offers guided tours. So does Grover Zampa, which offers regular tasting sessions. “In 2004, when we started tours, people were surprised that we were allowing visitors to see the winery. They thought the practice might lead to our methods becoming known,” Shaw says. But with the intention of educating nouveau wine drinkers, Shaw was determined to give people a peek into the process.
Now, from music festivals to vineyard tours to grape-stomping events and wine tastings, estates are abuzz through winter. “Thanks to the rising middle class, a lot more people are interested in wine. People travel more and are acquainted with different kinds of wines, which has spurred the interest in wine in India,” says Rajesh Patil, chairman and managing director, Pause Wines, which owns vineyards in Dindori, near Nashik.
Swirl, sip, savour
Countries like France, Spain and Italy have been practising winemaking for centuries, but India took up the art only a couple of decades ago. “For the wine making world, we’re still babies,” says Agarwal. Most of our wineries make Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon (among varieties of red) and Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc (in white; see box). While the winemaking process here is similar to that in the rest of the world, wineries take care to make wines that suit the Indian palate. So, our wines are fruitier, because that’s what Indian consumers want,” adds Agarwal.
It was an interest in India’s relatively new wineries that made Peter Csizmadia-Honigh, a Hungarian wine expert, to travel here and write extensively on Indian wines. The book — called The Wines of India — a 451-page encyclopedic guide to the wines of the country — was unveiled at an event in Mumbai last month. Csizmadia-Honigh, a WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) diploma holder and recipient of the Geoffrey Roberts award, travelled through the valleys near Nashik, Pune, Bengaluru, Goa and Ratlam (in Madhya Pradesh).
While Indians seem to have warmed up to the idea of homegrown wine, what does the international community think of them? “The first reaction is normally ‘Indian wine’? People do not associate India with wine. Hence, the need for the book,” says Csizmadia-Honigh, who picks SDU Winery’s Reserve Syrah and the KRSMA Estates’ Cabernet Sauvignon among his favourites (see box for other picks).
Internationally, some of our wines have won awards as well. The latest is Grover Zampa, which won 10 medals at the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits competition.
Indian wines have a long way to go when it comes to competing with prestigious labels from traditional winemaking countries. Yet, many believe it is possible to produce nuanced wines here. “The quality has improved tremendously. This is perhaps the most exciting time for Indian wine,” says Agarwal.
* Drink the reds from a good quality glass that has a large belly to expose more wine to air allowing it to breathe.
* For whites use wine glasses that taper inwards slightly at the mouth of the glass. This will direct all the delicate aromas to your nose and mouth.
Four S’s of drinking wine
* See: Observe the colour of the wine. If older, a white wine will be darker and a red will be lighter.
* Swirl: Swirl the wine while holding either the stem or the base of the glass. It helps unlock the aroma.
* Smell: Look for citrusy or tropical notes in white wine. In reds, look for berry or plum scents.
* Sip: The moment of truth, honestly the only thing to consider is whether you liked the taste and how the wine felt on your palette.
Right temperature to serve wine at
* Red wine should be served at : 16- to 18-degree C
* Pink or rosé wine, as it is cold, should be served slightly chilled at: 8- to 10-degree C
* White wine at: 10-degree C
* Sparkling wine should be served well-chilled at: 6-degree C
— By Stienna Gomes, sommelier, Sula Vineyards
From the grapevine
1) Vineyards to visit in Nashik and Pune
Sula Vineyards :Tours and tastings are conducted seven days a week throughout the year.
Price: Rs 250 (includes tour + tasting of 5 wines) Rs 350 (includes exclusive tasting session with the winemaker [6 wines] and tour)
2) Grover Zampa Vineyards: A brief vineyard tour is followed by lunch (mostly Biryani). Before going to the vineyard, call up and book a spot.
Price: Rs 850 on week days,Rs 1,000 weekends (lunch + tasting of five wines)
3) Soma Wine Village: No prior bookings required.
Price: Rs 150 for five wines, Rs 350 for seven wines
4) Four Seasons Vineyard: Situated in Baramati, the winery boasts of a swimming pool and spa.
5) York Winery: Guided tours all seven days a week.
Thumbnail picture credits
Location: Sula Vineyards, Nashik (sulawines.com)
Models: Sasha Merchant and Ravi Awana/Toabh Management (toabh.com)
Hair and styling (male model): Mohammad Shoaib Shaikh, Barber: Truefitt & Hill, Khar (truefittandhill.in)
Photo: Aalok Soni/Hindustan Times