Saturday, 1 April 2017

A snapshot of Indian wine 8 years on.

Falstaff sings 'Tutto declina'  in Verdi's last opera and it's tempting to see decline in most things. Not wine. We think we can all agree on the fact that almost everything has improved in the world of wine. Quibbles may arise concerning new Bordeaux, Barolo, Rioja versus the traditional styles but in general, standards are higher than ever across the board - especially in emerging territories.

 India is a perfect example of this. The progress since our last skirmish with Indian wine 8 years ago has been transformative. Now we can admire the wine objectively and not specifically as a wine made in an unusual place.

Buying wine in India is still a bit of an experience.

Wine shops at least in Kerala are strictly licensed and controlled State enterprises. Attempts (successful) are made to create a furtive atmosphere and show general disapproval of the entire process.

A thick wooden grille separates punters from the serving staff.

There is a pen for when things get busy and a queue forms. We asked for Kerala wine but the question produced only puzzlement.

There's a useful website, listing the main producers and their wines. Some awkwardness in the descriptions is in line with the sheer novelty of Indian wine. There is also a hilariously innocent statement:

'XXXX, the founder of XXXX Vineyards first planted...cuttings that he smuggled into India from Sonoma.'

Chenin Blanc has not figured in these pages up to now. It's an interesting and highly versatile grape to be sure but quite mainstream. Winelists in India tend towards the even more familiar Sauvignons, Chardonnay, Shiraz etc. so where we could we went for Chenin Blanc for its lower profile and as we learned, its ability to accompany Kerala cuisine.

We drank one Sauvignon Blanc (Grover) and two Chenins, Big Banyan and Fratelli. The last two producers were new on us. In our previous visit the choice seemed to be Sula (the biggest producer) or Grover (the oldest). Grover seems to have made great strides since we last tasted their wines.  Both Big Banyan and Fratelli are good. None of these wines suggested a specfically Indian character which - if they will pardon the liberty - is not a bad thing given how some Indian wines tasted in the past.

Fratelli's Chenin are a bit more refined than Big Banyan's we reckoned.

Indian producers have brought in high-level winemakers and consultants from France and Italy including Stephane Derenoncourt, Jean-Manuel Jacquinot, Lucio Matricordi and Piero Masi. Although production is still relatively small, there are some big companies such as Moet and Pernod Ricard involved and relatively few 'boutique' operations. This attests to the seriousness of Indian wine and as we predicted in the Slotovino Awards, 2015/6 more and more of our wine in the West will come from India and China.

Not a bad thing on this showing.

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