Sunday 15 February 2009


There is a small Indian wine industry and signs of increasing demand for wine from the young upwardly mobile middle class. Most states are 'dry' (we even saw a bottle with the old warning 'For sale only in Gujarat') but wine finds its way to hotels and restaurants easily enough. In India a long time in the modern wine industry means 1984 when Chateau Indage was founded and 1988 when Grover Vineyards was set up, both being already established growers of table grapes. The third major player is Sula, set up in the late 1990s. Ch. Indage and Sula are in Nashik, described as 'heart of India's wine capital' about 180km north-east of Mumbai. Grover Vineyards are in Nandi Hills, 40km north of Bangalore which itself is exacly in the centre of India on a level with Chennai (Madras), so very much further south.

All these vineyards are said to have excellent sites, soils and microclimates but the question has been asked about siting vineyards further north and indeed Chateau Indage are planning to plant vineyards in Himachal Pradesh whose climate is claimed to be much nearer that of Bordeaux. At tropical latitudes grapes can be harvested twice or even all year round but the monsoon is not beneficial to grape-growing and special pruning and trellising have to be employed. All work is by hand but a surprising amount of state-of-the-art winery equipment is used.

Michel Rolland has been advising Kanwal Grover and the result seems to have been very good. The best wine we tasted in our admittedly limited choice was a Grover Shiraz. Sula's Sauvignon Blanc is also very pleasant. The others varied between rustic ('Riviera' white and red) and "cooked" or tasting of raisins. A Merlot was the chief offender here.

There are plenty of Indian vineyards which are unknown and may produce excellent wine for all we know. Robert Joseph tasted 77 different wines for the 2008 India Wine challenge and was encouraged on the progress the industry had made. Here is a list of his medal winners (source,;

Chateau d'Ori
Terroir India Wineries
Seagram's (Nine Hills)
Big Banyan
UB Group (Four Seasons, Zinzi)
Mercurey Winery
Vinetage Wines, Reveilo
Valley du Vin, Zampa
Vin & Volulor

and of course Grover, Sula and Chateau Indage.

The latter is part of the Indage conglomorate which includes divisions devoted to Construction, Hotels and Restaurants, Retail, Agriculture, Personal and Home Care and Fashion. Of their numerous wine labels, Tiger Hills has been set up by a daughter of the house, the fashion designer Kavita Chogule who is without doubt one of the world's most glamorous vigneronnes.

Varieties are unimaginative despite claims that many were 'trialed' before vineyards were set up including Saperavi, Vermantino (sic) and Garganega. The only point of interest was Grover's espousal of Clairette in a blend with Viognier. Chenin Blanc is produced to satisfy those with a preference for off-dry to sweet wines (Sula has one at 15.5%) and some Malbec, Ugni Blanc/Trebbiano, Zinfandel, Grenache, Carignan and something called Convent Large Black are also grown in what must be insignificant quantities.

There are indiginous Indian varieties such as Arkavati, Arkashayam and Anabeshahi which are all table grapes. One wonders if there are others growing wild which might be investigated or whether some of the extremely late ripening European varieties were trialed and what happened in those experiments; Refosco? Nebbiolo? Petit Verdot? A great deal of research has been carried out by the National Research Centre at Pune, Maharashtra. Some of this is reported on the (International Society for Horticultural Science) website.

A footnote; in the late 19th century, Baron Edmond de Rothschild engaged Gerard Ermens, an agronomist from the gardens of the palace of Versailles to bring cuttings of the noble varieties he had planted in Kashmir to Israel in an attempt to avoid Phylloxera. These cuttings were from vines which themselves had been grown from cuttings from Chateau Lafite. Of course the tactic failed in Israel but it is unclear as to whether Phylloxera took hold across all of India. It is credited with having destroyed the plantings made by the British at the end of the 19th century but many modern plantings are on American rootstock for the avoidance of Nematodes and Phylloxera does not seem to be considered a threat. What happened to the Rothschild Kashmiri plantings? No information seems to be available...

Monday 2 February 2009

Roma, Lazio, January 27/28, 2009

Enoteca Costantini is in the Piazza Cavour opposite the Corte Suprema di Cassazione in Roma. It is a venerable and institutional temple to wine. The art nouveau (or perhaps 'Liberty' as the Italians will have it) grills and door handles suggest up to 100 years' pedigree.

Red jacketed gentlemen floor walkers in the basement will gruffly direct you to whatever you are looking for. Laconic but indubitably knowledgeable, mine produced a contender Cesanese which I needed to prove whether or not there was any merit in the regional grape of Lazio (the jury is still out), a Vernaccia Nera in response to my request for an 'uvaggio sconosciuto'

and a Piedirosso which ended up as one we have already had from Ischia - none the worse for that.

Now the story of the Vernaccia Nera has an interesting epilogue. We opened our bottle of Pianetta di Cagnore 2003 from Antico Terreno Ottavi of San Severino, near Macerata, Marche to console ourselves on returning home after being thrown out of LHR Terminal 5 following the cancellation of our BA flight to Delhi on the snowy 2nd of February. We reported thet the wine tasted 'rustic and assertive'. On our return almost 2 weeks later we removed the Vac-U-Vin to discover the wine was not only in great shape but had evolved into something very delicious indeed: something reminiscent of a good Douro red. Further research on the internet show this wine is well known to connoisseurs in Germany and Italy. A palpable find!

All three were between 10 and 15 Euros and especially the Vernaccia Nera was worth the Schlep. Fiumicino was more disappointing than I remember it for the purchase of wine: no discoveries to be made there!

In the restaurants of Rome there were some pleasant experiences. In a new and very idiosyncratic outfit called 'Methodo Classico' (but without any name outside), Via Guglielmo Calderini 62/64, 063244262, there is cultivated and original cuisine of a high order dispensed by a Romanian, a Slovenian and an Italian. The wines are chosen with enormous flair. We had a Cuvee including Sauvignon Blanc and 'others' from an appelation we had not encountered previously ('Dolomiti') and mirabile dictu an extraordinary Montepulciano d'Abruzzo chosen by The Maestro who had enjoyed it already the previous evening and wisely stuck to what he knew was good.

This was the first Italian restaurant where we have seen Grange Hermitage on display and maybe even available to order.

The other pleasant discovery was in the Ristorante Amatriciana opposite the Teatro dell'Opera where the vino della casa is a Cesanese/Merlot blend. Surprisingly good.