The Bangalore Wine Club, as many know, is India’s oldest wine club, with a newly-formed committee each year that puts together a variety of events for its 150 members, from formal sit-down dinners to picnic brunches and winery visits. This September, the BWC decided to revive a popular concept Indian wine-centric event after a gap of four years. The event, called the Indian Wine Village is aimed to showcase prominent Indian wine companies’ products and new launches, and there is no better way, to my mind, to see the distance travelled by the Indian wine industry in terms of growing portfolios and new wine launches.
This edition of the Indian Wine Village was held on a cloudy Sunday afternoon at the 5-star, ITC Gardenia, on its spacious upper floor terrace garden. Twelve of the top Indian wine companies participated in the event. The relaxed format meant you could stroll around the stalls sipping and tasting whichever wine you fancied from the nearly 60 wines on display, starting with sparkling, and ending with dessert wines. There was also a sumptuous lunch laid out, from cold salads to paella, Singapore chicken to baby galouti kebabs with blue cheese naans.
The Bangalore weather decided to show us its full range during the course of the afternoon, so cloudy skies suddenly turned dark, the bright sunshine was interrupted by strong winds (alas, many wine glasses were lost, swept off the counters with the gusts), followed by a brief sharp shower and then the sun shone again. Of course, most wine lovers continued their sipping and swirling, quite undeterred by the vagaries of the weather.
The wine companies on show that afternoon were both established and new, young and older: Sula, Grover Zampa, Charosa (a new winery in Nashisk, Maharashtra), Big Banyan, Fratelli, Chandon India, Myra, SDU Deva, Four Seasons, Turning Point, KRSMA, Nine Hills by Pernod Ricard.
Overwhelming as the lineup was, I decided to start by tasting some of the sparkling wines, which have shown both a vast improvement as well as several new and improved avataars over the years. I started with the zero dosage 100% Chenin Blanc Grand Cuvée by Fratelli, austere and restrained, before moving on to the Grover Zampa Soirée Brut and Sula Brut. Both fared very well. I finished with the Chandon India Brut, which turned out to be the favourite of several BWC members who stayed firmly anchored at the stall; it is currently doing excellent sales all over the country. However, most Indian sparkling rosés still have a way to go, in my opinion.
Then it was the turn of the whites. Fratelli’s excellent Sangiovese Bianco showed off the winemaker, Piero Masi’s skill and experience, and their nicely-balanced Chardonnay has already won several awards internationally. Big Banyan and Nine Hills have some good whites, and I found the Nine Hills version of the Sauvignon Blanc more grassy and herbaceous than the fruit-forward version that Indians love to love, and this was an interesting change. KRSMA’s Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc have already notched up their own brownie points with wine drinkers, and the two young Karnataka-based companies, Myra and SDU Deva have expanded their portfolio beyond the entry level to include some very drinkable Reserves (Shiraz and Cab. In both cases, I preferred the Shiraz to the Cab). Turning Point’s Ashwin Deo spoke frankly about his decision to make quick-drinking aperitif wines, as India still remains a nation of pre-prandial drinkers, even as though the tide turns towards the more formal pairing with food, bit by tiny bit.
The revelation of the afternoon was a new Maharashtra-based winery, Charosa, which is generating quite a buzz in several social media forums of late. Their Sauvignon Blanc scored big, incorporating the popular stone fruit and melon notes nicely, but can do with a little tweaking to making it truly excellent, to my mind. Nonetheless, it was a big hit with the members and their guests. The hit and big discovery of the day was the Charosa Reserve Tempranillo, which many of the more seasoned members waxed eloquent about – returning to taste it more than once ( I like it too). Could this be the grape that will appeal to red-wine fancying Indians most? Well, I am not really enamored by our Indian Cabernets thus far, with perhaps the exception of the one by KRSMA Estates. Another point to mention: several of the bottles were wonderfully designed and would have won awards on their looks alone. Quality makes a difference, guys.
The members I chatted with were, on the whole, thrilled about the array of wines, all approaching a very acceptable quality overall, and with flashes of excellence in more than just a few cases. The Indian wine companies deserve a round of heartfelt applause for their constant efforts at improving their products, braving our less than thrilling government support and confounding regulations. As awards start piling up, and I’m sure they increasingly will over time, Indian wines drinkers will have much to look
forward to – different styles of wines by diverse winemakers who often have their task cut out for them in the extremes of Indian climate and conditions. I for one, am happy that our young wine industry (just a few decades old) is rapidly progressing from the baby stage to toddler on its way to a very presentable young adult; often taking on and even besting, many established winemaking nations on the way. The only remaining concern was the one articulated by another friend and founding BWC member: can the good ones sustain quality over time? Essential if you want to make it big internationally.
I took a glass of Big Banyan’s dessert wine Belissima (Big Banyan’s winemaker is another Italian, Lucio Matricardi) a late harvest Muscat, across to one of my friends for a sip with her dessert. She loved it, she said. That was a good way to finish an afternoon well spent.
The Bangalore Wine Club also deserves accolades for renewing its commitment to promoting and supporting Indian wines, and introducing them to many eager customers who might not otherwise know which ones they might like, or to pick off retail shelves.
Santé! Or as we might say in India, badhai ho!
List of Indian wine companies represented at the BWC’s Indian Wine Village 2014:
Sula Vineyards www.sulawines.com
SDU Winery www.sduwinery.com
KRSMA Estates www.krsmaestates.com
Fratelli Wines www.fratelliwines.in
Turning Point wines www.turningpointwines.com
Chandon India www.chandon.co.in
Four Seasons Wines www.fourseasonsvineyards.com
Charosa Wines www.charosavineyards.com
Myra Wines www.myravineyards.com
Big Banyan wines www.bigbanyanwines.com
Nine Hills Wines www.pernod-ricard-india.com