…this is India!
A report on the tasting of the new vintage of Sauvignon Blanc from KRSMA Estates in India’s Hampi Hills, where the focus is letting the terroir speak for itself
I have been tracking KRSMA Estates since before its launch in February 2014, and its journey so far has illustrated growth in the most positive way – that the making of wine in a mint-new, untapped region in India is possible given time, commitment and focus.
KRSMA estates is owned by Krishna Prasad and Uma Chigurupati, a couple with a passion for wine and marathons (they hold Guinness world records – marathons run as a couple in all seven continents, for example) has been covered in my blog site earlier; and their historical vertical tasting of their flagship Cabernet Sauvignon (2011 to 2015) last year as another milestone event. Wine is the couple’s passion – their ‘day job’ is running a pharmaceutical company, which helps pay to support this passion.
On this warm sunny Saturday in Bangalore, it was time to change colours, shifting focus away from their attention-grabbing reds to their white wines. The KRSMA Sauvignon Blanc 2016 was being readied for launch this July, and a small, focused tasting of this wine along with the KRSMA Chardonnay 2016 was being held at Ssaffron, the fine dining Indian restaurant on the 18th floor of the Shangri-la, Bengaluru. I had been hearing good things about the KRSMA white wines and was keen to see the outcome.
The KRSMA Sauvignon Blanc has been undergoing subtle changes over vintages, evolving and developing under the watchful eyes of the Chigurupatis and their visiting South African winemaker, Adriaan Foot from Cape Town. This blind tasting of the 2016 vintage was to be a testing of the waters (or wines, so to speak), tasted in juxtaposition with a well-established crowd pleaser Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough (which turned out to be Cloudy Bay 2014). While we knew the KRSMA wine’s identity, that of the ‘other’ Sauvignon Blanc was not revealed until the tasting was done.
On to the tasting: the lightly floral and herbaceous notes of the KRSMA Sauvignon Blanc 2016 were refreshing. The wine, a pale lemon in hue, had an excellent balance and structure, with a neat acidity which made its presence felt without being overwhelming, and a medium-long finish. Delightfully fresh and moreish, with tiny notes of fresh herbs and scented flowers unfurling on the palate, marking a distinct identity. This, acknowledged Uma, was a trait of the Hampi terroir, the home of KRSMA. The wine is 12.9% ABV with total residual sugar of 2gm.
“Wine is first and foremost an extension of its terroir,” said Foot. As far as the world-popular expressions of Sauvignon Blanc are concerned, Foot believes there’s a time and place for each one of them including the well-favoured tropical- fruit rich style that is New Zealand’s pride and joy. In response to the appreciative comments about the acidity in the KRSMA wine he said, “Acidity in wine is like salt in your food – there must be balance between too little and too much.”
Foot would know. In his native South Africa, Sauvignon Blanc is finally establishing an identity of its own after years of experimentation and study. “In South Africa, we have done plenty of study on the flavour compounds in the Sauvignon Blanc grape, even conducted a world blind tasting of the different expressions with a panel of winemakers. The answer was as expected: nowhere can one make a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc except in New Zealand.” The next question: so why the benchmarking exercise? KRSMA Estates business head Vishal Nagpal explained that they wanted the yardstick for the KRSMA to be the world’s acknowledged favourite – the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. “To compete internationally we need to compete with the best in the world,” agreed Foot.
The unanimous consensus at the tasting table was that while the Cloudy Bay was a delicious wine, KRSMA more than stood its ground with its own unique character.
To Uma Chigurupati, this was the answer they were seeking. “We want to make our wine in the style that we like, without compromise,” she said. The earlier vintage shipped abroad and sold in select New York outlets for $23 had already sold out, and there would be a gap before the 2016 vintage reaches US shores. Allocations would remain restricted for now (KRSMA is expanding gradually but it is still far from producing sufficiently large volumes to satisfy all demands).
We moved on to the third wine. The KRSMA Chardonnay has been undergoing changes, as Krishna Parasad Chigurupati had felt earlier vintages hadn’t achieved just what they were looking for. The 2016 sees a sea change – it is a pale golden yellow, redolent with notes of pear and apple and a gentle yet distinct hint of oak, plus sufficient acidity to give it the required backbone. “Chardonnay is the winemaker’s varietal,” said Foot, “There are lots of parameters to consider while making it – whether you prefer it crisp and clean or heavily oaked.” The chameleon grape can take on a variety of guises. This one? “Very Indian, very Hampi.” was the consensus. “A touch of the floral dominating, a signature of the terroir of Hampi.” This identity is what will make the wine unique, said a tasting table member. “You need to project the story, the memory behind the label. That’s where the KRSMA story lies.”
Post the tasting, lunch was Indian, thali style, spicy lamb Rajasthan style, a chicken butter masala, a black daal, rotis (flatbread) and pulao – a classic Indian repast. The KRSMA whites stood up to the spices and in fact, the chicken butter masala made for a perfect pairing with the KRSMA Chardonnay 2016.
Lunch done, I settled to a quick chat with Adriaan Foot. This vintage with KRSMA was his first. “The Prasads are very involved owners and I took my lead from them. We wanted crisp, fine wines, fruit-forward but elegant, and reflective of the terroir. The Sauvignon Blanc should be 100% recognizable as being from Hampi. My winemaking philosophy is that of minimal intervention – for this you need superior grapes as winemaking essentially begins in the vineyards. The acidity is good, the fruit is almost there. The wine is kept on lees for three months, stirred to enhance body, sweetness and flavour concentration.”
The Chardonnay, like the Sauvignon Blanc, was on the way up, he felt. “This is the first year the volume was large enough to use oak – but not too much. The oak should be a canvas for your wine to shine through. I’m not an advocate of the Rombauer style of Chardonnay. I prefer the oxidative rather than the reductive style, but with balance.” The vineyards are expanding and with an eye to the future, new rootstocks are being planted in an additional 40 acres. “The climate in the Hampi Hills is dry, so Italian varietals (from similar climates) would work well,” he adds, and indeed, the KRSMA Sangiovese has also been garnering attention lately, and flying off the shelves.
This year, KRSMA Estates has produced 10,000 litres of Sauvignon Blanc and a mere 1,200 litres of Chardonnay. This is still very small, but in this limited production lies the secret of KRSMA’s success with both quality and consistency. As Foot said, “You can’t go into winemaking to make money – the first thing needed is passion. Wineries which start out only as a business don’t have as much chances of success. This is something we’ve seen in South Africa; the early days of Sauvignon Blanc saw a boom during which winemakers went all out to make money; and it all went wrong very fast with sub-standard wine hitting the shelves. Today, we’ve learnt from that – South Africa now has regulations in places, many of them very strict and self-imposed, and our wines are now being associated with quality. So yes, you need to go about things the right way.”
In India, the growing number of quality-focused wineries such as this one in India’s Hampi Hills could turn the tide for Indian wine.
KRSMA Estates wines are available in Bengaluru, Karnataka and New York, USA.
The KRSMA Sauvignon Blanc 2016 will be available in July 2016 for Rs 950, KRSMA Chardonnay 2016 Rs 1200, KRSMA Sangiovese 2015 (from September 2016) for Rs 1200 and the KRSMA Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 forRs 1500. Their second wine, K2, is available for Rs780/-.
In New York, the KRSMA Sauvignon Blanc 2015 is $23 and Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 is $45.