Of all the things I am accused of, there is one I just don’t seem to be able to get around doing much about: commenting on Indian Wines.
The problem starts from the wide-spread ignorance that Indian wines are good with Indian food. Sounds logical right. If Italian wines pair with pizza and French fit Foie Gras, why shouldn’t Indians wines do justice to our vast Indian cuisine?
If you want a simple answer: because Indian wines aren’t good enough to drink, let alone pair. Outside of 2-3 brands I can’t think of many Indian wines that I would wish on my enemies. They are inconsistent, over-priced and just plain insipid.
I seem to have gone off on one without explaining why. Let me share the reasons for my grief. Trouble is there’s so much to lament I don’t even know where to begin.
Indians are a smart lot; they know a good money making venture when they see one. Few in India make wine because it was a childhood dream (read that as none), but seeing how simple it would be to replicate a successful concept in the West and how the growth trends are projected, it isn’t rocket science to do the smart thing. Trouble is this wine is for making money, not friends.
First of all, how did we come to plant grapes where we do? Why were they considered the best plantation sites? Well whatever you know is more than all the farmers in Nashik put together. Just because this was the land of table grapes, wine-making seemed a normal progression. How wrong were they; wine grapes have nothing to do with table grapes and yet, even today, farmers are yet to wake up to this realisation.
Next, who chose the grapes to be planted? Which particular clone type would be suited to Indian climes? Once again, a layman is as much of a scientist on this subject as the entire population of winemaking pin codes of India! As a result the only consistency we have are unripe grapes or excessive yields, or worse still, grapes that aren’t even meant for the climate or soil type.
Speaking of soil types, speak to any Indian winemaker and they will impress you with their bottling and production capacities; they speak little of yield control or soil composition – partly due to lack of knowledge but also out of lack of passion for winemaking.
Wine here is considered a drink that is a grape-based product and must have acidity, alcohol (and tannins for reds.) Flavours are inconsequential, or purely coincidental, or else, added. In fact, from sugar to acids, anything can be added here and none of us would know because there is no governing body to control winemaking in India. We made so much noise over pesticides in our cola; it’s ironic then that we drink wine which has no quality control and is drenched in killer chemicals more regularly than a Miss India’s beauty showers.
Squelching yet, there’s more. But my intention wasn’t to do an exposé of the Indian wine industry; I don’t think I yield such power. But what I can do is avoid them. I wouldn’t touch Indian wines with a barge pole. I try them now and then to see if anything is improving but it seems we keep adding more junk at the rudimentary level.
Among wines I would suggest you don’t try these would be the top names: Nilaya, Nine Hills, Indage, Vin et Vouloir, Revelho’s entry level (although some gush and rave about it), Bahula, Vinsura, and all or any brands which have extensive use of the letter “Z” (Zinzi, Zampa).
Among wines I can palate I would count Grover’s (La Reserve) Mandala and Chateau D’ori but not necessarily in that order. Sula whites (Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc) can be manageable if you don’t mind sweetened wines but their reds are horrible. Chateau de Banyan (or a name as odd) has the best packaging and are on the right track but record shows that it doesn’t take much to derail motivation in India. Indage’s Tiger hill (white Chardonnay and a red one i can’t recall which) is perhaps the best of the lot but I am convinced it is not Indian but Australian and will believe so unless proven otherwise.
So well, there you go, my two-bits worth on Indian wines. I know it’s not complementary but you can be sure that I wasn’t paid by the companies for writing this article. In fact, I wonder if the editor will see reason to forward me anything complementary!
Wines are a natural beverage, an expression of nature in the hands of humans – good for health, an elegant to sip. Indian wines please none of our sensory needs. Worse still, they leave us with a bad taste, a worse hangover and no friends. Abroad, wines carry statutory warnings about health risks posed by alcohol and others. For the time being, most Indian wines should simply state, “Drink at your own risk.”