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Indian Wines Meet Japanese Palate

On their trip to explore and study the Indian wine market (as also take in the local sights and sounds), Japanese connoisseurs: Sake Master Kenichi Ohashi with his ever-so-elegant wife Kumiko, winemaker Yuki Hirayama, and Wine bar magnate and sommelier Takeshi TSUBAKI, also visited Wi-Not’s dugout.  After learning all about Sake from them, we had arranged a small tasting of Indian wines for them. Quirkily enough, we were as curious to see their reaction as they were to get their first taste of Indian wines.
Truly a rare moment where Indian wines were to prove their mettle some much-trained Japanese palates. Wines from few Indian wineries were put together for the tasting, including houses like Sula Vineyards, Vintage Wines, Vallée de Vin, Vallonne Vineyards, and York Winery, in other words, the best in the business. We felt it would be a good representation of the Indian wine scene: good range of whites, rosés, reds, sparklings, and even some late-harvest (sweet) wines.
Shortly, the wines were poured and the room was felt silent, save for the occasional sounds of slurping and spitting (‘pthooey’). Sommelier Magandeep SINGH gave a brief sketch introducing each wine and wine house, as also snippets about Indian wine laws (which don’t entirely exist) and the taxation systems (which exists only too strongly and stubbornly). Surprises and apprehensions came forth and everyone shared frankly and openly.
Post the tasting, the Japanese panel presented their thoughts. Although we have listed their comments together they are in no way a generalisation. Here is what they had to say:
•Indian wines display a mix of styles ranging from the Old World (French, Italian) to the New World (Aussie, Chilean). This is a good start as it satisfies the demands of the wine-lovers from both schools of thought. Having said that, they would need to create some characterisation and distinction. Indian wines, so far, have been falling short of setting a country/region -specific wine style. This they felt is important for them to not just survive but also if they wish to come up trumps against competition in the international wine market.
•The extraction and, consequently, the concentration of wines’ characteristics for some wines (but an easy majority) was found to be low. Mostly, this leads to a wine (or mainly, varietal) denying exhibition its true natural character.
•Certain entry-level wines appeared diluted and it was argued if farmers were harvesting too early in some cases, substituting sugar levels for Phenolic maturity (this is the point where aromas and structure are most developed, as opposed to maturity of sugar levels, which is generally always easy to attain in hot climate vine-lands).  Some wines also displayed the possibility of being oxidised so as to hide their sharp edges and surprisingly high levels of Volatile Acidity. Few appeared reduced and never came around.
•They were quite intrigued by the monsoon season which creates the need for us to follow a Southern hemisphere cycle in the Northern hemisphere. Given the overall general warmth, they wondered if some farmers continued the process of more than one harvest in one calendar year.
•The lack of a vintage chart did not entirely surprise them as they found the wines to be simple and ready-to-drink with little or no ageing potential.
•Certain wines were found to be too sweet or sappy to be marked as a varietal example and we don’t mean the Late Harvest. The Residual Sugar (RS) seemed like a ploy to mask something (flaw) in the wine.
•They appreciated how the winemaking companies are trying to bring forward attractive Indianised labels. However, some companies trying to follow a specific foreign labelling style are not only confusing but fail to display their native origins. Sula was loved for this reason. York was found too modern and reminded them of an Austrian label.
•They rated Indian wines as decent on the value-for-money index. However they couldn’t stress any less on developing a regional wine style to ease judging and rating them, as also buying them. This may also demystify the much complicated Indian wines to its admirers/followers, not only domestically but also internationally.
•Sula Vineyards has laid a good benchmark in terms of their branding, marketing, labelling, and approachability. Their Riesling went down well with all. Reveilo too showed up pretty well too and their latest launch, the Grillo was appreciated as also their Late Harvest Chenin. Some bottles were spoiled and this was a let-downer – Sula Chenin, York Chenin. Soirée sparkling wine (from Valle de Vin) was another favourite and everyone rued why the name Zampagne couldn’t stay.
Consistency was a concern too. They said that the Indian wine industry seemed to be where the Japanese wine industry was almost 25 years ago! While that means that progress will surely provide clarity, they hoped that we would be smart enough to skip stages and not sit around reinventing the wheel.
All said, we all are optimistic to see the Indian wines to grow out of their infantry stage and become more matured and individualistic. It will be a matter of patience and time to see how the wines and their personality develop. However, to rate the Indian wines with neutral mindset is what the Wi-Not team will always advice.
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About the Author

Gagan is much like a young wine in many senses; you have to spend time with him before he opens up. A certified wine expert and mixologist, Gagan pursued his love for beverages Down under, doing his Masters in Hospitality Management (specialising in wines) from Victoria University, Melbourne. He reserves a soft corner for Australian reds, German Rieslings and Gewürztraminer. As much as he loves to experiment with new cuisines, he also has a taste for adventure – paragliding, bungee jumping, rafting, skydiving and playing squash. His interests include blogging, back to back movie spree, cooking for self and travelling. He is a music-fanatic and loves being left alone with his PSP. Beef steak and wine rate high on his agenda as also does a Bourbon and cola.

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