The Great Grapes of India; Five Indian Wines to Explore
If you’ve never tasted an Indian wine before, never fear … you are not alone! This amazing country’s rapidly developing wine culture is one of the world’s newest, with the wines of India so far mainly consumed by the domestic market or intrepid tourists on their travels. However, this situation is evolving in an exciting way and India’s wines are now slowly but surely making their way to new shores – including those of the UK. We are taking an ever-increasing interest in exploring the impressively varied wine styles that India has to offer, with the quality and character of these wines grabbing the attention of wine critics and wine lovers alike.
Although there are several indigenous wine grape varieties in the country, India is forging its path with some of our best-known international grape varieties, including Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. After a suitably enthusiastic tasting of a few of India’s best, it seems to me that these wines are both incredibly accessible and strikingly expressive. India’s terroir and winemaking talent seems able to harness and emphasise those great identifiers that we look for in our international grape varieties, such as the buoyant gooseberry and jalapeño kick of Sauvignon Blanc and the intense black pepper spice of Shiraz, whilst still retaining an element of uniqueness.
The appetite for Indian wine is definitely growing (Waitrose have even started stocking their first Indian wine, an impressive Cabernet Sauvignon from Vallonné Vineyards which has met with great praise!) but as with any less familiar wine region, it can be hard to know where to start or what you might enjoy. I’ve therefore valiantly tasted my way through a few of India’s best and done a little of the hard work, so you don’t have to …
India’s sparkling wine specialist Good Drop Wine Cellars was founded in 2009 by chartered accountant-turned winemaker Ashwin Rodrigues, who honed his craft in Australia’s Barossa Valley and returned to India’s Nashik region with big plans for the future. Located in the Vinshur Wine Park, one of Nashik’s most dynamic winemaking areas, Good Drop’s state of the art winery is a modern marvel with capacity for up to 2 million litres of wine. A sure sign of confidence!
Good Drop’s ‘Casablanca’ Vino Spumante is India’s only Charmat method sparkling wine, made using the same process that is best-known for the production of perennial British crowd-pleaser, Prosecco. First launched in 2015, the pioneering ‘Casablanca’ has an air of romance about it from the very beginning, with a quote from the classic film of the same name taking pride of place in luminous gold on the label. However, we know that a lovely label does not a good wine make … but fortunately the Casablanca delivers on more than just Old Hollywood glamour.
Made using Chenin Blanc grapes, this sparkler shows an energetic, fruity nose of kiwi fruit, green apples and pear. There’s a touch of sweetness on the palate but a well-balanced acidity gives it a refreshing lift. The palate is more floral with white blossom and sweet honeysuckle notes, a generous body and a pleasant, honeyed finish.
One of Nashik’s most prestigious wineries, the winemaking philosophy at Charosa is based on the use of science, art, and winemaking techniques in harmony to express the unique character of the Indian terroir. Charosa are pioneers in many ways, with their use of open tank fermenters a first for Indian winemakers. What’s more, it all takes place amidst beautiful rolling scenery that at first glance could almost be mistaken for the undulating terrain of Tuscany.
Charosa’s Sauvignon Blanc 2019 is one of my personal favourites, zesty Sauvignon Blanc expressed in all its glory. This wine is unmistakeable, and even in the most challenging of blind tastings there’s surely no other grape that this could be. Familiar, super-aromatic notes of jalapeño and green bell pepper, freshly cut grass and zesty lime leap out of the glass in lively Sauvignon Blanc fashion. The palate is lip smacking and mouth-watering, showing a flinty dryness imbued with gooseberry notes. The clever inclusion of a couple of months of lees stirring gives this wine a pleasant touch of extra weight that works well to balance the energy of the flavours. This is in many ways quintessential Sauvignon Blanc, yet shows a certain slightly green, savoury nature that sets it apart from other examples and gives it a unique Indian character all its own.
The York estate was founded in 2005 by successful Indian entrepreneur Lilo Gurnani, who perceived the unique opportunities in the emerging winemaking potential of the region and snapped up nine acres of prime vineyard land just 20 mins from the heart of Nashik city. Since then, York has grown into one of India’s most respected wineries. Its success is in no small part due to the efforts of Chief Winemaker Kailash Gurnani, currently India’s youngest winemaker. Kailash trained in Oenology at the prestigious University of Adelaide Wine School and returned to his home country to make excellent wines that show a distinct Australian influence, with bundles of energy and careful use of oak some of their defining features.
Perhaps one of the very best Indian wines in the world right now, York’s ‘H Block’ Chardonnay is characterful, expressive and beautifully balanced. The nose is formed of delicate notes of lemon, lime and white peach, with just a hint of freshly buttered toast. The buttery theme continues through onto the palate thanks to six months spent in French oak, which has created a generous, supple body enhanced with an exotic touch of golden pear and ripe melon with a creamy, persistent finish. The quality of the ‘H Block’ is undeniable, and the wider world of wine agrees – this wine was awarded an impressive Silver by judges in the 2020 London Wine Challenge.
Fratelli means ‘brothers’ in Italian, and the name of this winery could not be more apt. The estate was founded by not one, not two, but three pairs of brothers, the Seccis from Italy and the Sekhri and Mohite-Patil families from India. These three families came together to achieve their shared ambition to create Indian wines of an exceptional international standard using traditional Italian winemaking techniques and philosophies, overseen by the steady guiding hand of Tuscan master winemaker Piero Masi.
This singular approach has brought Fratelli huge success. The estate has steadily gained global recognition and over 30 international awards to date, alongside a reputation for the production of some of India’s most premium wines from an impressively diverse selection of international grape varieties from Chenin Blanc to Sangiovese.
Fratelli’s Cabernet Franc Shiraz 2019 is an intriguing blend of two red grapes which are very rarely found in the same bottle. This wine is a bright ruby red absolutely overflowing with aromas of ripe plum, cherry, blackberries, violet, intense black pepper … and I could go on! It’s full of energy on the palate, vigorous and spicy (the spice, it must be noted, is all the work of the grapes – no oak here) with firm, smooth tannins and a juicy finish. It’s unusual and rather lovely, and particularly representative of Fratelli’s ambition to create unique Indian wines rooted in Italian tradition.
As we mentioned earlier, Good Drop have made their name as India’s sparkling specialists – but that isn’t to say that fizzy wine is the only string to Good Drop’s bow. In a model often used by some of the world’s most exciting wine regions, such as South Africa, Good Drop do not own their own vineyards but instead work closely with a team of trusted growers to ensure that only the best fruit reaches the winery. This gives Good Drop the flexibility to explore all kinds of new ideas, and one such innovation is their ‘Antaraa’ Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz blend.
75% of this wine’s blend is Cabernet Sauvignon, creating a deep red wine with juicy, inviting fruit flavours. An enticing blend of blackberry, blackcurrant and mulberry put the drinker in mind of an English hedgerow in autumn, with a twist of pepper from the Shiraz and a lovely eucalyptus note giving both grapes in the blend their chance to shine. Well-structured tannin and an unctuous, full-bodied finish emphasise the fruit character and create a wine that feels perfect for summer barbecues.
This article was written as part of a paid partnership with Wines in India. All wines tasted were gifted samples, and more details of every wine including where to buy them can be found on the Wines in India website.