I missed the vineyards when I moved back to India. But fate had a lot more in store for the lovers. I moved to Mumbai and am much closer to the wine region of India. Although, I’ve always had my doubts about the Indian wine makers and sadly, I’ve been proven right time and again; only rarely does it happen I come across a good wine produced in India. I have tasted cork, sulphur, excessive ammonia, burnt tyre and what have you. Why? Because the distributor and even the wine producer don’t know how to store wines properly.
It’s a case of once bitten, twice shy for me. But keeping all the shyness away for a moment, I do like to go out and taste something new every once in a while, hoping something has changed. And I’m willing to sacrifice a well deserved Sunday for it too. So, I did.
On a rainy Mumbai Sunday morning, I set out with a bunch of people to visit Mercury Winery in Nashik. The three hour drive from Mumbai to Nashik culminated with a view of open fields and neatly trimmed rows of grape vines. The first thing that strikes the eye is the splash of colors; a bright island of colors in the middle of a sea of green. Getting past the colors on the walls and walking inside the winery, I saw for the first time an Indian wine maker was paying attention to the quality of wines and not the cost of production. The vat room, the bottle storage room, the bottling plant, all had independent cooling systems, maintaining the temperature at what it is supposed to be – 18ºC.
Coming to the main event, the wine. A long list of freshly bottled (and some of it still in vats) wines was on the table for the afternoon. Form the quintessential Chenin Blanc to the not so common Muscat, well, a blend of Muscat and Zinfandel, it was the recipe for a fun afternoon. The 2012 Chenin was like a teenager – cloudy, unclear, zesty and hiding away a whole lot of unleashed potential. I wouldn’t hunt for it in a store right now and even if I do find it, it is still too early to buy one. But then, it was just a taste of what future prospects hold.[singlepic id=3264 w=320 h=240 float=right]Aryaa has been experimenting with the fumé method for some of its vintages. For the uninitiated, fumé is the method of adding oak chips to the wine during fermentation to save on the costs of oak barrels while adding the same oaky flavors and aging potential to the wine. The 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Fumé was well rounded with a hint of vanilla, almonds and apricots complemented by a balanced, smooth palate. Interestingly, Aryaa have decided to position the 2011 Sauvignon Fumé alongside the 2011 Sauvignon regular in pricing and in labeling. The argument – the Indian consumer cannot distinguish between the two and different labeling will invite higher taxes. Valid points, keeping in mind that Aryaa have been working hard to keep the cost of bottling and distribution low to compensate for the higher cost of production and storage. The Sauvignon Fumé is an excellent companion for a Sunday brunch with friends and some Chicken Tagine and rice. I bought a couple of these from the vineyard and paired it with black pepper chicken over the next weekend and it proved to be one hell of a way to unwind.
The next surprise for the day was the Rosé, a 60-40 blend of Zinfandel and Muscat with the Muscat’s typical lychee aromas and flavor dominating ever so slightly on the nose and the palate. What you get with this wine is a nice, baked (primed, not ripe) fruits, mild hints of flower apart from the lychee imparted by the Muscat and bubble gummy notes on the nose to begin with followed by a well structured and smooth finish. Now, Muscat is something that Mercury grows in their own vineyards and plan to come out with a varietal wine in the coming months. And that is something to look forward to. Muscat is one of my favorites when it comes to dessert wines and I’m eager to see what does an Indian winery plan when it comes to a dessert wine. Pair it with some roasted chicken or lamb and you have a winner. I would like to have a spicy fish with this one, but that’s an experiment I will have to do on my own some other time.
You can’t experiment too much with the reds in their youth. You have to get them right. A blend of Shiraz 2007 and 2008 was the first on the table. The light bodied cherry red wine has aromatic spicy notes of anise, cloves and hint of white pepper with well rounded tannins. The 2008-09 blend Shiraz premium was, however, what caught my fancy. The deep ruby red color with aromas of dark chocolate, plums, roasted coffee, black peppers, cloves and cherries with a hint of tobacco. The well rounded, smooth tannins with a longish, good finish would make for a good pair with a juicy medium rare steak or grilled scallops. If a lazy evening lounging in your living room with just a couple of friends is all you crave, pair it with some brie cheese and you have a winner.
But the one I took home was the 2008 Cabernet Shiraz Reserve. In fact, I bought two bottles from the vineyard to take home with me. A far more complex wine than what you can hope to find with ‘Produce of India’ on the label. Swirl and find a long nose of toasted oak with a liberal smattering of over ripe plums, cherries, black currant and dark chocolate with undertones of mint/eucalyptus, white pepper, star anise and black cardamoms. The well rounded, soft tannins make for a medium finish with a hint of leathery notes at the end. An all in beautiful finish for a medium bodied wine fit for accompanying light spicy fare from any corner of the country. I paired this one with mildly spicy roasted potatoes, kebabs and oven roasted prawns.
Talk about a perfect day, meeting with a lot of people and drinking a lot of wine in a winery, that’s what it was. Sunday well spent.[nggallery id=260]