The Delhi Wine Club celebrates 10 years of its existence this year having provided wine lovers in Delhi a platform not only to partake of wines from across the world but also match them with high quality food at some of the top restaurants in the Capital region. With an average of 18 to 20 well attended wine dinners every year, the Club can proudly claim to be the leading such institution in India encouraging the habit of drinking quality wine sensibly.
The Club’s success has had its detractors and critics who maintain that our Club is biased against Indian wines and serves only imported wines at our dinners. Such nationalistic views sound great but then that is a reflection which ignores the quality of the Indian wine industry’s output –apart from the odd varietal here or there which can stand on its own in the international market, there is really has been no Indian producer with world class wines across their market offerings - marketing claims notwithstanding . Not to say that that we haven’t had dinners with Indian wines, but some of them have been rank disasters.
I am sure our Club President, Subhash Arora, would welcome more wine dinners built around quality Indian wines – it just makes his job that much easier given the hassles and blood pressure inducing headaches that are part and parcel of coordinating a dinner built around imported wines. So it was a pleasant surprise to hear he was planning a dinner with Fratelli wines (#3/191); he had visited their vineyards and winery in Akluj in Maharashtra a couple of months ago and I recall he wrote a review where he mentioned Fratelli were “producing top drop”. Now when Subhash goes out on a limb like that, you’ve gotta believe him as in my opinion he’s probably the most knowledgeable Indian wine guy.
A little pre- dinner scratching around on the net revealed that this new venture started four years ago by three pairs of brothers- two Indian and one Italian, already has a very diverse varietal line-up in the market . Apart from the Cabernets and the Blancs which adorn most Indian wine labels, Fratelli also have a Merlot, a Chardonnay and a Sangiovese in their line-up. Very interesting I thought considering the fact that no Indian wine grower has commercially grown and marketed the last two varietals before (with Reveilo from Vintage Wines being an exception-editor). Chardonnay is amongst my favourite white wine varietals so it was with great anticipation that I walked into Kylin Premier at their newly opened outlet at Ambience Mall in Vasant Kunj.
This branch of Kylin is a multi-level affair with formal seating amidst Teppanyaki counters on the entry level and then climbing the flight of stairs to the rooftop terrace where the lounge and the bar are located. Amidst lush verdant foliage and under a thai style sala , plenty of casual seating is available. Those who prefer to enjoy their drinks whilst seated on a bar stool can do so at one of the longest rooftop bars in the city. Add to this a good sound system playing easy listening music and there is no doubt Kylin Premier has a winner on their hands.
Hardly a couple of seconds to take in this atmosphere and a glass of Fratelli Chenin Blanc 2011 was in my hands – thanks to the super-efficient wait staff. This medium bodied easy drinking wine with peachy overtones was my first introduction to Fratelli wines and I was not disappointed. Definitely better than other domestic Chenin Blanc’s, I got the message that these guys are serious about their wine making. Kylin did an excellent job with the finger food amongst which the Teppanyaki fish, the curry leaf prawns and the spring rolls stood out and went down well with the Chenin Blanc.
Unfortunately bar staff interpreted instructions to cool the wine a little too enthusiastically with the result that the Fratelli Merlot 2011 came to us chilled – the last thing the Fratelli master winemaker, Piero Masi would have desired for his labour of love. I took a glass of the Merlot downstairs with me for dinner and guarded it like the crown jewels for the next half an hour from the waiter. When I did taste it, the Merlot had opened up and turned out to be a smooth medium bodied wine with soft tannins but a perceptible lack of flavour.
Before we trooped downstairs for dinner, Alessio Secci, one of the Italian partners in the venture spoke to us about Fratelli owning all its 240 acres under cultivation with 350,000 vines imported from France, thereby being probably the only winery in India not to rely on contract grape growers for their raw material.
Downstairs in the main dining area, Fratelli Chardonnay 2011 was served as we awaited the roll out of the dinner. Maybe my expectations were low but I was definitely not disappointed with wine maker Masi’s first attempt at an Indian grown and bottled Chardonnay. Not intensely fruit driven, it nevertheless had aromas and flavours of apple and melon. At a MRP of Rs 750, this is an outstanding value for money everyday drinking wine – a commendable effort for a first attempt.
Next we had two reds – Fratelli Sangiovese 2011 and Fratelli Cabernet Franc- Shiraz 2011.The Sangiovese is today Fratelli’s perhaps the flagship commercially available wine and at an MRP of 850 is a steal compared to the imported made in Chianti labels. However keep in mind that unlike its Italian counterparts where even DOCG and DOC Sangiovese are allowed a maximum of 15% Cabernet to add fruit and colour to this characteristically light bodied grape, the Fratelli offering is a 100% Sangiovese. Sangiovese wines are known have the potential to age well with time and I will definitely make it a point to try this vintage a year down the line. The Cabernet Franc Shiraz was robust yet smooth with a reasonable fruity palate, this being due to the equal blend of Cabernet and Shiraz in the wine – in fact I found this to be the most fruit driven wine of the 3 reds.
I just got carried away describing the wines we had that I nearly forgot about the food. The predominantly Chinese line-up of Chicken in Hoisin sauce, Fish in Black Bean sauce and the Tofu with mushrooms turned out to more from the Indian side of the Sino-Indian border! What was a pleasant surprise was the quality of table service by a standalone restaurant –plenty of appropriate glassware and attentive wait staff ever ready to provide a refill.
Before we left, Fratelli gave us a sneak preview of their yet to be launched premium red called Sette – by far this big bodied and robust wine was the best of the lot . With Fratelli pricing their entry level wines at around Rs 450 and the ones we drank at Kylin between Rs 650 and 850, all indications point to something skirting with a 4 figure mark!
There was one common thread running thru most of Fratelli’s wines and that was the feeling of a lack of fruitiness in the aroma and taste of the wines. My considered request to Fratelli would be to please let your wines be more fruit driven and not volume driven.
As I left Kylin Premier that evening, I felt really relieved as now there was not only serious competition to the big boys of Indian wine but also that palatable Chardonnay , Merlot and Sangiovese is now produced in India. Given the fact that this is only their second harvest and if they can maintain and improve on their quality, there is definitely a new kid in town. Salute Fratelli!!