Jan 02: The Masterclasses at Vinexpo India 2021 organised last month at Pragati Maidan began in a grand style with the unofficial Launch of five labels of SIGNET- the super-premium and most expensive wines in India from Grover Zampa Vineyards, Bangalore, which were presented by the well-known Sommelier Magandeep Singh who calls the all-Syrah wines as an experimental Launch that took place officially 2 days later in Bangalore
The process of fermentation is a fairly straightforward one - sugar is acted upon by yeast in the presence of water and air to create some truly divine stuff. And yet, this seemingly simple reaction can accommodate and account for so much diversity and variety in the tactile universe.
With this very tenet in mind, one of India’s foremost leading wine houses, Grover-Zampa, made the most out of the lull that had been the pandemic years, and embarked on one truly unique and noble experiment.
I will call this an experiment in vinification. But let me unravel it slowly.
So, to begin with, they set aside a parcel of land, estate-owned vineyards where Syrah made up most of the planted vines. All of them were trained and nurtured the same so that when they were harvested and brought into ferment, all the vats would have exactly the same raw material to begin with.
For any experiment, it is important to have a manageable number of variables and some constant parameters else the results can become hard to infer or, for future purposes, repeat.
Most of the wines were fermented in their respective receptacles (more on that later) to ensure no fruit flavours were lost and maximum control could be exercised over the fermentation process.
Once this was over, the wines were destined for different ageing processes. The French call this élevage, the nurturing of a wine. The noun is éleve, meaning student, which just goes to show you how the French think of wine - a process of honing a rusty uncut gem that will exude brilliance in good time.
Back to our experiment, it’s interesting to understand how these pupils of Grover-Zampa being made future-perfect. One lot was made in amphora, a harken back to Roman times when all wine was made and stored(/aged) in earthenware. Today, although this is making a comeback, few drinks in the world rely on this form of a receptacle as a regular form of storage.
The next was made and aged in cement eggs, a relatively new creation, which alleges that the elongated oval shape keeps the liquid in a constant state of flux and that is great for homogenising the contents.
Next, there were two sizes of large oak barrels aka Foudres, 2000L and 1000L, where, as the math suggests, the surface area in contact with the wine would decrease from one to the other, thereby introducing a touch more oak influence in the wine that’s aged in the smaller sized version.
These two wines were made in stainless steel tanks but finished their malolactic fermentation in their respective sized Foudres.
Finally, there was the ‘standard’ 225L barrique, medium-toast new French oak barrels, where the wine was left to age for 2 years.
All these experiments were conducted in a fairly hushed manner. The fact that the industry was in a state of semi shutdown made it easier to keep the wraps on this one till the very launch.
And then, one fine morning, I was honoured with the task of presenting these wines for the first time to a public gathering of trade and some consumers at the First Masterclass at Vinexpo India, an international wine show organised from 9-11 May, 2021. Without further ado, here are my findings:
Difference in flavours
The amphora version (called XXX) was a bit tight, showing potential but very shy of expressing it at first. A double decant and some 45 minutes later, a subtle yet structured wine emerged. The aromas were soft, not muted, just subtle and nuanced. The tannins were ripe, fresh and showed an earthy character. The finish was long and deep without being unctuous.
Next was Spectrum, the name for the cement egg aged version - resplendently fruity and an absolute delight from the word go. Quite the ‘genie in a bottle’, if ever there was a wine happy to be released from its glass cage, this was it. It was flamboyant without being showy or loud.
Now we moved on to the two Foudres, 2000L first and then the 1000L. It was almost academic tasting these side by side, getting to see just how a small change of surface area exposure to an element (in this case, toasted oak) can alter the organoleptic elements in the final product.
In case you are curious, the general preference in the crowd was for the 1000L version which showed more pronounced notes of crème brulée, toasted nuts and hints of spent tea leaves. The 2000l, by contrast, showed more primary fruit character and freshness.
Finally, we tried the Barrique aged version and the 24 months had certainly given this wine a lovely rounded edge - smooth, silky, fruity and earthy with plenty of restraint and elegance.
This was a mark of poise and the oohs and aahs emanating from the crowd in front of the stage were an unmistakable reflection of that very emotion.
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