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Posted: Friday, 07 September 2018 17:13

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Panel Tasting: Indian Wines Shining Overseas

Sep 07: Many Indian wine snobs still scoff at the Indian wines but are obviously ignorant of the much-improved quality that has made wineries like Sula, Fratelli and York craft special co-owned labels for sale outside India successfully while others like Grover Zampa, Krsma and Somanda have been exporting their labels at handsome prices due to their high quality, writes Subhash Arora who had a panel of around 11 people taste 10 such wines with and without food at a private, exclusive Tasting at Pullman recently, in a run up to the 2nd edition of Indian Wine Day of November 16 at the Lalit Hotels in India

Photos and Video By:: Adil Arora

The objective of the Tasting was 2-fold: to taste the wines that have new co-owned labels like JCB, J’Noon and Yaatra and also the original labels being exported as Indian wines- like Grover Zampa VA Reserve, Sula Riesling and Yoga Vino exported to the US by Somanda Vineyards but which reached the venue later and could not be tasted as such. The second important factor was the food and wine pairing. Having returned recently from Hong Kong where Arora has been judging for 9 years and has been involved in food and wine paired judging from the day it was conceived and 2 Indian dishes  introduced, and introducing the same concept at the inaugural edition of Indian Wine Awards last April in Mumbai, he has been a keen supporter of the food and wine pairing in India even though he is aware that initially many purists would laugh at the concept-partly because of lack of any knowledge and the wonderful surprises this fun exercise could bring.

Following wines were selected and available for tasting:

1. JCB Sparkling Wine No. 47

2. Grover Sauvignon Blanc 2017

3. Sula Chenin Blanc Reserve 2018

4. J’Noon White wine 2016

5. Grover La Reserve Viognier 2015

6. Sula Dindori Reserve Shiraz  2017

7. Grover Vijay Amritraj Reserve  2014

8. J’Noon Red wine 2016

9. York Yaatra Red Shiraz 2016

10. Sula Riesling 2017


Kriti Malhotra CWS was ever so enthusiastic to pour the wines at right temperature and take part in the tasting which rightfully started with JCB No. 47 Brut. I had always believed the number 47 represented AK 47 in tune with Jean Charles Boisset, James Bond of Burgundy and Napa, who has a range of JCB sparklers in Burgundy and Napa under the same label and has added this to his collection. He had clarified at the Launch 6 months ago that it was to respect the year of Indian independence.  Very much liked by the panellists, it was also a great match with the Arancini balls due to the crispy texture and spicy flavours.

Incidentally, the intention had been to taste each wine individually before having with one of the dishes and then with the second dish, giving a rating to the combination. With only snacks like Arancini and Paneer tikkas for vegetarians and fish fingers and Chicken tikkas for non vegetarians it was obvious that the matching would not be successful when we tasted the red wines. Ideally, in a competition, one main course dish is placed on the table first and the wines entering the competition for this dish are kept in glasses individually. Rating is done for each combination first-before going to the next dish and another set of glasses.

Anyhow, we were at the second wine Grover Sauvignon Blanc 2017. A star performer at international blind tasting events, it did not garner as many points here though the fresh and fruity wine did very well with food. Sula Chenin Blanc Reserve 2018 was much drier than the standard version and had just the right amount of oak. In fact, it surprised me with its structure and balance; oak was in the back notes only and giving a bit of complexity and pleasant end. Also a great match with food.

Chardonnay based J’Noon White wine 2016 was full of fruit and concentration, very vibrant on the palate and a very good mouthfeel. Well-liked by the panellists it also scored high with food. Grover Grover La Reserve Viognier 2015 was found to be not as fresh as tasted by members earlier (this was also an example where one realised that the wine labels that are known to the panellists need to be tasted blind so that pre-conceived notions can be dispelled. ‘Heavy on the oak’ was the general comment. Oak also interfered with the food in the mouth and most people found it tasted better without food.

Sula Dindori Reserve Shiraz 2017 had mixed response with some panellists reminiscing of a much better vintage, while others commenting on the consistency. It was a very clean, fresh and fruity Shiraz that collapsed with fish fingers in the mouth and only a few people liking it with chicken tikkas. Clearly it was looking for a lamb, mutton or other red meats/ gravies in this format. Grover Vijay Amritraj Reserve Selection 2014 had a better response though some found it tired as they had tasted it earlier and the flavour appeared to be waning now. Again a disaster with the snacks- at this point we stopped pairing with food.

J’Noon Red wine 2016 was a general favourite for most and seems to have evolved in the bottle since its launch. It tasted more balanced with good structure and flavours of berries impressing the palate. Quite long, it had a juicy finish. It seems still to have a life of 3-4 years yet. Again, it did not fly with the food. York Yaatra Red Shiraz 2016 is the latest addition to the York range and the label has been co-designed and is co-owned by York and Liam Stevenson MW who has collaborated with the Gurnani Bros. of York in Nashik and released the first version from a special plot this year. It was nice of Kailash Gurnani, the partner winemaker to have brought a couple of bottles from his library stocks. It was very fruity, fresh with good acidity and will age well for 3 years or so. Considering the price, it was a best-buy value-for-money wine of the evening. Unfortunately, it’s not available in India yet- a very small quantity was produces this year and totally exported. But with a bigger crop of the fruit next year, wine lovers can hope to taste and drink this wine in India as well.

For reasons not known to me, Sula Riesling 2017 was kept for tasting at the last by Kriti- presuming it was a sweet wine. It was a surprise package. It has been getting better and better and the sugar level has been reduced to a level where it has a great balance of sugar and acidity and a great match with vegetaraian food-it was so-oh perfect with Arancini balls. Loaded with tropical flavours, It had an excellent mouthfeel and a persistent and pleasant after taste. Great wine for Indian vegetarian food that.

An excellent tasting for which we must thank Mr Tristan De Lemonie, GM of Northern India Accor hotels, Arun Varma of Delhi Wine Club, who helped me with organising the tasting and Kriti Malhotra who is an adorable Sommelier and as usual, was very efficient. We must thank, Sula, Grover, Fratelli, York and Somanda (the wines will be tasting in future as they arrived late) for sending us the wines.

The next Panel Tasting (#4) is on September 27 and will be a blind tasting of 8-10 Pinot Noir wines.

Subhash Arora 

Video : Subhash Arora explaining procedure for the food and wine tasting at Pullman

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