Guide to reasonably priced Indian red wine – what I discovered on a houseboat in Malabar

We arrived at the Neeleshwar Hermitage on our first December night in India exhausted by the long journey. A cool bottle, twinkling with condensation in the candlelight, accompanied the local marinated fish we were savouring as we looked out over a balmy Malabar beach. We were doubly surprised by the wine: first to find that it went well with the challenging food, and second to find that it was Indian.

The following day we set off to explore the Malabar waterways on a houseboat (a facility offered by the hotel). This area of India is truly magical, tranquil lapping waters winding their way between coconut groves; birds with red-singed feathers diving and hovering overhead.

Our travel agent had thoughtfully left a bottle of wine in our cabin, and we drank it appreciatively as we watched the tropical sun set. This was another bottle of Sula (which is everywhere) bearing an alarming health warning and a helpful reminder that being caught drunk is an offence in India.

Since we were going to be in India for a while a little research to help with the wine menu seemed in order. This is what I discovered.

General things to note about Indian wine:

  • There is no law or regulation governing the use of the term ‘reserve’; and the concept of ‘vintage’ is not yet established. Most wine is fruity and young.
  • All these wines, like most wines, will benefit from being allowed to breathe for an hour or two, and most from decanting.
  • Read the producer’s recommendation regarding the temperature to serve their wine and follow this – some wines are better colder.
  • Be wary of the Cabernet Sauvignon wines which are often disappointing
  • Shiraz grapes were introduced to India originally from Persia
  • The Indian wine industry suffered in the 20th century from disease and public opinion. Then in Goa the Tonia group was founded and began importing French vines. This was a key turning point.
  • Currently Bangalore origin (which is more established) is generally better than Nashik
  • 90% of the Indian wine market is produced by three companies: Sula, Grover, Indage – with the ubiquitous Sula having the tiger’s share.
  • Grapes grown in temperate climes are harvested in September. In Nashik the grapes are grown in winter and harvested in January and March. The hot temperatures mean that, once bottled, the wine has to be transported in lorries filled with dry ice.

Below is a list of the 15 best Indian red wines – according to the reviews:

  • Myra reserve Shiraz. Made by former banker, Ajay Shetty. Spicy, oaked, easy drinking, fruity… goes well with tandoori and hard cheese.

  • Myra reserve Misfit – Cabernet Shiraz. No need to decant (although can’t harm), profits go to charity.

  • Krsma sangiovese: cherries, spice, jasmine, dark chocolate, nuts:   Krsma is a boutique winery near Bangalore – recommended consistently.

KRSMA cabernet sauvignon
KRSMA cabernet sauvignon

  • Sette Fratelli vineyards, Sette 2011. Made at Akluj. 70% sangiovese 30% cabernet sauvignon. Also consistently recommended. At London’s Gymkhana, one of the best Indian restaurants in the UK, they serve the 2012 Sette Fratelli with wild muntjac biryani with pomegranate and mint raita.

  • Grover La Réserve. Ripe and spicy, perhaps the best of all. Steven Spurrier, renowned wine expert from the famous English wine magazine Decanter rated La Réserve as the Best New World Wine during a tasting in Germany in August 2005. Chocolate…coffee… vanilla. Deep garnet purple. Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz. This wine can cope with strong flavours such as mutton biryani. Produced by Grover Zampa Vineyards (a merger between Grover Vineyards Ltd and Vallée De Vin Pvt. Ltd) responsible for some of India’s best wine production.

Joe Fattorini’s Tasting Note:

“If this were an outfit it would be Elvis during the Vegas years. Big, glitzy and flash, it’s made in an expansive style with a long, lingering finish. Look for all sorts of spices like coffee and chocolate on the palate as well as ripe currants, cherry and blueberry. A shrinking violet it ain’t but if you like wines big, you’ll love this.”

guide to indian red wines
We tried this wine ourselves. It tastes, as you would expect, like a new world wine – but it’s luscious, thick, chocolately…

  • Grover Zampa Chêne  of which Magandeep Singh writing on says, “A big, brooding, boisterous red, the kind that makes steaks melt. The fruit is present but sits beneath the oak which impart rich chocolate-coffee-toasty primary notes”

  • Sula Dindori Reserve Shiraz 2007. Lush berries and silky tannins. Enthusiast Magazine features Sula’s Dindori Reserve Shiraz as“Editors’ Choice” in their May 2016 issue (the same magazine also ranks Sula’s Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz and Chenin Blanc as “Best Buy”s).

  • Indage wines, Chantilli Cabernet Sauvignon (won a bronze at the International Wine and Spirit Competition-1995). A full bodied oaky wine with a hint of blackcurrant black cherries and rich complex finish.

  • Maharashtra. N. D. Wines is a beautifully landscaped winery, located by the side of a lake and surrounded by lush green vineyard spread over 700 acres in Nashik. Their wines are the served on the prestigious and luxurious trains, “The Deccan Odyssey” and “Palace on Wheels”. N. D. Syrah is one of their best wines. It’s deep purple, the colour of the royal insignia. Velvety, peppery, strong nose. Most of ND’s wine is sold to Sula. I haven’t been able to find a website for them.

  • Seagrams Nine Hills shiraz 2007 won the India Wine Challenge for that year. The wine gets its name from the nine hills surrounding Nashik where the company’s winery and the vineyards are located.

  • Four Seasons Barrique Reserve Shiraz  – good with duck confit, wild mushroom ragu, grilled vegetables

Follow this link for Vineet Bhatia’s advice on pairing Indian food with wine.

guide to Indian red wines
The ubiquitous Sula – the company, founded in 1999 by Rajeev Samant returning from California, now produces roughly half the wine consumed in India.
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