During my first visit to India over 25 years ago, my husband and I feasted on many delicious meals in some of the five star restaurants in Mumbai and Chennai. Unfortunately the wine lists offered only a small set of locally grown Indian wines. Since I enjoy a good glass of wine at dinner, I was disappointed with the options. Most of the wines were sweet and tasted as though the grapes had been harvested earlier in the week. I knew that people in India didn’t drink wine or any alcohol in those days but India has a long, rich history with growing grapes for wine.
Grapes have been grown in India for over 5000 years ago during the Bronze Age when Persian traders brought them to the region. Wine has been made from these grapes for about 3000 years. Over time various groups for either religious reasons, as directed by some of the ancient texts, or for pleasure consumed wine. During recent history wine production and consumption flourished during British and Portuguese rule but public opinion eventually changed and alcohol was banned during most of the 20th century.
By the 1980s, attitudes started to shift and wine production started once again as India started to participate in the global marketplace and the incomes of the Indian people started to rise. The early wines were syrupy and not very good. They could barely be compared to the cheapest California or French wines. Today, the story has changed.
During my trip to south India, wine lists at the best restaurants included some very good wines (offered at reasonable prices). The wine that was most often listed is produced by Sula Vineyards, located near Mumbai. Started in the 1990s, the owner started the winery and brought a winemaker from California to create Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc wines with their first release in 2000. The Chenin Blanc was available on almost all of the wine lists (including Sanjeev Kapoor’s Khazana in Dubai). The Sauvignon Blanc was listed but was only available at one of the restaurants at which we dined. I look forward to my next trip so I can taste more of Sula’s offerings.
Other wines that were occasionally listed on menus include:
Four Seasons Wines – produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Rosé at reasonable prices from grapes grown in Maharashtra, India since 2006.
Nine Hills Wine – Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc produced by Seagram India, the Indian arm of Pernod Ricard since 2006.
Big Banyan Wines – produces seven distinct varietals of whites, rosés, reds and dessert wines in India.
Zampa Vineyards from the Valle de vin offers Chenin Blanc, Shiraz, sparkling rose wine and sparkling red wine of cabernet sauvignon sincd 2006.
In researching the wines I listed above, I noticed one thing they have in common – they started production in 2006. I strongly suspect this is due to changing values, interests and incomes of the young, upwardly mobile Indians who have been educated in the west or work with people in the west. As they started drinking fine wines, they wanted access to them at home or to be able to share them with family and friends. With increased demand for wine, it was only natural that resourceful Indian entrepreneurs would buy into foreign wineries and growing grapes to create moderately priced local wine.
Wine in India seems to be a growing trend and will be an exciting journey to follow.
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