Grape growing and winemaking in India trace back to the Bronze Age, when Persian traders brought the practice to the region. Soon it became common throughout the area to find wine made from grapes or fermented grain beverages. Winemaking was widespread under British rule during the 19th century. However, phylloxera at the beginning of the 20th century, along with government disapproval, nearly wiped out the industry.
Wine production returned to India in the 1980s, along with a growing middle class taking more interest in luxury goods and dining out. The majority of wine consumed is domestic, as the tax on wine brought into India is 150 percent.
Seventy producers account for the 24 million bottles that India produces per year. A little more than 10 percent of that total is exported. The principal red grapes are Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir. White varieties include Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay.
There are two main winegrowing regions: Nashik, in the state of Maharashtra, near Mumbai; and Nandi Hills, in Karnataka, near Bangalore.
One of the pioneers in Nandi Hills was Kanwal Grover, founder of Grover Zampa, who invested in vineyards and experimented with grape varieties during the 1970s. Today, Grover Zampa is considered by many to be one of the finest wineries in India. It produces Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style blends under the supervision of French wine consultant Michel Rolland.
Opened in 2013, Chandon produces two sparkling wines—a Brut made from Chenin Blanc and a Syrah/Zinfandel-based rosé. According to Davide Marcovitch, global president of Chandon, the decision to deviate from the more traditional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir was based on the climate and soil in Nashik.
“One challenge was to find the most suitable grapes, to elaborate a world-class, super-premium sparkling wine,” says Marcovitch. “We took the freedom to explore different varieties and chose the most adequate ones to make our base wines.”
The Indian wines found in the U.S. are Sula, Grover Zampa and KRSMA. Sula, the easiest to locate, is distributed in 20 states. Mainly sold in Indian restaurants, Sula can also be found in wine shops in larger metropolitan areas.
Sameer Baxi, general manager of Pippali, an Indian restaurant in New York City, has two pairing recommendations for Sula wines. He matches Sula Shiraz with tandoor lamb marinated in ginger and garlic paste, and he pairs its Chenin Blanc with curried goat or grilled chicken with cilantro and green chilies.
To learn more about the flavors and Indian food, Mike and Jeff visit the the spice market on Khari Baoli in New Delhi, India.