Just imagine if a country with a population of more than 1.2 billion people suddenly became a wine-drinking culture. How would that affect the international wine scene? If you’ve seen the cover of this issue and read the headline of this column, it’s obvious I’m talking about India. But if my question seems farfetched, please turn to the article by Sourish Bhattacharyya . There you will read some startling numbers that justify my use of the term “suddenly.”
Here are a few: The middle class in India is approximately 160 million; there are as many as 20 million people in India with “first world” incomes and interests, and the number of people with incomes of over US$1 million will double in the next four years. Over the past five years, sales of wine in restaurants has grown by a factor of ten. To satisfy this demand, international wine companies are increasing their exports—sales of Champagne have grown 300 percent in five years. In that same period, from 2000 to 2005, the numbers of acres planted to wine grapes in India has quintupled.
This excitement about wine is palpable. I experienced it again and again during a recent trip there. The high-tech boom has generated astonishing discretionary incomes, and much of it is devoted to the blossoming wine culture in the best restaurants, hotels and shops.
While in Delhi I had the pleasure of addressing two wine groups: The Wine Society, headed up by the charming Reva Singh, publisher of Sommelier India; and the Indian Wine Academy, led by their enthusiastic and prolific president, Subhash Arora (see his Web site at indianwineacademy.com). Both organizations hosted sold-out dinners, as 60 to 100 gathered to listen and taste the wines from India’s emerging wineries.
It was my first taste of India’s wines and I was very surprised and pleased. One thing that struck home was that they were true to their varieties. Sauvignon Blanc from Grover Vineyards and Sula Vineyards were crisp, herbaceous and fresh—quite similar to New Zealand’s offerings with their grapefruit flavors. The Chenins from those wineries were particularly impressive, very fruit-driven and rich in flavor. A méthode champenoise sparkling wine called Ivy from the Indage winery was full of tiny bubbles, crisp, high in acid and light on the palate—a perfect accompaniment to spicy Indian cuisine. I was surprised to be offered a Zinfandel from Vinsura Vineyards, but was pleased to find that it was well balanced and fruity, and very light-bodied in comparison to most California Zins where the alcohol is so pronounced. Two other impressive reds I tried were Grover’s La Reserve and Sula’s Dindori Reserve Shiraz.
It is in hotel restaurants that much of the innovation is occurring, both in wine lists and on menus. I visited with Nakul Anand, one of India’s leading pioneers in the culinary arts. As managing director of the ITC Hotels group, Anand is leading an epicurean revolution, starting with his signature restaurant, Bukhara, which features contemporary Indian cuisine, and Dum Pukht, which features classic preparations. All of Anand’s restaurants have extensive wine lists featuring wines from around the world as well as from India.
My India excursion extended from Delhi to the holy city of Varanasi (where the Ganges River flows past the famous crematoriums), to Agra (home of the Taj Mahal), to Jaipur (spectacular Maharaja’s Palaces), Udipur and finally the exciting city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay). If you plan to travel to India, I can recommend the services of Chandan Sen of Luxury Holidays (theluxuryholidays.com), who will ensure that your adventures there include the very best wine and food.
Also in this issue, courtesy of Jordan Mackay, we take you to one of the most remote but vigorous winegrowing areas of the world, Western Australia. Fans of Australian wines will be familiar with bottlings from Margaret River, but now there are other regions of WA that are striving for the world’s attention with some intriguing Rieslings and other whites of almost Old World character. Closer to home, Steve Heimoff takes a look at the Sauvignon Blancs of Sonoma, with a strong emphasis on the food friendliness of these crisp whites. Roger Voss proposes a summer-friendly way to serve aged Tawny Ports: chilled.
Roger likes to talk about “Tawny Moments,” those moments after the day’s labors are done, when you have a good Port in hand and have a chance to relax and contemplate. My trip to India has provided me great memories, and I hope you’re having the kind of summer that will do the same.