Nasik has been undergoing a revolution in producing quality wines. The man who has taken the leadership position is Mr. Rajeev Samant, CEO of Sula Vineyards. Stanford educated software engineer, Rajeev is so passionate about wines that he chucked his job with Oracle and instead of joining the successful shipping company owned by his family, he chose to convert the family owned land in Nasik into alphonso mango orchards and later into vineyards. He imported Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc vines in 1999 and partnered with a vintner, S Denskey of Sonoma Valley, California to start production of wines. He hasn't looked back since. In a short span he has received international acclaim for his wines and is already exporting them to Italy, France and the US with Hungary next on the list.
He gave due recognition to the Maharashtra Government for a progressive policy to encourage growing of grapes and making wines. According to him, one will also see a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and other red varieties in future from this region. Many new vineyards were also expected to come into production. The climate of Nasik with a high in the thirties and a low at night of 8-10 degrees made it an ideal choice, according to him. But proper marketing was also an important factor, as earlier vineyards could not stay viable because of their inability to market their wine abroad.
The interactive and short talk was followed by tasting of six wines, Chardonnay Pacifica (bulk imports from the US), Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Blush Zinfandel, Merlot (Bulk Chilean imports) and Sparkling Brut from local and table grapes using the traditional Methode` Champanoise process for secondary fermentation. The winemaker has made full use of the inexpensive farm labour in using this labour intensive operation. Of all the wines that were tasted, Chardonnay was very thin with very little fruit or aroma. The ladies would savour blush Zinfandel as an aperitif. Merlot was liked by a lot of red wine drinkers. Chenin Blanc has sweetness balanced with acidity making it an ideal choice for the new drinkers, especially with Indian meals. I am not sure if it would go as well with desserts as it was projected. As expected, it was very popular with the audience.
The surprise package was the Sula Brut. Made from table grapes and some local grapes without any Pinot Noir and Chardonnay -the traditional grapes used for sparkling wine produced in Champagne and the rest of France. It had plenty of bouquet, biscuit flavour, generous quantity of small bubbles that made the fizz last in the glass. Watch out for this sparkling at your celebratory events. It's reasonably priced and will give a tough competition to the existing Marquis de Pompadour.
But their best wine has to be Sauvignon Blanc. I may be slightly biased towards it but it is very crisp, perfumed and only slightly sweet wine, just perfect for the Indian palate. It is an excellent aperitif or a fun drink that will go very well with not-too-spicy snacks or fish or cheese kebabs. It may not be a match for too-spicy kebabs or red meats. Since Sauvignon Blanc does not require much ageing, this wine can be enjoyed while young, fresh and fruity with plenty of citrus flavour. In my opinion, it will become the most popular Indian white wine even though it is slightly higher priced at Rs. 480 MRP. An excellent presentation and conducting of the tasting by the effervescent Rajeev made the members and guest of the Delhi Wine Club question themselves about the
relevance of bootlegger wines when such wines are available in the country. Rajeev's invitation to the members of the Delhi Wine Club to visit Nasik and Sula Vineyards had many takers.
The Taj Palace Hotel provided us the venue, wine glasses, breads and other services for the Event. The glasses were correct for the tasting and the temperatures were just right, though the Merlot was a bit too cold. As one knows, it is better to err on the colder side while serving wine. A few seconds of holding the glass in the palm and the temperature became right for release of the aromas and one could taste the berry fruits well.