So what are the wine trends for the next year? If you follow those like The Financial Times' Jancis Robinson, one of the best, most down-to-earth and incisive writers and commentators of wine and wine trends globally, you would already have anticipated a few of these: Easier to drink, fresher wine, instead of the oaked ones, a growing fascination with local, heritage grape varieties instead of the Merlots and Chardonnays. A huge discussion around soil and how single vineyards translate into taste and finally, possibly, just possibly, the fact that younger consumers across the world may finally be moving away from what Robinson calls "the tyranny of points".
Many years ago, when I had met Robinson as a young writer on food and wine, she had made my copy by calling a spade a spade and without mincing any words had pointed out how the world of wine is like motorsports, with games of upmanship being a constant.
That hasn't lessened at all in these years, and in India, where the wine culture still continues to be described as "emerging", these solemn games have become much more apparent, most of the times just confusing potential drinkers, who should simply enjoy wine, figure out their own tastes rather than worry about snob values and strict rules of pairing food with wine.
I have always held wine to be an individualistic drink. It is (mostly) the only alcohol I drink. But I drink for pleasure, not as a motorsport. What you drink is most determined by your own individual palate as well as the occasion and the company. You can sit with a solemn glass of red by the fireplace with just a friend perhaps and a book or you can party with a versatile sparkling and enjoy both the experiences equally.
One of the most interesting discoveries for me has been some of the growers Champagnes, marked by their incredible freshness, pas-dosage and yet structure and an aged-in-wood finish. I was lucky to have carried back a bottle. But on the other hand, you may still find enough that you may enjoy this Christmas from our own home-grown stables.
Here's my (very individualistic ) list of Indian wines (in no particular order) that you could drink now.
1. Fratelli Gran Cuvee Brut:
I prefer Champagne (who doesn't?) to cava or prosecco because of the longer finish and more complexity that you get in at least some of the non-vintages and certainly in the prestige cuvees. But these are expensive wines and not always accessible. If you would like an Indian sparkling, I would unhesitatingly pick up the Fratelli brut. I like dry wines and Fratelli is as dry and sparkling as you can get in India-with a delicate and creamy finish. You can even pair it with a cheesy pasta or risotto. Or drink it on its own like I do. The best Indian sparkling, according to me.
2 . Myra Reserve Shiraz
I met Ajay Shetty, former banker turned wine entrepreneur in Bangalore about two years ago and sampled some of the Myra ones. Since then, I am astonished to see how far they seem to have come. Shiraz is certainly one of my favourite red varietals, because of its spicy notes that you can feel on the palate. Most (regular, not the wine snobs) drinkers of reds in India, I observe, seem to settle for the merlot. Expressions of grapes, of course, differ depending on where in the world (or India) they are coming from. But in general, I find merlots to be lacklustre and tame. I like bigger wines that most of those but even if you are not drinking one of the big labels, shiraz is a good option. The Myra Reserve Shiraz is oaked and yet it remains fairly easy to drink and elegant. It is generous on the fruit, which most Indians like (as do I) and is cost-effective too.
3. Krsma Sangiovese
Apart from Shiraz, the other reds I usually land up drinking are the Sangiovese and the Argentinian Malbec. Krsma, a boutique winery near Bangalore by Krishna Prasad and Uma Chigurupati (he has been making wine since he was 17, she is a microbiologist), has some excellent offerings and I like their version of the sangiovese with its notes of spice and nuts.
4. Charosa Selections Sauvignon Blanc
Some of the smaller, boutique wineries have come up with some very interesting wines in the last 2 years. Nashik-based Charosa seems to be good with its whites, offers a good Viognier and a great sauvignon blanc, should you be so inclined.
5. Fratelli Sangiovese Bianco
Amongst the offerings from the bigger wineries, I am quite a fan of what Fratelli is doing. Sangiovese bianco is quite unusual because it is a white wine made from red grapes (only two other wineries do this apparently in the world). It has the structure that comes from a red, but is still light and crisp. I like it. You may too.
6. Sette 2011
Last year, I did a blind parallel tasting of Sette 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 at Fratelli Vineyard's cellars in Akhluj. It was one of the most interesting exercises to undertake not just because it shows you how the wine-makers's top expression of his top harvest in the subsequent years but because it helps you understand your own palate better. Instinctively, my top pick was the 2010 - the much celebrated wine, which is now not available in the open market. But the 2011 is and that is a great Indian red to drink too. Shows you the strides Indian wine-making has made.
7. Grover Zampa La Reserva
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In another fun, informal blind tasting in 2015, a beverage manager at a Delhi hotel gave me two glasses of unknown oaked reds of Indian wines and I was asked to pick out my favourite. One of the wines was Sette 2011 that I think highly of. But that evening, I unhesitatingly chose the Grover Zampa La Reserve. For the longest, this has been quite rightly held to be the best Indian red. I like it for its red ripe and spicy aromas-naturally with the shiraz in the blend (cab sauv-shiraz). The tasting proved (to me) at least the consistency of my palate and that I do like what I think I like! If you share the same taste, this may be the wine for you too.