In the last three decades, the Indian wine industry has managed to do what even established wine producing nations have difficulty handling — reinvent itself. The seeds of a wine industry were planted as early as the late ’80s, but it wasn’t until the mid-90s that a revolution could be said to have been underway. In the case of red wines, the warm, tropical climates of Indian vine regions have been most apt for thick-skinned grapes that can stand the onslaught of the heat. While a lot of local grapes originally used for winemaking weren’t always the best choice, people persisted with them, often for lack of proper knowledge, and turned out less-than-mediocre wines. Then, for some reason, Zinfandel — a fairly unusual choice for red grapes — ruled the vineyards, but never up to mark to make commendable wines. Someone even planted Pinot Noir, a grape so fragile that even the most established of wine regions struggle to get it aptly ripe. It wasn’t till the turn of the century that the reds begun to show some promise, but most were plagued by this off-burnt plastic smell (and taste), which ran like a common streak through all the reds coming out of Nashik.
Bengaluru, or rather Karnataka, somehow didn’t have this pungent note, and thus churned out significantly better reds (and still largely do). So clearly, it was something in the soil, or more so, the underground water that was being used for irrigation. Fast forward a decade, and only a handful of wines are still plagued by this Nashik taint, a term I coined ages ago, and I am glad to not need to use it too often anymore. The top reds of India, although still lacking any sense of terror or provenance, still do a brilliant job as international reds. Here is my pick of the top 10, somewhat in order of preference. Most are available in multiple states, but very few can truly claim to have a nationwide reach.
KRSMA Cabernet Sauvignon
India’s foremost red, year after year, also the first one to come packaged in magnums (double bottle capacity of 1.5 litres). This is a proud wine for the Indian industry. Recently, KRSMA also won the accolade of being among the World’s Top 50 Vineyards, the first and only Indian winery to achieve this. But the Cabernet is a serious wine, and worthy of ageing for a good part of a decade.
Grover Zampa Vijay Amritraj
Red Fabulous red blend with flavour, balance, and elegance aplenty, and this isn’t even their flagship wine. Great to sip, but also works with food.
Grover Zampa Insignia
This rare limited release single vineyard 100 per cent Shiraz wine from India’s top-rated winery is a soft, gentle number, one that persists gently. It is flavourful and lasting, but also surprisingly light and buoyant for a top-range wine, as most houses prefer to go for an all-out flex in such cases.
Bush vines are always special, not just because of how they harken back to the winemaking techniques of yore, but also because they are extremely hard to work with. KRSMA produces an exemplary version, one that is ripe like an Oz version, and grippypunchy like one from the Northern Rhone. A classy wine, even if it is reserved when young, and needs time to open up.
Red blend Burgundian winemaking expertise of Jean-Charles Boisset meets Indian soil and climate in this one-of-a-kind collaborative effort. All the three wines are made in extremely small quantities (2,400 bottles per annum for now), and although priced at a premium, are a great value-for-money proposition for what they bring to the table. A curious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot/Marcelan and a touch of Sangiovese — this wine is stylish and subtle, and works brilliantly when paired with the right plates.
Sette was Fratelli’s first reserve wine, and it redefined the category (both with its pricing and positioning) when it launched, a flagship wine from India that was worthy of that nomenclature. It won awards all around the globe but most importantly, it was a wine that helped removed the stigma for a lot of well-heeled Indians that Indian wine wasn’t good enough to be served at their parties.
A modest wine that is easy to overlook, but possibly the wine with the best value-for-money ratio here. It is extremely drinkable and versatile, managing to appeal to the first-timer and the seasoned tippler. And for the price, it can easily be your daily pour. A balanced blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon handled gently to preserve fruit and aromas.
This is an entry-level red, extremely quaffable, fruity, and crisp with just a gentle tannic grip. What it does for me even more importantly, is highlight just how well Indian climates and soils can be for this grape variety. This was the first winery to launch such a successful Sangiovese and since then, many others have worked this grape into their fields too.
Vallonné Anokhee Cabernet Sauvignon
This grape doesn’t do necessarily well on Indian soils, and few wineries have managed to build a wine around this grape that lives up to its true potential. Anokhee was an early exception, showing us that in the right hands, one could get a decently lush, fruity, yet structured wine.
Shiraz Sula has upped their game in the last few years, and the Rasa series, although a bit rich on the oak-finish, still manages to be a classy blend with fruity aromas that last unto the finish.