A lot of the landmarks in the history of winemaking occurred before Christ. Jesus even saved a couple of party tricks for himself. So, it is quite exciting when you get to witness wine history being made.
All right, Moët & Chandon, one of the oldest French champagne houses, making a sparkling wine in India may not exactly be historic. After all, it is not like sparkling wine has never been made in India, or that a foreign company has not attempted to make wine here. But, a foreign company has never made sparkling wine here on this scale. And, that you can buy a wine by the makers of Dom Pérignon for Rs 1250 a bottle is something to get excited about.
The groundwork began a few years ago, when Moët & Chandon flew some of their experts to India and asked them to explore the possibility of making a wine here. Many of those experts had already been on similar scouting trips to California, Brazil, Australia and Argentina.
They knew how to identify the right mix of soil and climate for growing grapes and how to adapt their knowledge of making fine sparkling wines in the Champagne region to foreign conditions. The taste and quality templates were the same that they used in France, but they played around with other variables.
In India, Moët’s hunt stopped in Nashik, the epicentre of Indian wine activity. As always, they would start with a sparkling wine. But, the grapes used here would be different. In most of Moët’s champagnes, chardonnay and pinot noir are the dominant grapes in the assemblage. But, you don’t find many of those grapes in Nashik, while chenin is grown in abundance (nobody can explain why). So, the blend had to be skewed towards chenin. The rosé is made from shiraz.
The final product, though entirely Indian, is international in taste. Both the wines are made by the same method employed in Champagne (méthodetraditionnelle). The sparkling white has an elegant nose, lemony and apple-y, with gentle hints of toast. It is smooth on the palate and has a subtle yet distinct smoked-citrusy aftertaste. The rosé is a more expansive wine, not flabby but with more width, showing ample fruit (berries mostly) and a little creaminess that makes for a nice soft finish. At no point did the wines display the classic fault that I have christened the Nashik taint: tasting slightly of burnt rubber. Instead, they were delicious.
At the launch, in Mumbai, there was no consensus on which of the two wines was better. Better is a bad word in the world of wines, and people seemed to be fending for what appealed to them. In my opinion, the white (Rs 1250 a bottle) was great as an aperitif, but the rosé (Rs 1450) showed more promise when paired with food.