Indian Tonic

In Britain, we’ve enjoyed Indian food for decades – but what about the wine? Steven Spurrier takes a look at the past, present and future of Indian winemaking

It’s not something that comes to mind when you think of India. Tradition in Britain is that with any food from that part of the world, we drink one thing and it’s not wine – well, not Indian wine anyway. And yet, this enormous country does have wine-making potential, albeit potential that has a lot of hurdles to overcome before it can be realised.

The modern history of Indian wine began with the establishment of Chateau Indage, in Maharashtra, in 1982. Producing a successful sparkling wine called Omar Khayyam, the company expanded rapidly, only to collapse last year, partly due to over-extending itself with overseas purchases. Sadly, this was not a unique occurrence, as very few of the 100 or so wine producers in India are making a profit. The fault has been placed at the door of not only the producers themselves but also the government (more of which later).

The next great step in India was the foundation of Kanwal Grover’s winery in Nandi Hills, Karnataka, in 1988, after persuading a famous Bordeaux wine-maker to act as consultant. This company, too, ran into quality and financial problems and as a result had to merge with Vallee du Vin, the producers of the popular Zampa range.

Certainly the greatest impact in Indian wine so far has been Sula Vineyards, a Napa-lookalike operation in Nashik, Maharashtra. Its first wine launched in 2000 and a decade later Sula is India’s largest producer, boasting more than 50 per cent of the market and one of the rare wines worthy of export. Personally I like its range, but I’m more impressed by the individuality of smaller producers such as Fratelli (a joint venture between the Indian Sekhri brothers and the Tuscan Secci brothers), Reveilo and York.

No reliable figures are available for the number of hectares under vines in India, for many table grape vineyards are converted to produce wine and then converted back when it doesn’t work. Maharashtra dominates production (75 per cent of India’s wines come from Nashik), while Karnataka provides most of the rest. Grape varieties include cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, syrah and zinfandel for the reds; chardonnay, chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, riesling and viognier for whites.

If you thought growing wine in India was easy, or, given the daily wage, cheap, think again. These main viticultural regions are between 15 and 20 degrees northern latitude (the norm for wine-growing regions is between 28 and 50), with temperatures fluctuating between 8°C and 42°C. Indian wineries need to double-prune and pre-summer harvest, among other things – this is expensive and many wineries are not willing to make the investment for better quality results.

What is cheap are the state excise taxes, which Indian wines escape entirely, while imported wines are clobbered by taxes ranging from 200 per cent to 350 per cent. This means a local sauvignon blanc may retail for £7, while a sauvignon blanc from Marlborough or Sancerre will be five times that. The result is that the emerging Indian wine drinker cannot afford the ‘benchmark’ wines and the local wines he can afford he does not always like. India’s wine consumption today is a tiny 1.5 million cases – a fraction of that of China, which is nearing more than 100 million. Consumers’ tastes – and the demand for export-quality Indian wines – cannot be expected to develop until good foreign wines are made accessible alongside the large amount of low-quality local ones.

Whatever generalisations you can make about the current quality of Indian wine, there are an increasing number of wines being exported to the UK, with some winning awards – Sula’s sauvignon blanc picked up a Decanter silver medal in the 2011 World Wine Awards. Waitrose and online retailers, such as and, are all stocking Indian wines. And let’s not forget the support of top Indian restaurants; Quilon offers a couple of wines from Grover Vineyards, and the Cinnamon Kitchen offers a Sula red. If these wines are good enough for Michelin starred dining, then they can’t be that bad.

So, why not give them a try? Of course, availability is an issue, with only a handful of wineries currently exporting to the UK, and only a few retailers here picking them up. But the supermarkets have a big impact on the wine world, and should UK customers prove to be interested enough in buying them, who knows what could happen? After all, when Waitrose began stocking Indian wines in September, they sold out in many stores. Even if that’s mostly due to the novelty factor, it’s still pretty impressive.

2010 Viognier Ritu, £8.54

Viognier has grown to be a very popular grape all around the world. This is a good example, with a peach/apricot nose and a soft but refreshing fruit flavour and finish.

Available at:Waitrose

2010 Viognier Ritu, £8.54

2010 Sauvignon Blanc Sula Vineyards, £9.95

Pale yellow in colour, with a good crisp elderflower and white berry nose, this is attractively assertive, quite full-bodied, with a firm, dry finish.

Available at:

2010 Sauvignon Blanc Sula Vineyards, £9.95

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Fratelli, £9.99

The red grape from the Médoc ripens well in India. Made by Piero Masi, this wine has a racy red berry fruit and an attractive freshness of flavour.

Available at:Hallgarten Druitt

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Fratelli, £9.99

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