IMG_6715 © 2013 . All rights reserved.

Sicilian Master Classes in India

In January this year, I presented a five-day series of Sicilian wine master classes in four cities – Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore and Mumbai. Responsible for organising this whirlwind tour were Michèle Shah and on the ground in India, Subhash Arora of the Indian Wine Academy. Grateful thanks go to Dario Cartabellotta, Baldo Giarraputo and to IRVOS for providing the funding for the initiative.

Our prestigious entourage included heads of some of Sicily’s leading wine dynasties – Diego Planeta (Sicilian Wine Ambassador), Giuseppe Tasca d’Almerita, Giuseppe Benanti, Gaetana Jacono from Valle del’Acate, and Piero Buffa from Castelluccimiano. The Sicilians had even brought along their own chef (Carmelo Floridia from wine producer Gulfi) so that the wines could be shown to their best advantage with typical Sicilian food.

There seemed to be a genuine enthusiasm for and interest in wine, and in Sicilian wine in particular. Some of the audience were very knowledgeable about wine and at some of the venues there were several winemakers, importers and diploma holders or Indian MW students present so the general understanding about wine and winemaking was good.

I was pleasantly surprised by the high number of Indian wineries that exist (about 80 to 90 I am told by my local Indian wine expert) and the liveliness of the industry.

In the short time I was in India I met several Indian winemakers who attended the master classes and who were growing grapes and making wine in Maharashtra, Goa and other places.

I was delighted to meet the owners of Reveilo winery who were growing the Sicilian grape varieties Nero d’Avola and Grillo in Maharashtra, which, it is said, has a similar climate to Sicily. Their Nero d’Avola had good ripe, black cherry flavours but was dominated by wood-smoke and burnt toast characteristics. However, the latter disappeared when matched with chargrilled tandoori dishes.

I made a point of trying Indian wines whenever I could and thought that many of them were much better than I had expected. The Sula Zinfandel Rosé was very pleasant when served well-chilled, the Sula Dindori Shiraz 2011 has lovely ripe blackcurrant flavours and soft tannins and went very well with a delicious biryani served at Dum Phuckt at the ITC Mauyra in Delhi. One of my favourites was the Fratelli Chardonnay 2012 – one of the best Indian wines I tried during my stay.

I spent a week in Goa afterwards and while I was there, there was even a wine festival there with producers coming from all over the state. Unfortunately, unforeseen circumstances prevented me from going.

The main thing that is holding back an even more lively wine culture is the excessively high level of taxation and a complicated importing infrastructure that varies from state to state. Very few people want to pay four times the price of the cost of a bottle of wine on a regular basis. Having said that, however, a mark-up of 3 or 4 times the cost of a bottle of wine is fairly typical in UK restaurants and in the British on-trade in general.

I see a great future for Indian wines if the quality continues to improve and be as good as some I tasted. The lack of import taxes for the home-grown product means that they can be sold at very reasonable prices and this in turn can only help promote and encourage a wine drinking culture. I really felt that these wines went much better with Indian food that the alternative alcoholic drinks such as beer or cocktails, which were either too fizzy, too filling or too sweet and alcoholic.

Fratelli Chardonnay 2012 –  Ripe peach and yellow fruit aromas and flavours with a satisfyingly creamy mid palate and a dash of lime juicy acidity adding freshness.

Sula Dindori Shiraz 2011 – Big ripe blackberry aromas and flavours and some blackcurrant jam, mouthfilling with soft, round tannins.

Sula Zinfandel Rosé – Light pleasant strawberry ice lolly flavours, medium dry.

© 2013, Susan Hulme MW. All rights reserved.

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