Friday, 27 September 2013

Connoisseurs Vote for Mixed Bag of Winners in Blind Tasting of Indian Wines

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
THE WESTIN at Koregaon Park, Pune, took a bold leap of faith and organised an event called Wines of India this past Sunday to showcase the increasing diversity emerging out of the country’s vineyards. It was a bold leap of faith because our starred hotels treat Indian wines the way they used to dismiss the country’s culinary wealth with utter disdain. It’s almost as if they are embarrassed to operate in a country that also produces wine!
Grover Zampa Vineyards COO Sumedh Singh
Mandla (left) with Subhash Arora, President,
Indian Wine Academy, at the Wines of India
event at The Westin, Koregaon Park, Pune
(Picture: Courtesy of Subhash Arora)

Just like Indian restaurants used to get the worst locations in a starred hotel and tandoors were kept only for making breads and a few standard kebabs, till ITC changed the rules of the game with Bukhara at the Maurya in the 1980s, Indian labels are put right at the end of wine lists, as if our hotels are afraid of owning up to the fact that India also produces wines. Indian wines are not even kept in rooms for guests entitled to the freebie.
It was commendable therefore to see The Westin get wine producers from Maharashtra and Karnataka together at Koregaon Park, Pune, a neighbourhood that has always been associated with an evolved lifestyle, maybe because of its proximity to the Osho Ashram. And when I saw my good friend, Indian Wine Academy President Subhash Arora, head straight to Pune after flying in from Hong Kong, I knew it was an event that was being taken with utmost seriousness by our wine luminaries.
Those invited (about 150 experts and connoisseurs from across the country) to this first-of-its-kind event to be organised by a starred hotel got busy doing some serious blind tasting and rating the wines they were served during the course of the day. In the evening, the same wines were served at a networking dinner where the who’s who of Pune showed up. The wineries that participated in the event were: Sula, Fratelli, Grover Zampa, Four Seasons, Nine Hills, Reveilo, Kiara, Turning Point, Vallonné and York. “We believe that wineries in India today produce some of the world’s best wines,” said Vikas Malik, Regional Director (Food & Beverage), South Asia, Starwood Asia Pacific Hotels & Resorts. “These go very well with the Indian palate and international travellers are also trying out local wines,” Malik added.
Subhash commented later on my Facebook wall that “the methodology left much to be desired. … Winners will make a mistake hanging the results on their walls.” Being a veteran of 35-odd international wine competitions, Subhash may not approve of the idea of a whole lot of people, moving from one counter to another, tasting and judging wines on the rather basic criteria of taste, colour, look and after appeal.
My take on the event is that it was the closest we have come to involving consumers in the exercise of judging the wines they would like to drink. Unless people take ownership of what they consume, we’ll never have a robust wine drinking culture. To quote Dilip Puri, Managing Director (India) and Regional Vice President (South Asia), Starwood Asia Pacific Hotels & Resorts: “Wine tasting sessions are very popular internationally and considering the growing wine market in India, this was a great opportunity to showcase the best wines produced within the country at one common platform and gather feedback that will help us enhance our wine offering to our guests.
The blind tasting results, based on the scores given by the invitees, are out. What I loved about the list of winners and runners-up is that it spills over with surprises, which means no company has attempted to influence the outcome. The spokesperson for The Westin, Koregaon Park, Pune, said the winner wines will be promoted in the hotel for the next three months and if the feedback is good, the event may be repeated in other Starwood hotels as well (The Westin is one of the brands that Starwood operates).
I am sharing the list. Remember, it’s the 2013 vintage, so the reds may still be a bit rough on the edges. A lot of the wines may also not be available in your city, but when you’re out travelling, especially to Mumbai, you can always buy the wine you’re missing.

The winners are:
Chardonnay: Reveilo Chardonnay Reserve (W); Reveilo Chardonnay (R)
Chenin Blanc: Nine Hills Chenin Blanc (W); Reveilo Chenin Blanc (R)
Sauvignon Blanc: Fratelli Sauvignon Blanc (W); Sula Sauvignon Blanc (R)
Sparkling: Zampa Soiree Brut (W); Zampa Soiree Rose Brut (R)
Dessert Wine: Sula Late Harvest Chenin Blanc (W); York Late Harvest Chenin Blanc (R)
Merlot: Vallonné Merlot Reserve (W); Fratelli Merlot (R)
Shiraz: Turning Point Shiraz (W); Sula Rasa Shiraz (R)
Cabernet Sauvignon: Reveilo Cabernet Sauvignon (W); York Cabernet Sauvignon (R)
Cabernet Blend: Grover La Reserva (W); Turning Point Shiraz Cabernet (R)
Rosé: Nine Hills Rosé (W); Vallonné Rosé (R)