Saturday, 19 October 2013

TASTING NOTES: India Gets First Sparkling Wines with French Pedigree from Moet Hennessy

Moet Hennessy's Regional Managing
Director Mark Bedingham with a bottle
of the Chandon Brut at the launch of
the sparkler at the Four Seasons
Mumbai on October 20.
By Sourish Bhattacharyya

I HAVE just come back to my 18th-floor room at the Four Seasons Mumbai from a sneak preview tasting of the Chandon Brut and Rose, Moet Hennessy India’s debut methode traditionelle sparkling wines from Nashik, convinced that the country has a future as a serious producer of bubbles made with wine grapes and not Thompson seedless.
The Brut (Maharashtra MRP: Rs 1,200) arrived with a rush of playful little bubbles — the first visible sign of a good sparkling wine — and it effortlessly balanced crispy acidity with citrusy notes, without really letting its 10gm/litre residual sugar (high by French standards) over-express itself. So, if you’re looking for a Prosecco equivalent, this is not the one. The residual sugar (a result, predictably, of the 84 per cent presence of Chenin Blanc, which is not one of the grapes you’d associate with a methode traditionelle sparkling wine) was present in the background, but only to soften the acid attack. And just in case you’ve been wondering about it, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the other two grape varieties that have contributed the remaining 16 per cent of wholesome sparkler that lasts longs on the palate.
The balance was stunning and I felt honoured to be drinking the sparkler with its maker, Kelly Healy, a New Zealander who has been making sparkling wine for the past 17 years. It is just the kind of bubbly I would serve friends before a lazy, conversation-laden Sunday lunch, where I would order in Mini Mughal’s smoky, juicy butter chicken, and open the Rose (Maharashtra MRP: Rs 1,400) when people settle down to eat.
This is the first genuine Rose sparkling wine I have had in India — its competitors, I am afraid, taste like turpentine. It seamlessly marries the fruitiness of Shiraz with the structure of Pinot Noir to titillate your palate and draw out best feelings. This is just the sparkling wine you’d have with wholesome (but not chilli hot) rarha mutton or even the kosha mangsho of the Bengalis. Dal Makhni and Shahi Paneer are the vegetarian dishes that I can see getting along famously with the bubbly.
As we tasting the sparklers, I asked Mark Bedingham, Regional Managing Director, Moet & Hennessy Asia-Pacific about the difference Chandon will make to the wine drinking culture in the country. For those who can’t afford the price points of champagne, Bedingham said, Chandon offers “affordable luxury”. He said the sparklers had been made to “reach out to a whole bunch of new customers”, especially “the rising young professional class”.
Its custodians expect it to open up the market, at present very limited for sparkling wine, which have a 3-5 per cent market share in the country — naturally, because champagne has never been seriously appreciated; it has either been flaunted or reserved for consumption on festive occasions. “Emerging lifestyles in India are sympathetic to the consumption of sparkling wines,” Bedingham said.
The Chandon Brut is 84 per cent Chenin Blanc and
8 per cent each of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The
Rose is 90 per cent Shiraz and 10 per cent Pinot Noir,
which has become Nashik's varietal to look out for. 
The Chandon sparkling wines are now being produced and bottled at the Nashik-based York Winery, but Moet Hennessy India is all set to open its own winery at Dindori, a taluka with perfect soil for wine grapes that was first put on the country’s wine map by Rajeev Samant, the man behind the humongous success of Sula Vineyards. “We are here to be the pioneers for the highest quality of Indian wines,” Bedingham assured me as I couldn’t stop admiring the Rose. The tasting session convinced me that he wasn’t overstating his company’s case.

A SPARKLING NIGHT: The Chandon sparklers were launched on October 19 at a glittering party with the chatterati in full attendance, who, in true Mumbai style, sashayed in only after midnight. From the glamorous writer Shobhaa De, who looked younger than her daughter, to industrialist Gautam Singhania and actor Arjun Rampal, the city’s A-List partied hard till the wee hours to the heart-pumping music of the deejay, who had been flown in for the day from Paris.
The wine world was there too — from Rajeev Samant, who was a force to reckon with on the dance floor, and Ashwin Deo, a former managing director of Moet Hennessy India who has now his own wine label, Turning Point, to Sonal Holland of ITC Hotels, who, I learnt, is one of four Indians to get the WSET-IV certificate, which is quite a creditable achievement, to Indian Wine Academy President Subhash Arora, Sommelier India founder-editor Reva Singh, Business Standard columnist Alok Chandra, and celebrated wine trainer and writer Magandeep Singh.
I was most happy to meet Ian Morden, the estate director of Cloudy Bay, a jewel in the Moet Hennessy crown. A South African whose warmth is so natural and welcoming, Morden was the one who was given the charge of initiating the Chandon project five years ago. He still remembers how his first port of call was Sula, where Samant floored him with his hospitality. Maybe that gave Moet Hennessy the confidence to launch Chandon.