Saturday, 8 February 2014

Meditating Over A Bottle of Santo From Fratelli's Kapil Sekhri

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

I WAS pleasantly surprised to receive a wooden box from Fratelli Wines with a personal note from Kapil Sekhri, one of the six brothers behind the Akluj (Solapur)-based company, whom I had met most recently at the Panjim restaurant, Mum's Kitchen.
I am sure many others in the city must have got this gift. Still, I felt a strange sense of entitlement when I held Bottle No. 83 (out of a limited edition of 1,000) of Santo, Fratelli's dessert wine developed by Piero Masi, the acclaimed Tuscan winemaker. Masi is famous in his home country for ensuring, as winemaker, the celebrated Chianti Classico Casa Sola's rock-solid reputation. His own Fattoria dell’Agenda (100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon) made history twice -- in 2004 and 2006 -- for selling out even before it was bottled.
Fratelli has produced just 1,000 numbered bottles
of Santo. Four kilos of Chenin Blanc grapes have
gone into each bottle of the flavourful dessert wine.
The creation of such an accomplished winemaker deserved my time and attention. I decided to taste it at once and write about it.
Santo pays homage to Vin Santo, the famous Tuscan dessert wine (the 'meditation wine') made in Chianti with the local white grapes, Trebbiano and Malvasia. It is Fratelli's first release in a 500-ml bottle, which is not very common in the wine world. It's a late harvest Chenin Blanc (like its forerunners from Sula, Reveilo and Big Banyan), which means the grapes that go into making it -- four kilos are said to have gone into my bottle -- are left on the vines for two months after the harvest season so that they shrivel and become almost like sugar-laden sultanas bursting with flavour.
These grapes are selected from plots that are not much exposed to the sun and have high humidity levels, which allow a slow yet intense process of concentration of flavours in the grapes, apart from much-needed acidity to balance the natural sweetness of Chenin Blanc. And as the wine ages for 24 months in French oak barrels, it develops the nutty and honey notes that I savoured as took my first sip. Santo acid levels effectively balances its sweetness, making it just perfect to be drunk by itself, or with cheese, or with western desserts (panna cotta is the first dessert that comes to my mind). The intense sweetness of Indian desserts rules them out for sweet wines of any kind.
Dessert wines, we are told by wine business insiders, don't have much of a market in India. With yet another addition to dessert wines from India, they may not gain volumes dramatically, but secure enough new ground to establish their niche in the wine universe.