For years, I have said that Sula Vineyards produces some of Indias best wine. Their Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier are consistent and enjoyable for wines produced in latitudes not usually associated with fine wine production. However, two players have emerged that easily give Sula a run for their money. I havent visited their facilities, but the wines coming out of York Winery in Nasik and Fratelli in Solapur show that everything seems to be up to scratch. They are consistently good and taste like they should.
In 2006, two Italian brothers — Andrea and Aleesio Secci, and two pairs of Indian brothers — Gaurav and Kapil Sekhri, and Ranjitsinh and Arjunsinh Mohite-Patil, created the rather aptly named Fratelli Wines in Akluj, a village about 170km south of Pune, in Solapur. A lot of effort seems to have gone into irrigating the 240 acres and setting up a swish winery. Theres obviously a lot of money behind this operation, not least of which is demonstrated by the involvement of agronomist Piero Masi, formerly of the outstanding Tuscan producer Isole e Olena.
It all seems to have paid off. Fratellis wines — the whites in particular — are superb. They are very well-balanced (despite the possible addition of tartaric acid, not unusual in warm climates) and dry. According to them, all the wine is produced from their own vineyards, so they maintain control of the quality of the grapes.
The best Chenin Blanc in the world comes from the Loire Valley, where it is has a steely acidity and is able to age for decades, whether produced sweet or bone dry. Many producers in India, including Sula, leave a little sugar in their Chenins to offset the wines acidity. This makes it more approachable and slightly rounder in the mouth. Fratellis Chenin Blanc (Rs 550 in Delhi) is dry and seems to have found a balance between the high acidity and delicate fruit that Chenins demonstrate.
Im going to come out and say it: I now consider this to be the best white wine produced in India, followed closely by Fratellis Sauvignon Blanc (Rs 625). The latter is softer and has less of the green herbaceous notes of Sulas Sauvignon Blanc, also a very pleasant, well-made wine. This is just my taste though. A lot of my friends prefer the slightly vegetal, pungent style of Sulas, more akin to the Sauvignons of Marlborough in New Zealand.
York Winery was created in 2004 by the Gurnani family and is managed by Ravi Shamdashani. South African Stefan Gerber is the consultant winemaker. Like Fratelli, the folks at York have invested a load of dosh into their winery: it boasts a massive 6000sq ft barrel room (Im not sure how full it is yet). In 2011, York produced almost 20,000 cases (about 2,40,000 bottles) of their wine, including some that they export under the very smart Mantra label. The winery is also contracted out to other producers. In 2010, Moët Hennessey produced and bottled their upcoming Indian sparkling wine (to be released in 2013) at Yorks facilities. This is very telling.
Yorks Reserve Shiraz (Rs 725 in Maharashtra only) still needs to be tweaked in the winery, but its certainly headed in the right direction. The fruit (dark berries, some herbal notes) is apparent, but overall, the wine comes across as a little hollow. It has soft tannins, while the acid (low) and alcohol (moderate) are in balance. This has the potential to be one of Indias best reds. Sulas Rasa Shiraz (Rs 1,100) still takes the gong for me, despite being hugely oaked, but York Reserve Shiraz is hot on its tail.
I cant wait until the next blind tasting competition of Indian wines. The results will be very interesting.