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What kind of wine do you like?

Alok Chandra | May 18, 2006

Most new wine drinkers find a dry white sour on the palate, and would be expected to happily quaff sweeter stuff.

So why is there no market for sweet whites?

Three white wine grapes grown in India that are somewhat less well-known than the noble grapes (Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc) are Clairette, Viognier and Muscat.

Clairette (nothing to do with Claret, which is the English term for red Bordeaux wine) was the grape selected by Grover Vineyards for planting near Bangalore for their white wines and, even today, this grape is unique to Grovers.

The grape is widely planted in southern France, and sweet white wine made from the grape used to be extremely popular elsewhere in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Today it is regarded as a decidedly old-fashioned variety, producing flabby, alcoholic wines that need blending with more acidic wines to stand scrutiny.

This is where the second unique grape used by Grover -- Viognier -- comes in. This grape was enormously fashionable in the 1990s when Grover vineyards was set up, and is the source for Condrieu, a distinctive white wine made in minuscule quantities in the Rhone area of France.

Viognier has a distinctive colour and aroma (typically apricots, peaches and flowers) that, when blended with Clairette, produces a highly palatable dry white wine. Grover's white wine consumers are not complaining. Indage has also recently introduced Ivy Viognier (Rs 450) -- not having tasted it, I cannot comment on the same.

This brings us to Muscat -- one of the world's great and historic names, of both the grape and the wine -- and one of the few which produces wines that actually taste of grapes. This variety originated in the Mediterranean, and is so distinctively perfumed that it was known to the ancient Greeks as `uva apiana' (grape of the bees) -- note that musca is the Latin term for flies! 

Over the centuries the grape has developed several varieties, can range from golden-yellow to pink in colour, and make wines ranging from light frizzy wines to heavy and sweet liqueur wines. 

In Italy it is called Moscato, and is the grape used for both Asti Spumante and Moscato d'Asti -- light, sweet and fragrant sparkling wines. In Spain and Portugal the grape is called Moscatel, and is widely used to make sweet and simple white wines. 

In India, though, nobody seems to be able to figure out what to do with this grape -- Indage has a Chenin Muscat under the Ivy label, but since the wine produced is sweet and fragrant the cognoscenti have trashed it as being a `soft drink', so it sells only small quantities and in pockets.

This is something I've never figured out: why, if the desi drinking culture is one of piye, khaye, khiske, is there not a larger market for sweetish but aromatic white wines? 

Most new wine drinkers find a dry white sour on the palate, and would be expected to happily quaff sweeter stuff. Indeed, most wine drinkers are new to the product, and should only be drinking the sweeter stuff. So why is there no market for sweet whites? 

One sees no Rieslings here; even my bottle of Sula's Late Harvest Chenin has lain unopened since being purchased.

Where is the famous Indian sweet tooth that thrives on rasgollas, gulab jamuns and jalebis? Have we all become wine snobs? Or are today's wine drinkers just allergic to sweet wines? 

Some reader feedback would be great -- do write in to al.chandra@gmail.com Till then, happy imbibing.

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