I met Robert Joseph for the first time at the inaugural India Wine Challenge. I was one of the judges and Robert, who had just come back from Siberia after lecturing Russian oil oligarchs about the wine tasting, was excited about bringing his benchmark competition to India. Twenty years on, the Challenge is held from London to Hanoi, and India is the latest addition to the Premiership League of the wonderful world of wine.
Being a judge at the India Wine Challenge involves tasting (and re-tasting) over 180 wines within eight hours—the number of wines to be judged was over 370, but mercifully, we had been divided into two groups—and pronounced our verdict after much deliberation and sometimes heated debate. But we had no clue about the wine that won the top honour, for it was a blind tasting. It went to a Pinot Noir from Forrest Estate, New Zealand.
We were surprised—and we thought it could have happened because it followed some really dubious new Indian wines, which tasted more like grape juice. But Robert didn’t share our sense of amazement.
He remembered how he completed his first wine tour of New Zealand, back in 1985, and he didn’t think he had missed anything important. Today, he says, even if he were to spend nine months in that country, he’d still be on the road trying to reach the newest winery. From uncertain beginnings in the 1970s in Montana in Marlborough, to the north of the South Island, New Zealand’s wine industry now extends across 1,600 km to Central Otago, which is within kissing distance of the South Pole.
When the first vines were planted in Marlborough in 1973, no one in the world bothered about it till a wine critic wrote that drinking a Sauvignon Blanc produced in the region was like having sex for the first time. Suddenly, everybody was talking about the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and the Francophiles happily abandoned their old obsession with Sancerre, the French region that was famous for the way it handled this white wine grape.
Marlborough’s Sauvignon Blanc has a distinctively grassy character. And it makes for a particularly good match for Fish Amritsari and Murgh Malai Kebab. The Pinot Noir, a fruitforward (read: fruity), light-tomedium red wine (actually, the New Zealand variety is full-bodied), from both Marlborough and Central Otago, has won the hearts of critics and consumers alike.
The reason why we drink wine, and prefer it over Coca-Cola, is that every bottle has something special to offer. A couple of weeks ago, I was at a dinner where Forrest Estate was served and New Zealand’s Trade Commissioner Paul Vaughan said drinking it was like being back home. He couldn’t have summed up a wine lover’s expectations better. Each wine delivers an experience you remember much after you’ve drunk it. New Zealand’s boutique wines have that exceptional quality.
—Sourish Bhattacharyya is Executive Editor, Mail Today